How Charlie Biedenharn And His Partners Built Bakery Lorraine, One Of San Antonio’s Most Successful Bakeries
San Antonio native Charlie Biedenharn and his partners, Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell — a married couple trained by world-renowned chef Thomas Keller — started Bakery Lorraine atop a folding table at the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market in 2011. After building a cult following at the Sundays-only market, Biedenharn, Ng, and Mandrell scaled up their operation to a 1,200 square-foot refurbished house on East Grayson Street.
The bakery outgrew its new home on Grayson and the team was invited to move their business to the historic Pearl Brewery neighborhood. Planning for future growth, they built a 4,000 square foot commissary kitchen that ran 24 hours a day in addition to their new Pearl Brewery location. The transition wasn’t easy, but the growing pains helped lay the groundwork for the bakery’s success. “It was a big leap. I think a lot of our deficiencies got exposed very quickly and thankfully due to high volume,” Biedenharn says. “I'm so glad we were busy, but at the same time, my partners and I were looking at each other going, ‘Oh my god... we need to hire 50 people tomorrow.’”
Now with five locations between San Antonio and Austin and accolades from the likes of Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, USA Today, and U.S. Fodor’s, Biedenharn and the team plan for continued growth by focusing on their people-first culture. Biedenharn says, “I don't have a formula other than trying to treat people how I want to be treated and to create an environment where people care about what they're doing and want to stick around.”
“I don't have a formula other than trying to treat people how I want to be treated and to create an environment where people care about what they're doing and want to stick around.”
Giving a family-like feel to the work environment has been integral in hiring and retaining the talented staff at Bakery Lorraine. Biedenharn says, “We have quite a few employees now, and a lot of them stick around for a long time. They're just as much part of the family as I am or my business partners are.” Biedenharn and the Bakery Lorraine team have built a culture that centers around long-term retention in an industry known for its high turnover rate.
The long work hours, the risk, and the uncertainty can often be overwhelming challenges for entrepreneurs, but to Biedenharn, the challenge is part of the joy. “There have been moments of desperation or dark hours where I've felt particularly overwhelmed or felt that I've had challenges that may be insurmountable, but I think those are ephemeral. Even though it often feels more challenging than anticipated, the obstacles and challenges are enjoyable in some weird masochistic way.”
It hasn’t always been easy for the Bakery Lorraine team as they have built their business from a small farmer’s-market stand to a staple of the pastry and culinary worlds of San Antonio and Austin, but it has always been worth it. “Be comfortable with working. A lot of people with start-up ideas or entrepreneurial ideas fail to realize the amount of actual labor and work it takes,” says Biedenharn. At times, the team had to get their hands dirty and wear many different hats within their own business. They were their own dishwashers, bussers, or food runners while also handling the tasks that kept the business in motion. Pushing through those tough moments is what sets entrepreneurs like Biedenharn and chefs like Ng and Mandrell apart from the pack.
To manage the difficult times, they created goals that were aimed toward their visions of success but were focused on day-to-day actions. “I think it's just staying focused on believing in what you're doing, believing in your product or brand, and staying focused on the goal, not a lofty goal, but the goal of today. Today, I'm going to run a good service. Today, we're going to keep operations within these parameters,” says Biedenharn. Breaking down their lofty goals into manageable, daily tasks kept morale high around the bakery while they worked toward their biggest goals.
“I think it's just staying focused on believing in what you're doing, believing in your product or brand, and staying focused on the goal, not a lofty goal, but the goal of today."
The Bakery Lorraine team has built its nationally-recognized business by ensuring that everything they create is handmade with the utmost care and attention to detail. Their passion for excellence in baking and cooking combined with their steadfast entrepreneurial grit has led to a thriving business that serves delicious and inspired baked goods to both San Antonio and Austin.
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