From a street vendor selling Danish to the dessert table at a Donald Trump wedding, JMJ Baking does them all and everything in between. “We do hotels, bakeries, coffee shops and vendors on the street that sell coffee and donuts and Danish,” owner and founder Emanuel Darmanin says.
Currently mentoring the fourth generation of an unbroken baking dynasty that goes back to his grandfather in Malta, Darmanin currently is expanding his wholesale-only bakery and moving it from Long Island City, N.Y., to the Bronx. The company’s investment is more than $8 million in equipment and infrastructure at the new facility, which will be approximately four times the size of the old one and is scheduled to open in mid-June 2010. JMJ Baking has a condition in the new lease that it has the right to buy the building within the nine-year length of the lease.
“We are presently holding business back because it is not possible to do more than what we are doing in our present facility,” he continues. “Our quality is more in demand than it was in the past, and people got to know us even better as time goes by. I believe that within the next three years, we can double what we are doing today, and that is not pie in the sky.”
The new bakery will be located in an empowerment zone in the Bronx that includes tax incentives for the jobs the business creates. “Like everything else, the empowerment zone benefits have been reduced in the last year,” JMJ Baking CFO Mike Cassar points out. “We are grateful for whatever we are getting, and whatever we are getting is helpful, but that is not the reason we are moving,” Darmanin notes. “This is an extra couple of cherries on the cake.”
JMJ Baking Corp. produces approximately 750 items daily and does desserts for all the holidays including Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, all the Jewish holidays and any other holidays its customers desire. The company also does wedding cakes. “All our business is custom-based,” Darmanin notes. “We do nothing for show.” All orders in by 4 p.m. are baked overnight and ready the next morning.
JMJ Baking supplies approximately 10 chains of bakeries in Manhattan and more in the tri-state region of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Its products include a full breakfast line of muffins, Danish, croissants and coffee cakes; a full pastry line of desserts, cakes and 37 different flavors of cheesecake; a line of cookies; and from 140 to 180 different cupcakes of varying sizes.
Some of JMJ’s products are sold exclusively under the name of the company they supply. “When we bake and give exclusivity for a particular item to one of them, we do it only for them,” Darmanin explains. The company also bakes by request for special events, such as German desserts for a German group’s function. Having a staff with varied ethnic backgrounds helps in a city as ethnically diverse as New York. “They come from all over the world,” Darmanin notes. “We have an international group of people here, and we try to accommodate by request.” Usually, three to four weeks before an event, samples of the special dessert are brought to the chef for approval. “We can supply him with whatever he requests,” Darmanin emphasizes. “We can be anybody’s personal baker. If you have a deli and you want to sell a certain item that your aunt used to make when you were a child, you have the recipe and you want to bring it to us to bake solely for you, we can accommodate you.”
JMJ baked a huge cake for a special show at Radio City Music Hall when Mariah Carey celebrated her No. 1 album. The company also has baked cakes for Itzhak Perlman, the Baldwin family of actors and contributed desserts to the Viennese table at the Plaza Hotel when Donald Trump married Marla Maples. JMJ used to bake for the Plaza Hotel.
Competitors specialize in separate lines JMJ produces, such as cupcakes, large cookies or brownies. “I don’t know of too many wholesale, quality bakeries that produce the variety that we do,” Darmanin maintains. “Our best quality is baking by request, because we are the type of company that covers it all.” His company will produce desserts he says no one wants to touch anymore, such as marzipan fruit.
Darmanin is following the trend toward higher-quality products. “As people get more educated about health and quality, I find they are more into artisan-type products, from bread to simple cupcakes. People appreciate more a cupcake touched by a human hand than by a machine. “We always did believe in fresh and non-artificial ingredients ourselves,” he emphasizes. “Now we have more people asking and inquiring about the methods we use for our products than we did in the past. We have the nutritional information on everything we produce.”
Darmanin says he enjoys baking for New Yorkers because the educated consumer base appreciates his work the most. “More sophisticated people are here, I found, than in other areas,” Darmanin says. “Not that they are not in other parts of the country, but in New York, you find more of them.”
“New Yorkers are very quality-oriented,” Cassar adds. “They can distinguish a Danish made from fats to a Danish that is all butter.” However, even the most discriminating palette can struggle with recognizing JMJ’s products. Cassar laughs that food critics frequently rate the same dessert JMJ makes for different restaurants differently in their review.
“Essentially, they are the same recipe that we do for everyone,” Cassar points out. “When food critics go to different entities, they have very little knowledge of who produces their goods.”
JMJ Baking’s facilities are kosher dairy but the company does not produce sugar-free products or ones with other dietetic requirements. “We were never able to separate them at the location we are right now,” Darmanin concedes. “I was always conscious about committing mistakes and mixing up the product. Here, we know we were not able to do it.”
He adds the company would be willing to investigate production of such products at the new location. “We will have a much better facility where we can separate them,” he says. This includes producing certified organic products in the future. “We know there is a great demand, but we are not too far from that,” Darmanin stresses. “We are not too far from being all-natural as much as we can. We do not buy anything artificial – from flavorings to stabilizers – and we try to stay within the line of natural.”
Darmanin promises that the new bakery will be HACCP-certified. It is a system of safety in food production used by the FDA and the Department of Agriculture. “Most of our products, after they go through the line, need hand-finishing,” Darmanin points out. Mass production is not what has kept Darmanin’s family baking into its fourth generation. “It is the creation and the self-expression that I personally feel when I’m baking more than anything else,” he says.