Inside Track: Webster whips up ingredients for successful business
Community involvement and customer service are key ingredients for Second Floor Bakery owner.
Business owner, foster mom and baker extraordinaire Katie Webster adds a sweet creative flair to the Holland community.
Webster’s passion for the culinary arts began at a young age, and after attending Grand Rapids Community College’s culinary school, she discovered she didn’t want to hide in the kitchen. For Webster, owner of Second Floor Bakery in Holland, it is the pairing of food and the emotions that food brings out in people that are important.
“That is why our kitchen is open. I didn’t want to be in the back of the kitchen not interacting with people because I like food. I like all aspects of food service, but I genuinely enjoy seeing food and the emotions that go with it,” said Webster. “When the football players have dinner and have cupcakes after, it is part of their memories of high school.”
From her prior experience working at a restaurant that had a catering service, and at a café and bakery with a wedding cake program, Webster recognized there was a high demand in Holland for wedding cakes and related services. Although the café where she worked had a separate wedding cake division, Webster said it was not really a great fit for the café and gained permission to launch her own bakery focused on the wedding business.
Second Floor Bakery officially launched in October 2008 on the second floor of her house in Holland with a two-person team: Webster, who did the baking, meeting with clients, sales and marketing, and a cake decorator.
“Our house is a historic home in Holland that had been split into an apartment upstairs already, so it had a separate entrance and separate kitchen,” said Webster. “That was important to me — that we started off … with a food service license and had a place where we could meet with brides and have time to treat their event special. We called it a little ‘cake boutique.’”
The bakery, specializing in wedding cakes and “everything sweet,” quickly outgrew its small space and relocated to its current 19,000-square-foot open kitchen in a leased facility at 48 E. Lakewood Blvd., where it has been operating for nearly four years.
“It was a good team, easy, but just the two of us. We used to do four to six (cakes) on a weekend. and a few weekends we did eight. There was nowhere to move at that point,” said Webster. “Here we generally do eight to 10 in a weekend and max out at 16. Well, technically, we did 17 this year for one weekend.”
Second Floor Bakery now has between eight to 10 employees, with four working full time during winter and six during its busy season from May to October. With the added graduation open house parties in May and June on top of the wedding business, Webster said the extra pressure can be a challenge in terms of personnel.
“You start seeing some people thrive on it and it makes the whole team better. It is just a great thing to see what we can do, and the challenging side of that is it also shows off who is the weakest link, or who is not necessarily able to put up with that kind of pressure,” said Webster. “Then changes have to be made as far as maybe a different position that shields them from some of the stress, or maybe it is just not a good fit overall.”
The team behind the counter at Second Floor Bakery not only handles the necessary precision and creative flair of baking and decorating, but also interacts with customers as they walk in. The multi-tasking of customer service mixed with food service skills can make it difficult to find suitable employees, according to Webster.
“With an open kitchen, they are out front — they are customer service — but they are also baking and they are also decorating,” said Webster.
“In food service, you are usually a front-of-the-house person or a back-of-the-house person, or you are a cook or a decorator, but we literally have to have all of it.”
Recognizing the importance of the strength of the team behind the beautifully crafted cakes and desserts are what help the bakery succeed. Webster said the business turned a new leaf roughly 18 months ago to focus not only on more business but also on building a more solid team.
“The thing about this kind of food service is it is so much a marriage of science and art, and it is difficult to find people who can think scientifically and artistically at the same time,” said Webster.
“Baking is very much a science — you can’t wing it. So (to have) that kind of precision on the one side and also have the artistic side — the decorating side or even stylizing it the right way so it can be shaped into a three-dimensional character — a cake isn’t made for that. Our gals are really talented in that because they kind of have to be both.”
While the bakery specializes in cakes and desserts for weddings, it also makes cupcakes, cakes, cookies and pastries for graduation events and parties, and provides wholesale services for restaurants in Holland.
Second Floor Bakery also partners with local organizations by donating a certain amount every month in baked goods, gift certificates or cake-decorating parties to support the community, according to Webster. Organizations it has partnered with include the American Red Cross, the athletic department at West Ottawa High School, National Children’s Advocacy Center, Community Action House, Habitat for Humanity and Bethany Christian Services.
“It is good for the community and it is good for business, if I am being honest. I have a lot of people say to us, ‘I hear your name everywhere,’ and I think it is because we do things like that,” said Webster. “We are really just out in the community. They go to their Friday night football game, and suddenly we are there.”
Webster said the organization the bakery works with most often is the nonprofit Bethany Christian Services. The organization is close to her heart. As foster parents, Webster and her husband, Peter, adopted their two children, Kendriece and Christopher, through the global family preservation and child welfare organization.
“That is near and dear to our hearts, and I think that has a lot to do with why we feel plugged into this community and care about some of the other aspects of the community,” said Webster.
In May 2013, Second Floor Bakery teamed with Bethany Christian Services to bake a world record cinnamon roll to benefit the nonprofit’s post-adoption services. The Guinness World Record-breaking pastry weighed in at 609 pounds, 6 feet in diameter and 7 inches tall.
Webster said the event produced a lot of attention for Bethany’s post-adoption services program.
“This little girl was adopted and she was asking her mom at that event why we were doing it, and I was just standing there overhearing it, and her mom goes, ‘You know how you go to Bethany for counseling? That is what it is for, so kids like you can get extra counseling and help you get used to us as your new family,’” said Webster. “It seriously made me well up. That is why we do it.”