In the early ’90s, Michael Alkalay, experiencing what he laughingly describes as a mid-life crisis, wanted to get out of high-tech and into a low-tech business.
He had been selling computers and computer equipment through his own stores and other retailers in Western Canada.
“I looked at everything – auto wrecking, asphalt paving, fireplace manufacturing,” he says. He couldn’t negotiate acceptable terms on an auto-wrecking business. The commercial realtor who was trying to broker the deal mentioned a bakery that was for sale.
“ ‘But you wouldn’t be interested in buying a bakery,’ ” the realtor said. “You’re right,” Alkalay replied.
The seed had been planted, though, and six months later – in the fall of 1991 – Alkalay found himself the owner of the Bagel Bin, a west-end institution known for its baked goods. He was back in the computer game too, this time as a developer of software for bakery management.
|Jack Dagley photo, for Business Edge|
|Michael Alkalay of Bagel Bin Bakery used high-tech skills to write bakery management software.|
“Orders were written on little scraps of paper,” he recalls. “Then, at the end of the day, you’d sit down and spread the papers out on a table. Then you’d have to go through them and count how many of each product you’d have to bake to meet the next day’s orders. Inevitably, you’d lose track of the count or make a mistake and have to go back to the beginning.”
With the help of a programmer friend, Walter Ridgeway, Alkalay devised software that keeps track of the orders as they come in and at the end of the day prints out a list of how much of each product and how much of each different dough is required for the next day’s production. A job that used to take at least two hours can be completed in a matter of minutes.
The software is available through Briskal Systems Ltd. at a cost of $2,400 for the basic program. Three modules for specific jobs can be added at $300 each. An additional $250 a year covers telephone support and software updates.
Alkalay is constantly updating the software, incorporating ideas based on his own experience or suggestions from customers. “If we think that the idea is of general use to all our customers, we will create the software at no cost to the customer who suggested it. If it is unique to that specific business, then we will do it at the customer’s cost.”
The latest example is a program that will enable the operator to quickly spot where an error has been made entering data into the computer. “People make mistakes; they hit the wrong keys,” he notes.
No more having to go through all the orders individually to find the error. Now, the computer program can list all the orders for a product and a mistake can be spotted quickly.
The program keeps track of the day’s orders, sorts them by driver routes, indicates which are C.O.D. orders and provides a printout for each driver. It also stores all recipes for all products and provides inventory control.
Alkalay admits he knew nothing about baking – “just in consuming baked goods” – but he points out that the skills required to run a bakery are the same as those required to run any business.
He’s happy in the bakery business. “I’m a people person. I’ve met so many people through the bakery who have become good friends.” Customers greet him warmly as they come in. He knows them by name and preferences. “Some are so predictable that you see them walking across the parking lot and you’re busy packing their order because you know what they’re going to take.”
Ironically, despite the name of the bakery, bagels represent a small part of the business. “Not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t phone and say, ‘Do you do anything else besides bake bagels?’ ” says Alkalay.
“I’ve often agonized over changing the name, but there’s a lot invested in the name. It’s been around for many years. People recognize us.”