NFIB Illinois Member Spotlight Q&A: Ken Jarosch, Jarosch Bakery

Date: February 14, 2017

When the Jarosch family established Jarosch Bakery in Elk Grove Village in October 1959, they brought with them a long family tradition of baking. George Jarosch had trained in his father’s bakery in Giessmannsdorf, Germany, before he emigrated to the U.S. in 1919. He worked in several Chicago bakeries before opening his own shop, and his son, Herbert, followed suit. Herb worked in the family bakery, served as a baker in the Korean War, worked for one other Chicago bakery, and then partnered with his parents to establish Jarosch Bakery in its current location.

In 1989, Ken and his wife, Kathy, left engineering jobs in St. Louis to buy into the bakery as equal partners with Ken’s parents, Herb and Betty. Ken, who currently serves on the NFIB/IL Leadership Council, spoke to us for this member spotlight Q&A.

How has your business grown and changed over the years?

Over the years, we’ve seen bakery fads come and go—such as croissants, low-carb diets, and the Krispy Kreme frenzy—some of which we tried to chase, others we have ignored. Trends seem to come and go more quickly than decades ago. Wedding cake decorations are one example. Pinterest and Instagram spread new styles across the country instantly. Like dress fashions, each year has its new “in” styles that brides gravitate toward. We do our best to keep up with them.

What challenges have you faced?

Our decorated cake business has been significantly reduced. I regularly network with other bakery owners in the Chicago area, and they have seen the same trends. We believe competition from Costco, Sam’s Club, etc. has taken away some customers who are very cost-conscious. Customers who value quality and very custom decorating still come to us. Unfortunately, those customers are much more time-consuming.

We are also facing the impending ban on trans fats. On July 1, 2018, we can no longer sell products containing any artificially created trans fats, which are created in the process of partial hydrogenation of oils (PHO), usually soy bean oil. Traditional shortenings contain PHOs. New shortenings that use either different oils or different processes are PHO-free. These are being manufactured by our suppliers, but behave and taste differently in bakery products compared with the traditional shortenings they are supposed to replace. It will take considerable trial and error experimentation to reformulate our recipes. Our goal is to make sure the end product tastes exactly the same since taste is why our customers come to us. Any change is bad.

What lessons have you learned over the years?

It’s not worth arguing with a customer, even if you are 100 percent right and they are 100 percent wrong. It doesn’t matter. It’s always our fault. Figure out how to appease them and get them out the door.  

Once in a while, we have been able to create a lifelong customer when we truly were at fault by standing behind our product and our service, and going out of our way to fix the problem.

Any time you think you’re the only one who has the most difficult employee, the most outrageous, demanding customer, or an impossible situation to solve, you just need to talk with another couple business owners to find out that they have the same problems. Sometimes it just helps to commiserate, but more often, shared wisdom helps save the day.

What’s the best and worst part of being a small business owner?

The best part is that it’s ours. The worst part is that it’s ours.

I enjoy being in charge. I enjoy the challenges (usually). It is very rewarding to begin with raw ingredients at the beginning of the day and to create and sell a whole bunch of great tasting, great looking products that bring joy and happiness to thousands of people every day (except for a couple of grumpy people who are never happy). We really enjoy being a well-liked part of our community. We make sure to give back in as many ways that we can.  

While we are often tied down by the business, there is a certain amount of flexibility that enables us to not miss our kids’ school functions, attend to aging parents’ needs, or lend a hand at church during the work day. And it helps that we are blessed to be financially rewarded for all our hard work, though not nearly as much as our employees think we are.  

Another worst part is trying to keep up with regulations, insurance issues, employment/pay concerns, and the ever-present risk of some piece of equipment breaking in the middle of the night.

Why did you decide to join NFIB? How has membership helped you as a business owner?

We joined NFIB decades ago because it is the right thing to do. Small businesses need to band together to be heard, and NFIB does just that. NFIB/IL periodically hosts meet-and-greet sessions with local state or federal legislators, which has enabled me to get to know several.

The efforts of just a few concerned people can stop the actions of a largely uninformed legislative body. I’m not implying that our legislators are idiots, but they don’t know everything.  I cannot expect them to have the required depth of knowledge on every issue they face, so it is our duty to educate them as best we can.  

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