South Charlotte

Bakers share a kitchen, see sweet results

The holidays are a busy time for bakers. Orders for cakes, cookies and special holiday treats abound.

Tiz Benson, 48, owner of Charlotte bakery Tizzerts, usually welcomes the extra volume she and her staff of eight must produce.

But in November 2009, after 14 years of doing business in South End, Benson's lease was up and she had not yet found a suitable new location for her bakery. The orders were piling up and she needed a larger kitchen.

"I kept searching for the perfect spot and I ran out of time," said Benson.

Meanwhile, Carlos Suarez, 53, was busy churning out cookies, cakes and seasonal products such as gingerbread houses at his Park Road Shopping Center bakery, Suarez Bakery, where he'd been doing business for 20 years. He learned through Marc Singer, a baking industry consultant who has worked with both Benson and Suarez, that Tizzerts was in dire need of a workspace.

"I felt bad for her," Suarez said. "She had nowhere to go. And the holidays were around the corner."

Suarez had ample kitchen space at Suarez Bakery, including an enormous circular oven and a lower-level storage floor, so Suarez agreed to let Benson and the Tizzerts staff share his kitchen and store to get Tizzerts through the holidays.

"It was a busy time for both of us," Suarez recalls, "but it worked."

The temporary arrangement that was supposed to last three weeks is now in its second year, with both Tizzerts and Suarez Bakery sharing the Park Road Shopping Center location.

The store was renovated to accommodate both bakeries with the addition of a customer consultation area up front and an office for Benson in the back. The glass cases that tempt customers with an array of pastries are divided between the two bakers, with signs designating who made what. There is some overlap (both bakeries make custom cakes, cupcakes and brownies) but each bakery has unique specialties.

Suarez specializes in homemade doughnuts and pastries, Cuban desserts and breads (to reflect his Cuban heritage), iced sugar cookies and seasonal products such as King's Cake and gingerbread houses. Suarez has a large repertoire of desserts and is "always willing to embrace new trends," such as his recent foray into whoopie pies.

Tizzerts, whose desserts also are sold in retail shops like Dean & DeLuca and Harris Teeter, makes a variety of filled cupcakes, brownies, bars, pound cakes and tea cakes, and specialty cakes and wedding cakes.

"We like to stick to what we do well," Benson said.

Both Benson and Suarez see the shared space and combined bakery as a win-win situation. They share vendor and pricing information, help each other get accounts, share inventory when needed and split the rent.

Benson said she values the busy Park Road Shopping Center location, noting that there is a ton of foot traffic, whereas there was none at her previous South End location. Suarez credits Benson with teaching him how to delegate and how to track what sells and what doesn't, to minimize waste.

"I have learned a lot from the way they run their kitchen," Suarez said. "Like how they take orders and rotate things through a process. Every stage of their production process was on a grander scale than I was doing."

The kitchen is filled with colorful frostings, cookie cutters, cake tins and workers from both bakeries working harmoniously side by side. The circular oven rotates continuously and holds 20 sheet pans at a time, allowing Suarez Bakery and Tizzerts to bake 400 medium-sized sugar cookies or 60 10-inch cake layers at a time.

While there is some friendly competition between the bakeries, both value the partnership and feel they are stronger for it. Customers who come in seeking one of them often will leave having purchased pastries from the other as well, and it is that type of crossover that epitomizes the success of their union.

While adjustments had to be made on both sides, Suarez and Tizzerts marvel at how easily they have been able to meld their two bakeries while maintaining their identities.

"It's actually pretty amazing that it worked out as well as it did," Benson said, noting she and Suarez barely knew each other when he first welcomed her into his bakery.

She credits his generosity and easygoing nature with making the transition smooth. Suarez has embraced the addition of "so many talented people" and agrees the union of the bakeries is a success for both.

With two bakeries in one spot, there is no doubt the biggest winner is the customer.