You can smell the cookies baking as soon as you walk into Chicago’s JR Dessert Bakery. Everyday there is a selection of fresh desserts on display in their charming retail area and the bustle of a team of bakers in back, which you can’t see but know are there.
The West Roger’s Park bakery operates out of a 6,000 square foot commercial kitchen. Bakers start trickling in around 6:30 am to begin production. Their list of clients is endless including some of the city’s most popular restaurants, café’s, grocery stores and event venues. Hundreds of food service businesses around the Chicagoland area source their desserts from the bakery. Everyone from your neighborhood coffee shop to Chicago's stadiums has ordered from JR.
“This year the bakery is celebrating a big birthday,” says Janet Rosing – aka JR. “We’ve been in business for 40 years!”
Rosing opened the bakery in 1979. While working at some of Chicago’s premier restaurants she noticed their menus lacked high-end dessert items. She started developing a plan to bake and sell desserts to food service businesses that didn’t have the time or expertise to focus on it themselves. JR started with cheesecake and slowly built up a clientele.
Rosing grew up with a mother who loved to bake, so creating her initial recipes came naturally. Running a successful business was much harder. In the beginning she shopped for her own ingredients, baked all of the cheesecakes herself, personally sold the desserts to restaurants and even made the deliveries. She did have some influential mentors who helped along the way including the late Bill Neiman, former CEO of Chicago’s large ingredient company Neiman Brothers.
“Bill said that one of his restaurant customers owed him a favor,” Rosing remembered. “He helped arrange for me to bake in the basement of their bakery after hours.”
As her customer base increased so did her need for space and she moved to her current facility in West Roger’s Park thanks to a $12,000 loan from her father, which she quickly paid back.
Several years later she started transitioning her cheesecake company into a full-line dessert bakery. Hence the name change to JR Dessert Bakery – which currently offers a wide range of specialty desserts including cakes, pies, pastries, cookies and brownies as well as her infamous cheesecake flavors. Every dessert is handmade with all-natural ingredients.
The bakery currently has twenty loyal employees. A handful of the team have been with JR since the very beginning. Some of the bakers hitting 10, 20 and 30-year milestones. Each day one baker prepares lunch and they all sit-down at noon for a family-style meal.
JR’s daughter, Natalie, joined the company in 2015. The two now run the business together, “My first big job with the bakery was managing our booth at the Taste of Chicago when I was in college,” Natalie recalls. “Our booth was next to the restaurant Fireplace Inn and I smelled like ribs for 10-days straight.”
Now JR and Natalie are working on a plan for the future, “This business is rewarding, but also a real challenge,” Natalie admits. “With rising ingredient, labor and overhead costs we have to watch every penny and strategize about the best way to move forward.”
Any Chicagoland restaurant with a hint of interest in their desserts will find Natalie knocking at their door with a pastry box full of samples, “I absolutely love meeting with chefs, owners and managers,” she says. “Once I get my foot in the door our product usually sells itself.”
The bakery prides itself on working closely with clients to develop their perfect dessert options and those desserts are featured on menus around the city.
“You would be surprised how many restaurants don’t make desserts themselves,” Janet explained. “It’s a lot more complicated and labor intensive than you’d think, which is why we try and act as an extension of their kitchen to fulfill that need.”
The company has also been focusing on their private label business where they partner with large retailers to distribute JR desserts under various brand names nationwide.
“We have a unique ability to meet high production needs even while making everything by hand,” Natalie explains. “That’s really attractive to some bigger clients.”
Since the food scene in Chicago is always changing the bakery has learned to adapt to trends and fashions. More recently they have been developing their individual 3” dessert menu as well as gluten free options. But they credit their continued success to mainstay principles, which will never change.
“We only use the finest ingredients, we always focus on the quality of our products and strive to provide our clients’ with superb customer service,” says JR.
“We work tirelessly but also laugh often and taste test everyday. Turning 40-years-old feels pretty good.”