Sunday, March 30, 2014

The failures of Phatso’s Bakery

Many of us watched Phatso’s Bakery featured on the Food Network’s ‘Save my Bakery’ show last week with great interest and pride. As with all reality shows, there was a mix of fact and embellishment to make for good TV as we were led to believe Phatso’s really needs saving. If nothing else, Phatso's received national exposure and a beautiful new facade.

Despite the success of this family business, it continues to wallow in a number failures which a reality show can even reverse.

Failure #1
Despite being located in a very high traffic area right across from the Chester Transportation Center, Phatso’s is the only viable business on his block between 6th and 7th Street. Well, there is Showell’s deli but since I’ve never been in there, I assume there’s no reason to go in there. The Amish failed with their indoor farmers market, even with the city’s help. A Bar-B-Q joint has attempted to open in that space but it looks doomed before the doors ever opened. (I wonder if they had help from the city, too?)

Conclusion: The Phatso’s brand has failed to bring other business to join them on their block.

Failure #2
You can only buy Phatso’s donuts and muffins at Phatso’s. They are so good there’s no reason they aren’t sold all around, in corner stores, gas stations, work places, etc. But Phatso’s has failed to expand beyond the tiny store front on Welsh Street. Even when Harrah’s contracted with them, the relationship was short lived. 

Conclusion: Maybe Phatso’s isn’t geared for growth. They could be satisfied where they are if it’s paying the bills for the business and the household. Staying in the comfort zone of a single small location may be what’s preventing the next generation from being excited about taking over the business. 

Failure #3
Related to Failure #2 is failing to grow through forming additional outlets. If a Phatso’s can work in Chester, it can work damn near anywhere. Creating multiple outlets or even franchising seems like an easy progression for a small boutique bakery with its quality products. You can sit a Phatso’s right next to a Dunkin Donuts and for the donut lover, they’ll do Phatso’s all day. Of course, Dunkin doesn’t focus on donuts (check out their logo - it features a cup of coffee).

Conclusion: The business of making donuts is hard enough to have to be concerned with the business of growing an empire. It would take a team of experts to expand the Phatso’s brand beyond Welsh Street. There doesn’t seem to be any movement toward that end. Eventually, our only hope is that when the Phatso’s run is over, someone will be inclined to revive it just as Phatso’s revived Ann’s Donuts. 

Final Conclusion
I love Rick Wilcox and family and love the Phatso’s brand. I’m there at least twice a week buying a powdered jelly and something else. I know for a fact that a lot of the people at the end of the ‘Save my Bakery’ show haven’t been in Phatso’s two times this year, but they were all smiles for the camera like they were his biggest supporters. 

For me, Rick didn’t have to change a thing suggested by the reality TV host, and for the most part he didn’t. I share his desire to pass the family business on to his children. Unless Phatso’s grows beyond a single location bakery, it’s not likely to happen. The children would be more suited to run the Phatso’s enterprise as executives and not as interested in waking up at 2am every morning to knead dough and cut out donuts. 

Small business owners should be preparing to pass on more than a store front so that even if the offspring don’t get directly involved, the money flow continues. 

Even if it never happens like that, I’m going to continue to gorge on all the powered jelly donuts I can. 


  1. I didn't believe for one second that they were losing money considering they're sold out well before closing every day and I was disappointed that they didn't show or even mention the other employees (the girl in the pic here) as if they don't exist. I never had any reason to believe that they weren't clean with the exception of that filthy rug but I'm sure that was one of the embellishments per food network.

    1. Good observations. Yes, the cleanliness focus was embellished. Clearly, L&I would have shut them down if it was as bad as portrayed on TV. Some of the images they used were from the end of day but made it appear that's how the store looks when it opened. Mr. Wilcox admits to the compromises of the episode without going into any detail. I'm sure that was one of them. I must admit that his office was very cluttered, but no food is prepared in there.

      It would have been nice to see Amy (the lady in the photo) in the feature but the story wanted to focus on the family. In fact, I rarely ever see the young son working the shop, probably because he's in school during those hours.

      I believe the show did more good than harm. The outside facade looks great. I'm mixed on the inside changes. I love the color scheme and the faux donuts on the wall. I think the new layout took away valuable space from customers already cramped in an already too small space. I think the beverage cooler should have stayed behind the counter. And my biggest pet peeve is not being able to see them make the donuts. I thought that was one of the biggest attractions of Phatso's.

      Overall, the show did more good than harm.