Jun. 19, 2006
Laurie Steed is the picture of success.
The San Francisco transplant moved to Las Vegas in 1996 to launch Granello Bakery, a small business catering to hotel-casinos.
A decade later, Granello provides breads, rolls, cakes and pastries to virtually every major property on the Strip, and also supplies baked goods to a national coffeehouse chain. Granello also has a retail store at 10604 S. Eastern Ave., where customers can indulge in pastries and order wedding and holiday cakes. Granello's sales have grown by as much as 20 percent a year in recent years, Steed said.
In 2005, to prepare for additional growth and improve efficiencies, Steed commissioned a 42,000-square-foot bakery near Interstate 215 and Decatur Boulevard to replace her company's 14,000-square-foot factory at Las Vegas Boulevard South and Serene Avenue.
The business was weeks away from moving to the new plant when, on April 18, the unthinkable happened: Granello's Las Vegas Boulevard bakery burned down. Reduced from six ovens to one oven, and with hotel customers up and down the Strip hungry for breads, rolls and pastries, Steed had to improvise to serve and retain her clients.
Up and running in the new bakery since May 5, Granello now churns out as many as 90,000 items a day from a roster of about 700 baked goods.
Steed spoke with the Review-Journal about why she likes the food business, how she overcame catastrophe and why other local businesses are having trouble building new offices.
Question: How did you get into the Las Vegas bakery business?
Answer: I had always been in the restaurant business and baking was always something I had a passion for. I saw a need for (a bakery) in Las Vegas. There were a lot of good bakeries here, but it seemed like there was room for growth.
Question: Why did the food business appeal to you?
Answer: I've always been in the food business. I just love the food business and the people in it. They are a different breed. Most of them love their work even though it means long, demanding hours. They are creative and they generally have a sense of humor. They're fun to be around and they're generous.
Question: You've owned the bakery for a decade. Do you still have days where the baking just doesn't go right?
Answer: Absolutely. But that's what comes with experience -- learning how to fix problems. We still have issues, but we've seen just about every mistake and then some happen, and we know how to correct it. Because of our experience, maybe we can catch problems a little sooner than we did years ago.
Question: How are you creating growth of 15 percent to 20 percent a year?
Answer: We have salespeople, and word-of-mouth also helps. Plus, there are more people coming to town. There's growth in tourism and population. A lot of it also comes from starting in town 10 years ago. The hotels are comfortable with someone who has been here 10 years, someone who knows how the hotels work. They know we can react quickly if they have issues or problems.
Question: You experienced serious problems when your factory burned down in April. What did you focus on immediately to keep the business going?
Answer: My biggest concern was whether everyone got out of the building OK. Once I knew everyone was out of the building, I just thought about everything I built for 10 years. You try to anticipate anything that could happen, but you never really think you're not going to be able to supply your customers.
The fire happened at 2 in the morning, so by 4 in the morning we were calling hotels and letting them know that they would not be getting their deliveries.
Question: How did they take that?
Answer: They panicked, but most of them were incredible as far as their concern that everyone was OK. I sent cars to San Diego to pick up product from a bakery I deal with there, so we had product coming in for some of our customers. For other customers, we were just not able to get them a specific product, so they had to go to other bakeries. Some of them started producing in-house.
It's a horrible thing to know that you're causing so much chaos for people. Normally, we're the ones helping them out by getting them whatever they need. To go from that to being the ones who say, "Sorry, but we can't do anything, you've got to figure it out yourself," is tough.
Question: Did you lose any customers permanently?
Answer: We lost a couple, but many of them came back right away when we were able to start producing again. I am thankful because I've got some really good customers who stood by us.
Question: How important were customer relations right after the fire?
Answer: They were essential, because the hotels were all very curious. For the first few days we didn't even have phones, so it was just trying to tell everyone, "Please, we value your business very much, and we'll keep you posted." They knew what they needed to do to operate their business. Some of them brought in frozen products from other places so they knew they wouldn't get stuck again without product.
Question: At the time of the fire, work was almost complete on your new building. What was the toughest part about launching the new bakery?
Answer: Most definitely the construction process. I was fortunate; I got the location three years ago. Now, it would be almost impossible (to find the land).
Question: What was so difficult about building the bakery?
Answer: Construction is definitely a lot of work in this town. It's not the best time to be building something, with the shortage of contractors and the time it takes with permits. It's a lengthy, draining process.
I went through a general contractor, and the time delays they had were difficult. We should have been in here (in February). The contractor attributed the delay to general construction problems -- a shortage of workers, getting the wrong drawings, just finding good people. The city is very stretched for (workers).
Question: How much did the cost of building go up in the two years between design and groundbreaking?
Answer: It went up significantly, about 30 percent.
Question: What advice would you give businesspeople who want to find land and build a building today?
Answer: They're nuts. They're out of their mind. They should try it in another city. I wouldn't start this (new bakery) now, because today the construction situation is 10 times worse. You've got (MGM Mirage's $7 billion) Project CityCenter taking almost every available good worker there is. You've got (Boyd Gaming Corp.'s $4 billion) Echelon Place and (Tony Marnell III's M Resort at St. Rose Parkway and Las Vegas Boulevard South) coming up.
Question: But those projects also mean more business for you.
Answer: Oh, sure. I'm grateful for what they're building and the growth of the town. One of the reasons I built this bakery was for the growth. I'm just thankful I'm finished building.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
NO WONDER: Breaking Bread Barriers
Bakeries finding growing market for specialty products such as ciabatta, rye and sourdough
Laurie Steed, a native of San Francisco who acquired her baker's chops the classic European way -- with on-the-job training in the Bay area and in Italy -- founded Granello Bakery in Las Vegas six years ago. She has a retail bakery and cafe at 10604 S. Eastern Ave. in Henderson, but Steed said 95 percent of her business is wholesale. She produces scones and cookies and the like for Starbucks and many of the major casinos, but her main focus is bread, particularly artisan breads such as ciabatta.
Steed said some of the starters used by Granello Bakery came from the San Francisco area and some from a vineyard in the Napa Valley in California.
She said the decision to focus her business on bread was a natural one.
"Coming from San Francisco, we always had good bread," she said. "I saw that there was a big movement toward artisan breads. My focus really is on the quality."
"Ciabatta is probably our most popular," she said; the retail shop sold 55 to 60 loaves during the day on New Year's Eve.
"People drive in from Summerlin, buy five loaves and freeze it," she said.
As she talked, Steed moved through her bakery on Las Vegas Boulevard South, explaining the machinery and pointing out some of the products: baguettes and fig-and-walnut bread for the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris; lovely little brezel rolls, similar in flavor to a pretzel and with a glossy brown exterior and tuft of white bursting from the top, for Smith & Wollensky and Sunset Station; "hundreds and hundreds"' of loaves of ciabatta.
"Bread's our main thing, but we also do cakes and pastries," she said.
While entire rooms are dedicated to the production of cakes and pastries, the bread operation seems the most complex, as so many variables can affect quality. Steed said the dryness of the desert was one challenge and seasonal differences in temperature and humidity present more, with summer being the most difficult season for the bakery.
"I probably have 10 different areas with temperature controls," Steed said. "Starters are kept at probably six different temperatures.
"If we get these summer thundershowers, it really gets wacky." In that case, a process that normally takes 10 hours might require 14 hours, she said.
"With artisan breads, every day it's different," she said. "That's why a lot of people don't bother.
"That's what's unique about bread; that's what's exciting about it. Muffins, you make the same way every day." Her bread doughs, Steed said, are "living, breathing things, just like wine, just like cheese."
Which means that, like people, they can be temperamental at times. If something is just a bit off -- the temperature of the water used, the quality of the flour she has milled in Utah, the humidity in the bakery -- hours of work can be out the proverbial window.
"You can't just fix it, like you can a pizza sauce," Steed said. "After it's been proofing for 18 hours, it's gone.
"A lot of places stick to pan breads," which are more forgiving.
The ciabatta requires extra attention.
"There are a lot of different steps," she said. "Every couple of hours, you have to do something to it."
But her breads, 90 percent of which use natural starters, "all require a lot of attention," she said. "You don't just put it in a bucket and let it proof, or it'll get away from you."
Sometimes literally. Granello Bakery also produces frozen and par-baked breads, and Steed laughed as she remembered a truckload of bread that went to Texas. (She used to supply bread to Romano's Macaroni Grill, until the company established its own bakery.)
It was summertime, Steed said. The frozen dough was traveling in a refrigerated truck. One problem: The driver forgot to turn on the refrigeration unit. When the truck arrived in Texas and the doors were opened, the bread was rising out of its boxes as though to fight its oppressors.
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. And we increasingly appreciate the fruits of the bakers' labors.
Copyright © 2008 Granello Bakery, Inc.