Baker & Cook founder Dean Brettschneider has opened seven bakeries, two pizzerias and a culinary school since setting up shop in Singapore four years ago.
Now he has his sights set on the Philippines for expansion, with a franchise store opening there next month.
Brettschneider has previously worked internationally as a baking consultant, cookbook author and television culinary judge, leading an acquaintance to dub him “global baker Dean Brettschneider” in 2005. He has adopted this as his personal trademark, despite not having owned a global bakery chain. The New Zealander had one store in his home country in the early 1990s, but he did help set up the Baker & Spice chain in Shanghai in the late 2000s.
On his first trip to Singapore in 2011, when visiting a friend in Hillcrest, Brettschneider was surprised by the area’s potential for a bakery. He discussed this idea with his friend and an acquaintance over pizza, and after dinner they went past an old furniture shop in Hillcrest Rd. He told them: “If you can get that corner shop, why don’t we put a bakery there?”
As an entrepreneur, he says, he exercises a gut feel and commonsense. “If I were Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or Starbucks I would analyse it and over-analyse it and research it and count how many cars go past.”
Instead, he just looked around and thought, “Wow, how can there not be an opportunity here?”
Funded by profits
Three months later, Brettschneider and his friend took over the furniture shop and made it the flagship of Baker & Cook. His other businesses have followed also in neighbourhoods that are mainly residential, such as Bukit Timah. Eight of these stores opened within a span of 18 months despite a sluggish economy, and were funded wholly by profits from the business.
Baker & Cook will next month take its first step overseas with a franchise in Manila.
Brettschneider had been on his way to New Zealand from Denmark, where he lives with his Danish wife, when he made his Singapore stopover. His move into business in Singapore was just another opportunity seized in his journey as a baker, which began with an apprenticeship at the award-winning Rangiora Bakery in New Zealand.
He later travelled to Europe to hone his baking skills, doing internships in the kitchens of various establishments, including supermarkets, hotels and artisan bakeries, for three years.
After returning home he ran a bakery in Dunedin for three years before taking up a management offer with a baking ingredient company, overseeing such areas as product development, customer service and sales.
It was there he learnt the importance of marketing and wrote his first cookbook, The New Zealand Baker (2000), which opened the doors for him to star in food programs on a local television channel as well as publish 11 other cookbooks.
He says his self-belief helped him “box on” when it took almost six months for the first Baker & Cook to open because of renovation delays.
“As soon as we made something, we were selling out of it,” he says. Sometimes they were so busy he would sleep on the floor of the office rather than commute to and from work.
City landlords would approach him, keen for him to open downtown, but he was not interested. “I wanted to do neighbourhoods only because the rent in the city is too expensive for a low-value product, and people don’t go to the city to buy a nice loaf of sourdough bread.”
Exceptions are his store at the InterContinental Singapore hotel and the takeaway kiosk at Holiday Inn Express Singapore Clarke Quay. Both hotels are under the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), for which he is a consultant.
Does this mean Baker & Cook will roll out in other IHG hotels around the world? “Yes – so it was important for me to establish it here where we have control, where we have a presence and where we have the relationships.”
When opportunity to open in Opera Estate came last year, he launched Plank, a pizzeria specialising in sourdough pizza. The location was ideal, but the shop was too big for a Baker & Cook alone, so he came up with the idea of an adjoining pizzeria.
“For me, pizza is just really good bread with stuff on top, and we know sourdough because of Baker & Cook.”
As the business grew, he gained new partners. He remains the majority shareholder and has three other partners – two investment companies, Commonwealth Capital from Singapore and Richardson Capital from the UK, and his friend Anders Boye, who works in a shipbroking firm and helped launch the first Baker & Cook.
With 10 outlets, he spends up to three weeks a month in Singapore. When he is not around, he keeps track of things at the stores via closed-circuit television, which he accesses on his smartphone.
He is now busy with the upcoming opening in Manila, a Baker & Cook cookbook and his first acting role in a Singapore television drama, where he plays a wannabe baker.
“Do I have to do the TV show? No. Do I have to open in Manila? No,” he says. “But they are all part of the puzzle that is life.”