Living out one’s core values can provide a foundation for success and direction for the future. Sugar Bowl Bakery knows the value of that lesson. The Hayward, Calif.-based producer of quality desserts has laid its foundation in the core values of humility, simplicity, family, creativity and integrity. These five pillars hold up the business as Sugar Bowl  Bakery serves its customers, supports employees and grows to one of the largest minority-owned bakeries in the United States.


“When it comes to Sugar Bowl Bakery’s success, I have to point to our values and what the Ly brothers established early on and what we formalized as time went on,” said Joel Feldman, president and chief operating officer of Sugar Bowl Bakery. “First and foremost, we are a family organization and strive to treat all of our employees as family, whether they are technically a member of the Ly family or not. We make investments on behalf of their health, safety and engagement.”


That’s been increasingly important as the coronavirus (COVID-19) threatened to interrupt Sugar Bowl Bakery’s plans for expansion last year. The company’s commitment to simplicity and disciplined approach allowed it to open its facility in Tucker, Ga., on time. Product was coming off the production line in Tucker in September 2020.


“We owe a debt of gratitude to our equipment suppliers who made that happen for us with relatively short lead times and executing during COVID,” Mr. Feldman said.

But the same values that have propelled Sugar Bowl Bakery’s growth and decision-making from the beginning set the company up for a successful startup in 2020.

Sugar Bowl Bakery is the culmination of an American dream from five brothers — Andrew, co-founder and chairman and chief executive officer; Paul, Sam, Binh and Tom, all co-founders and advisers — who immigrated to the United States in 1979. Refugees following the Vietnam War, the brothers waited with their families between 6 months and two years to come to the United States.


“They had opportunities to go to other countries, but they held out for America because they saw it as the land of opportunity,” Mr. Feldman explained.


The Ly family re-established themselves in San Francisco, and after working a collection of odd jobs, the five pooled their money to buy a retail bakery called Sugar Bowl Bakery in 1984. From that starting point, the brothers opened more corner bakeries, which they served out of a commissary. In the 1990s, they became more ambitious and expanded to the foodservice and hospitality sectors.


Once Sugar Bowl Bakery was discovered by one of the nation’s largest club chains, the company began transitioning to wholesale. And that’s where simplicity came into play. With thousands of SKUs to produce to support its foodservice business, Sugar Bowl Bakery simplified the business, cutting SKUs and opening two wholesale baking facilities in Hayward in 2005 and 2006.

“If you look at our portfolio, we’re not trying to be everything to everyone,” Mr. Feldman said. “We aim to grow our portfolio, but we’re not going to be trying to compete in every category. We do what we do really well.”

Today, Sugar Bowl Bakery focuses on five core products: Palmiers, Madeleines, Brownie Bites, Duet Bites — a half-madeleine and half-brownie product — and Fritters. This portfolio is sold to top national retailers representing club stores, mass merchandisers and supermarkets across the nation. The company’s growth over the years can be attributed to the way it lives out its values as it works with customers and develops its products. The core products are made with simple, high-quality ingredients. The Palmier, in particular, is a signature item that contains more than 2,500 layers of butter and dough.

“It’s an incredibly intricate and delicate product that we’re really proud of,” Mr. Feldman said.

Sugar Bowl Bakery has emphasized being customer-centric as it does business.

“It’s an honor to hear a customer say that it was a pleasure doing business and how easy it was to work with us,” he said. “That’s something we really value.”

While Sugar Bowl Bakery relies mostly on its own brand, it does some co-manufacturing and works with customers to develop new products. A robust R&D team of food scientists, led by Kevin Ly, a member of the second generation, is always innovating with new flavors and foods. But as this team works with customers, there is humility in the process.

“We try to partner with our customers, understanding that we might not have the right answer for everything,” Mr. Feldman explained. “We work with the customer who knows their consumer even better, and we develop something great together.”

This customer-centric approach to business has enabled the company to reach a nationwide customer-base. When it came time to expand capacity, Sugar Bowl Bakery decided to look to the East Coast for its next capital investment. The new Tucker facility not only provides capacity to the growing business but also improves its ability to support its customers. 

“It’s really about serving our customers better with a national footprint and added capacity, and we also want to reach new customers,” Mr. Feldman said. “If you think about customers who are only in the Northeast or Southeast, it can obviously be challenging to ship product all the way across the country, so now we’ll be able to serve them more efficiently including with a reduced carbon footprint.”

This article is an excerpt from the April 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sugar Bowl Bakery, click here.