CANTON, Mich. -- Independently owned Holiday Market here has turned its six-month-old Stone House Bread artisan-bread program into a destination point for shoppers, creating a natural flow of return visits.
"When I do my weekly counts, 25% of everybody that walks through the store has a loaf of bread in their hand, which is a very good penetration," said John Pardington, co-owner of Holiday Market.
At the forefront of the program's success is an imported, 35,000-pound wood-burning oven that took two weeks to assemble on-site. The oven was manufactured by Spain-based Antonio Farjas, and built by Farjas craftsmen using imported bricks and mortar.
The oven is kept stoked 24 hours a day using various types of hardwood, typically seasoned white oak. The oven churns out small batches of bread every hour, equaling thousands of loaves every week.
On any given day, 10 to 12 different types of bread are created including Pugliese (a southern Italian-style bread), cherry walnut loaf, golden semolina, sourdough baguettes, olive breads with kalmata olives and, the most popular, North Country (a wheat and rye sourdough bread).
According to Pardington, the secret to creating quality artisan breads is to use batches of simple natural products.
"I've always felt that if you want to be a world-class store, you've got to have a good bread," said Pardington. "If the taste of the bread is as good as the look, you know we have a great product."
To bake the breads, Pardington hired resident expert Bob Pisor, owner of Leland, Mich.-based Stone House Bread. In hiring Pisor, Pardington not only brought in someone who had a knack for creating quality products, but he also obtained the rights to sell a locally recognized brand name.
"We had to look long and hard to find people with a real passion for making artisan bread," he said.
Pisor, who manages Holiday Market's bread department as well as his own, brought in friends from the Acme Bread Co. located in Berkeley, Calif., to help drive the program.
The bread, which is made from 100% scratch dough, uses three base ingredients: certified 100% organic flour supplied by the Mennonites of western Kansas, which contains no bromates, fungicides or herbicides; sea salt; and purified water. "We take the city water and run it through a water-purifying system," he said.
The cost to consumers is reasonable considering the amount of effort and the type of ingredients that go into making the bread. Baguettes range from $2.29 to $2.39, with the series of round breads ranging from $3.59 to $3.79, said Pardington.
"This isn't any bread, we're not selling it three for a dollar," he said. "People who buy it know that. [Customers] see the expense we've put into the ovens. They know that this flour costs three times as much as regular flour."
Holiday Market customers are also offered a selection of regular breads, as well as specialty loaves created daily.
Pardington said that Pisor created a menu that maintains a balance between popular mainstay items and rotating specialties. Occasionally, the schedule is diverged from in order to maintain customer interest.
"Everyday, we make North Country, round tops, the sourdough baguette, the French baguette and five or six others," said Pardington. "Then we rotate."
One example of the specialty breads offered is the focaccia bread, which is made using the Pugliese dough. "We flatten it down, and top it with olive oil and fresh grated cheeses, out of our cheese counter that [holds] over 500 cheeses and fresh herbs," he said.
Another example is a Gorgonzola focaccia, made from the blue-veined cheese, and sauced with seeded, fresh Roma tomatoes that are roasted together with garlic and herbs in the wood-burning oven. "We put that over the focaccia and put it back in the oven and you've got a wonderful focaccia that people stand in line for," said Pardington.
The bakers place the hot breads in 24 feet of flat maple cases that are covered with curved glass. The shelf can also be angled to better position the breads.
A clerk is positioned behind the fixtures to encourage sampling and assist with customer requests. These requests can include anything from cutting and slicing the bread to suggesting a number of available dips of olive oils, butters or honeys.
"We have every bread that's made that day out on the counter and as someone comes by, we slice the bread and give them a taste of whatever bread they want," said Pardington.
A sampling table full of different dipping oils is also set up in front of the cases. On some days an olive-oil manufacturer might even pour 14 of his products for customers to sample using the Stone Bread House products. The olive oils range from the "light lights" to very heavy Tuscans, which are unfiltered, extra virgin olive oils, said Pardington.
"A customer could come up, grab a piece of bread and dip in the olive oil of their liking," said Pardington.
Adjacent to the service cases are 16-foot self-service display racks made from French oak and wicker, "clearly marked" with the Stone Bread House name. The breads are placed in paper bags designed specifically for the style of bread. Each of the bags bears the Stone Bread House logo and the slogan, "An honest loaf of bread."
By 7 p.m., everything that's left in the back is bagged and put out in the self-service racks, said Pardington. But, he said, there's usually none left over.
"Typically, [the bread] rarely makes it to the bag, because before it cools down, most of it has been scooped by customers," he said.
The bakers typically bake an extra batch or two, because they use the bread to make croutons for their fresh Caesar salad station. If there's more overflow than expected, Pardington said, they give it to local soup kitchens or other charities. But, he said, their production sheets have become so accurate they have "very little" shrink.
Even though the freshness and aroma of the product, and activity around the oven, are enough to win over the hearts and stomachs of his customers, Pardington still relies on traditional advertising methods, such as signage and fliers.