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For One Bakery, the Small-Business Life is Pretty Sweet

This story was published in The Windy Citizen on February 27, 2008. It was written for a class while Molly was attending Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

Bill Stoltzman last visited Jarosch Bakery three days ago. He purchased the same thing he’s bought “since Jarosch opened”: sweet, crumbly slices of apricot graham cookies.

Jarosch Bakery Inc., in Elk Grove Village, is a family-owned company with very loyal customers. It will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and Stoltzman, 73, expects to be there.

Despite the seemingly ever-increasing presence of chain bakeries, owner Ken Jarosch says his small business is stable. “Our revenues are in the vicinity of $2.5 million,” he said, “The same as last year.”

“We’re a pretty well-established business, making the stuff that we make, and people like to come in and get exactly that, because they’ve been getting it for years. That’s what they want,” Jarosch said.

Case in point: “We have five grown children, four of whom live out of town,” Stoltzman said. “The first place the four from out of town stop is Jarosch. They all have their favorites.”

Jarosch Bakery is known mostly for its custom-made, decorated cakes. “One of the more unique ones that I can remember, because I ended up making it, was a cake for a nurse,” Ken Jarosch said. “They wanted a severed arm. And so we made a severed arm and put a band-aid on it and everything.”

The business frequently gets requests for cakes for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Jarosch said he’ll fill some of those orders, but “generally what people are really wanting is what I would consider a pornographic cake.”

Jarosch’s prices range from pocket change to weekend splurge. A small Easter egg cake costs $1.55, while an eight-inch Boston cream pie costs $6.25. A decadent amaretto whipped cream torte comes in at $20.75.

Jarosch regularly employs about 50 people. “We’ve got 25 people in the back and roughly 25 people in the front. A good majority of those 25 in the front are either high-school kids or college kids going to a local school,” Jarosch said.

Though the bakery relies on part-time help, particularly during the Christmas rush, a number of employees have worked there more than a decade.

One woman “has been here not quite since we opened, but pretty darn close. She’s over 45 years at this point,” Jarosch said. “One of our managers in the back with coffee cakes is about 30 years. One other guy working on sweet rolls has been with us over 25… The ones who haven’t been here 30 years have been here eight to 12 years, which I think is a good thing.”

Marianne Domino, head decorator in the cake department, has been employed by Jarosch for more than 27 years. When asked what convinced her to stick around, she said cake decorating satisfies her creative side.

“I just really, really enjoy it,” she said.

Jarosch is large enough that the tasks for a single product are done by separate bakers, assembly-line style, particularly with the large, tiered cakes.

“There’s somebody down there who will take the layers and put it together,” Domino said, “then it goes to another person who will ice it, and then I just strictly decorate them.”

The amount of time it takes to make and decorate a wedding cake depends on the size and complexity of design, but Domino estimates it generally takes a couple of hours.

The bakery is able to match icing colors to fabric swatches, a critical issue for any bride.

“Sometimes they’ll bring in the lace of their wedding dress and they’ll want the lace done onto the wedding cake… and that can be very detailed, with all the beading and things like that.”

Decorated cakes start at $18.25, while the wedding cakes range from $84 to about $700.

Head Baker Raul Farfan has been with Jarosch for 26 years. “Originally it was just a summer job,” he laughed.

Jarosch estimates that he goes through about 3,000 pounds of flour and 2,000 pounds of sugar each week. “It definitely goes up in December,” he said, “because that is by far our highest production run throughout the year. It probably goes up by about 25 percent, possibly a little more.”

But Jarosch not only feeds its customers – it feeds the community, too.

“We live in Elk Grove Village, we work in Elk Grove Village, our kids went to Elk Grove Village schools,” Jarosch said. The bakery gives gift certificates for raffles and auctions to local theater groups, churches and scouting organizations. It hires frequently from Elk Grove High School and has what Jarosch calls “an excellent relationship” with the school and the community in general. “We try to help the local organizations or the local chapters because those are our customers,” he said.

Jarosch Bakery gets shortening products from Illinois-based companies. Its cherries come from Wisconsin. The blueberries, Michigan. The wheat used for the flour is usually milled in Minnesota. “A lot of our suppliers are local,” Jarosch said. And it’s the commitment to being a presence in the community that makes Jarosch Bakery special.

Farfan said the quality is what makes Jarosch distinctive. “We use the finest ingredients. It’s in our reputation, you can tell. When I bring stuff home people say, ‘Oh, I’ve been there, I know that.’”

Stoltzman agreed that the “quality and variety” separate Jarosch from other bakeries.

The bakery expanded in 1993, absorbing an adjacent dry-cleaning business. The move doubled the size of the retail store and also increased production area. “We stayed basically in the same spot, we just got a little bit wider,” Jarosch said. “The business, that is.”

Though he acknowledges more space is needed at Easter, Christmas and during graduations, he’s not thinking of opening a second location.

“Our business relies heavily on the artistic ability of our employees and the supervising of that talent,” he said, “And the fact that we’re here watching over things and making sure things are getting done is the way we want it.”

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