Scott Kluger, Founder of Hartford Baking Company, didn’t set out to be a cook or a baker—but he did always have an entrepreneurial drive.
The West Hartford, CT native was born in Simsbury and says he is very familiar with the area. Kluger went to the University of Connecticut, where he studied finance and economics. At the time he says he “had his eyes on Wall Street.”
It was during graduate school at Fordham University in New York City when Kluger became really involved with food and cooking. He worked in restaurants before landing a job on Wall Street after he had earned his Master’s degree.
Kluger worked in mortgage-backed security analysis from 2006 until 2009. “I was on the front of the lines of recession at the most amazing time in history,” he says, but remembers wondering, “What am I doing?”
In September 2009, Kluger made a career choice to do something with food. He left his position in New York and moved back to West Hartford, CT. “I knew I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. My original idea was to do something resale, like a factory,” he recalls.
The idea of food—and more specifically baking—continued to resonate with him. “My mom is a phenomenal cook and baker, non-professional. A lot of the Hartford Baking Company recipes are from her,” Kluger says.
Kluger felt it was important to learn to bake bread. He spent about a year learning the process and apprenticing at Billings Forge in Hartford and Copper Beach Inn in Ivoryton, CT. Kluger notes that his original business plan didn’t involve him baking, but he wanted to know the process.
In March 2009 he came up with the business concept for Hartford Baking Company. “My parents were concerned,” Kluger recalls, so I created a business plan and pitched it to them.”
STARTUP STRATEGY AND BUSINESS GROWTH
Kluger signed the lease for Hartford Baking Company in April 2010 and opened “quietly” in September with a team of four people. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he admits. “We didn’t even have a sign.”
The quiet opening was intentional, he explained. “We wanted to get a feel for everything first, so we purposefully kept the opening small and quiet until the business became more refined.”
Since 2010, the Hartford Baking Company has grown to 30 employees. “The first five years were educational,” says Kluger. “Now we know what we’re doing.”
Kluger remembers doing 50-hour shifts in the very beginning “I was baking from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and then making deliveries,” he recalls. “I’ve done every single job here at Hartford Baking Company.”
In the beginning he admits to having no experience running a business or managing. “Great work ethic has gotten me through,” he notes.
That and linear, slow growth. The company eventually applied for a loan through the Department of Economic and Community Development Small Business Express program. Kluger wanted to use the funding toward a commissary in Bloomfield, CT. “With the funding, we were required to create four full-time positions. We ended up creating 15.”
The commissary in Bloomfield opened at the end of 2013. “This is where bread and pastries are made—everything from scratch,” explains Kluger, adding that the space has “tremendous capacity.”
The wholesale side is a huge part of our business, he notes. Harford Baking Company started supplying in Hartford County and now supplies over the state and Southern Massachusetts.
PUTTING “HARTFORD” INTO THE HARTFORD BAKING COMPANY
For Kluger, it was imperative that “Hartford” be very much a part of the Hartford Baking Company’s identity. He notes that the company is actually located in West Hartford, but it was important for him to be located within Hartford County. “We wanted to attach the Hartford name—I have a lot of pride in Hartford,” he says.
On March 6, Hartford Baking Company announced plans to open a second location on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center in the spring of 2016. The new café will feature breakfast items, include a daily happy hour, and stay open late on weekends with the focus on high-quality artisanal foods. The West Hartford Center location will add to the area’s economic growth by employing an additional 20-25 people.
THE BIG PICTURE
In terms of growth, Kluger emphasizes that the company’s big focus is on quality, new products, and artistic integrity. “We want to be cutting-edge,” he emphasizes. “We also want to be on the map nationally and internationally.”
CONNECTICUT COMMUNITY FOCUS
In 2008 Kluger’s mother began selling pastries at farmers markets—a tradition the Hartford Baking Company has continued to uphold. The company is strongly committed to the community and is involved in local farmers markets throughout Connecticut including Collinsville, the West End of Hartford, Simsbury, and Coventry—which Kluger is quick to note is not shutting down, as rumored. The town is taking over the market, he explained. Kluger says the Hartford Baking Company will continue building its farmers market presence.
As an entrepreneur, Kluger admits he’s been guilty of being overconfident, but “you don’t know what you don’t know. Unless you’ve run a business in that industry, you’re not going to know how to do it.”
He encourages early-stage entrepreneurs to talk to people in the industry. “Talk to people who are successful. Network. Get involved. Spend a year. Do your research,” he says.
His other tip is to know how to manage your finances. “Ultimately that’s what it comes down to. Do you have enough money to operate? Two words: cash flow.”