After nearly 30 years in the food business, Michael Baker still really loves to feed people. “It’s something I learned from my Jewish grandmother,” he said with a smile as he showed me around Bakers’ Best Catering– a 10,000 square-foot commissary in Needham, MA.
Baker's entrepreneurial spirit surfaced long before opening the company in 1984. “As a boy being sent off to camp, I’d fill my tackle-box with candy. Then, when all of the kids trapped out in the middle of nowhere at camp were desperate for candy, I would sell them the goods from my little tackle-box store.”
Through several locations and iterations, Bakers’ Best is clearly thriving. Its “secret sauce” may be the same one Jeff Brown has spread over 25 years in grocery retail in Philadelphia. If the business stereotype is "Always be closing," Baker and Brown’s motto may be “Always be listening.” These two food entrepreneurs never stop listening to their customers.
A storefront was early in Baker’s food entrepreneurial vision, and he built one as the first iteration of Bakers’ Best in Newton. “I wanted a place where customers would be drawn in by the smells of freshly prepared food and the neighborhood atmosphere – the people who came in knew us, and we took good care of them .”
The community converted Bakers’ Best from store into caterer. “No one was doing quality take-out then. There was no Whole Foods Market. People kept asking us if we catered.” By the time Bakers’ Best decided to build out their first commissary, catering had become the cornerstone of the business. When nearly ninety percent of sales were catering, Baker and his business partner, Tim Ferraro, made the decision to close the store.
Now Bakers' Best employs 125 full-time staff and produces up to 130 orders for delivery per day, in addition to its more than 600 full-service events per year. The company hires for entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to flex to meet each customer’s needs.
“We try really hard to avoid saying ‘No’ here,” commented Director of Sales Diane Wilson. The business has evolved to be able to handle orders of all shapes, sizes, and specifics in a single day.
Baker exemplifies personal touch. He prefers calling someone to emailing and takes extra time and energy to thank people and make sure they feel special. (He sent this Examiner home with a packet of delicious heart-shaped cookies.)
“When an admin calls to place an order, if s/he’s not participating in the lunch, I’ll say ‘please pick out something for yourself – you have to eat too’…” He paused to consider this. “Giving is essential. And it always comes back.”
Food has always been personal. As it moves deeper into mass consciousness – consumers increasingly expect food businesses to be personal. If you’re looking for a caterer that lives to meet, greet, and feed you – try Bakers' Best.
The food is really good too.