We’ve all seen the iconic brick building on the corner of Main St. in the SoMa district right off the I-630 expressway. Maybe you’ve even stopped in for breakfast or an evening meeting. But what do you really know about Community Bakery?
Grab a cup of coffee and learn a little bit about this Little Rock treasure.
First pop quiz! How long has Community Bakery been around?
Did you know that the business was first established in 1947 in North Little Rock? It wasn’t until 1993 that it moved to its current location on Main St in the Cohn Building. By then though, it had already become a mainstay institution in the neighborhood, having first moved to Main St. in 1952.
We can thank owner Joe Fox for the decision to create the recognizable location we all know today. He bought the business from the head cake decorator turned business owner Agnes Bargiel in 1983. He’s also responsible for the unique cafe operation, espresso bar and distinctive line of European-style pastries that we’ve come to appreciate about Community Bakery.
And now the torch of ownership is being passed on to John Brandenburger, a former Dillard’s store manager and small business consultant, who we recently had the opportunity to sit down with and get to know. He has a great vision for carrying Community Bakery into the future.
John and his wife Juli have an interesting connection to Community Bakery. Juli actually remembers being 5 and visiting the bakery on a regular basis. Her and her father used to ride bikes in the neighborhood and whenever they visited the bakery, the lady behind the counter gave Juli a cookie. To this day, that memory is special to her and memories like this are why John decided to become the next owner of Community Bakery.
How he came to be the owner is an interesting story as well. “Joe was somebody that my wife and I knew from the neighborhood. My wife is from Little Rock. I’ve been here 15 years. We’d looked into doing a restaurant franchise of some sort and figured Joe would be a great person to talk to. When we met with him, our goal was for him to mentor us through this franchise process, not having anything to do with the bakery. Then the conversations just evolved into ‘what do you think about the bakery’?”
The opportunity to carry on such an iconic business within the city of Little Rock was something they couldn’t pass up. “We decided to investigate and look at the brand. My wife’s a CPA so her and Joe talked finances. I came and worked at the bakery while I was with my last career – I would come on vacation and just work here, not get paid and work 60 hours a week, because I just wanted to learn everything I could. I figured out we could do this on my end and my wife figured we could make the numbers work on her end and so we decided to buy the bakery.”
May 26th this year will be John’s official 1-year anniversary as part-owner (be sure to stop in and say congratulations!) and over the course of the next year, he will transition into the full-owner.
John’s passions are a perfect match for his role as owner at Community Bakery. In particular, we asked what he was most passionate about. John stated that “I have a passion for personal development and for helping people achieve some level of greatness…Someone told me that you are like a human dumptruck. You get people unstuck. I’ve done that for years.”
John actually helps other small businesses in his spare time as well. “I’ve done small business consultation. I help small brands. I help create a culture for their company and then create values that would guide them on how to continue that culture. I’m fanatical about that stuff.” The beauty is that at Community Bakery, as he says, “I get to do all of that here.”
If John hadn’t happened upon the opportunity to own Community Bakery in fact, that’s what he would be doing – small business consulting. He has a website devoted to that work http://www.johnbrandenburger.com. It might be worth checking out if you need some help with developing your soft skills.
Back to Community Bakery, we asked John what brings people back.
He really feels that it’s the consistency of the food that brings customers back time after time. They have recipes they’ve been using for 50 to 60 years and he has no plans to change that. According to him, about 98% of what they make is made by hand. “We are hand doing cookies. We don’t have little machines back there cutting them out. We do it all by hand. So I think there is an artisan feel to everything we do.” He proudly proclaims “We’re a scratch bakery. Things are made from scratch here”.
John recognizes the power of food and how it brings people together and that’s one of his favorite things about Community Bakery. “When you look around, it’s a very diverse group of people that eat here. And our team is very diverse. If you pulled them all together and stood them side by side, you’re talking different nationalities, ages, the way we look…it’s really cool, and it’s very representative of Little Rock.”
He’s also really big on helping his team members grow and realize their impact on their customers. “To watch these people blossom and grow and see how we serve others actually is an investment in us” is something that he cherishes. “I talk a lot with the team about spiritual currency. By taking care of others, It comes back to you 10-fold and not just in a financial state.”
This feeling of community and the power in people and relationships is one of his favorite things about living in Central Arkansas as well. “I love the diversity of the people here. I love how you can go 15 minutes and you’re in like rural Arkansas and 15 minutes back, you’re in an urban dwelling. I just think that’s a really cool thing.”
He also respects the history and heritage of the south. He states “I’m from NY originally. So this kind of was a culture shock when I first came, however, I’ve come to just love this area. The history is just so unique. My wife went to Central and so I got a first hand tour of Central and about the history, which was was very emotional for me. Coming from NY, you don’t have that same sense of racial segregation and divide. To see how people have just come together and over the years, there is an acceptance of people and also a remembrance of the past; I dig that. And I see that throughout all of Central Arkansas.”
John plans to continue Community Bakery’s legacy as an invaluable place of connection and tangible history within the community. He’s excited about the opportunity to welcome new customers to the bakery and develop even stronger relationships with his current customers. For John, Community Bakery (http://www.communitybakery.com) really is about the people and we for one, are excited to see what the future holds for this Little Rock staple!