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Bakeries team up in Market Square

Posted on 01. Jan, 2010 by admin

When news came last month that the Jenny Lee Bakery was closing, Nick Mancini Hartner was sad to hear his relatives were having business problems. But as the owner of a baking business himself, he also thought he might see an opportunity.

Meanwhile, across town, Prantl's Bakery co-owner Lara Bruhn heard about the longtime Pittsburgh bakery closing in a radio news report that came on as she was getting up one morning. "My husband took one look at me and said, 'Don't you even think about it.'

But she did and Mr. Hartner did and now two well-known names in the region's bakery scene are mixing up a venture to bring a hometown bakery operation back to Downtown's Market Square, renting the 2,000-square-foot store where Jenny Lee long sold its butterhorns and cinnamon raisin bread.

In the next week or two, the two bakeries plan to open a store with one counter devoted to Mancini's Bakery breads and pepperoni rolls, while another displays the breakfast items, cookies, cakes and, yes, burnt almond tortes that Shadyside-based Prantl's has built its reputation on.

"I think our products potentially have a really great synergistic effect," said Mr. Hartner, who was at the Market Square location yesterday with Ms. Bruhn as they worked to get the space ready.

Back when Jenny Lee closed in August, the landlord said he was interested in finding another bakery to take the space. Nick Nicholas, operator of Nicholas Coffee Co. on the square and the owner of several buildings there, knew that might be a challenge since so many independent bakeries have closed in recent years.

That he got not one, but two, takers reflects both their individual ambitions and their agreement that sharing would reduce expense and risk.

Mr. Hartner has been thinking about expanding since he started a retail bread operation in the Strip District a few years ago. He described the business as a family franchise of the Stowe-based Mancini's Bakery business that's been around since the 1920s and is now led by his mother, Mary Mancini Hartner. He's descended from bakers on both sides, which gives him connections to the Baker family that owned Jenny Lee.

The Market Square store had a good location but the size was intimidating. "It's actually a fairly big place for a bakery," he said.

Ms. Bruhn is one of four partners who bought the more-than-40-year-old Prantl's Bakery almost two years ago from founders Henry and Jane Prantl. The other partners are Annette Mich, Vickie Pisowicz and Ms. Bruhn's husband, Matthew.

In Shadyside, the strategy has been to maintain traditions that customers have supported for so long. The opportunity to try something a bit different was tempting, said Ms. Bruhn.

Besides, she asked, "How often does a bakery get to move into a bakery?" Taking a space meant for the same use should make it easier to get ready for opening day, which could come soon. In addition, customers are used to coming to that location for baked goods.

It hasn't hurt that Market Square has seen a bit of a resurgence lately as nearby business developments and a city effort to improve the setting have begun to attract attention. New tenants such as Dunkin' Donuts combined with familiar places such as Original Oyster House and Primanti Brothers have brought in more customers looking for food.

The two business owners concede opening a new venture during an economic slowdown may not appear to be the best timing. Ingredient prices have been soaring this year and customers are watching their pennies.

In the past, Ms. Bruhn said, people who called in orders over the phone didn't always ask about pricing. Now they do so regularly.

But sales have held up, both said, and they hope the combination of location and the established brands will make the new store a destination for Downtown office workers.

Saturday, September 20, 2008 By Teresa F. Lindeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette