Kneaders Bakery & Café, an Orem, Utah–based fast casual with 59 locations, was founded 20 years ago with one goal: to make quality fresh-baked breads more accessible to customers in Utah.

Founders Gary and Colleen Worthington began their career in the sandwich industry as Subway franchisees, but after retiring from that brand, decided to open a fast-casual concept that focused on fresh-baked goods. They had traveled to Europe several times and loved the simple, artisan breads found over there, so they trained with professional bread masters from the San Francisco Baking Institute and experimented with different levains (natural bread leavening) to find the perfect formula for the bread they wanted to create—a process that required thousands of practice loaves.

The first Kneaders store opened in 1997 in Orem, and today the company is still serving its original European artisan hearth bread (made in hearth stone ovens from Verona, Italy). It’s also added sandwiches, salads, and soups to the menu, as well as 42 hand-crafted pastries.

We asked James Worthington, CEO of Kneaders, about how the brand has set itself apart through the quality of its baked goods.

How significant are your pastries, breads, pies, and rolls to the overall business success?

Our baked goods constitute approximately 20 percent of our daily productivity in our stores. Our honest hearth breads, indulgent pies, pastries, and other sweet treats are a staple of profitability and important not only for our bottom-line success, but also to maintain the integrity of the brand we’ve built over the past 20 years and to further growth.

What do customers want in their baked goods, and how do you provide that to them?

Even though our customers want their food quickly, they do not want to compromise on delicious taste or visual appeal. As consumers ourselves, we take pride in creating sweet breads, pies, petite-cakes, fruit tarts, cookies, brownies, and other specialty desserts to entice the palate, enrich the plate, and conjure delight with every bite—all in a quick-service environment.

We require an intense training of our skilled bakers and pastry chefs, which often includes extended institute and/or international training at some of the industry’s top bakery and culinary schools. Within the store, every kitchen has a head baker and pastry chef, and every baker and pastry chef has a team of up to five members whose sole job is to hand-craft every item offered in our baked-goods cases and on our bread shelves. Our customers not only see the difference, but they can also taste it with every bite.

How do you innovate with baked goods?

We are always looking for innovative ways to enhance our menu items for our customers, but there are tried-and-true products and methods that our customers love. For instance, we would have a riot on our hands if we ever changed our Chunky Cinnamon French Toast recipe or presentation. However, we are strongly attuned to the trends of the industry, and we acclimate to those trends when and where they make sense for our brand.

For instance, we used to offer bar cake in our pastry cases, but as industry trends have called for a more refined presentation, we now offer a cleaner, less-calorie-filled option with more attention to detail (like the infusion of herbs and spices) in a petite-cake. We saw this trend worthy of integrating, and our petite-cake reflects both the beauty and indulgence that our customers have come to expect. We hold regular research and development meetings throughout the year, and we are constantly creating new tastes, thinking about our dishes creatively, studying flavor infusions, and doing a lot of trial and error until we feel we have a product that reflects the trend while staying authentic to the Kneaders name. Our seasonal dishes are a great example of staying true to our core tastes, while also appealing to the natural food trends throughout the year. Industry trends come and go. We don’t make a habit of changing our entire brand offerings based on those trends, but being flexible on the trends that make sense for us has proven to be the right decision for our customers.

How much is health a consideration with baked goods?

When it comes to our bread, we focus on wholesome, simple, and honest ingredients made from quality items that speak to perfection. Our hearth breads contain only ingredients like flour, water, and salt so that we can offer the purest product to our customers. When it comes to our baked goods, we balance tantalizing, indulgent, and fulfilling desserts with wholesome food that puts a smile of warmth and comfort on the faces of our guests. Delighting—that is the name of the game at Kneaders.

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