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Quick competition: How local restaurants are finding their niche in a fast-food world

September 23, 2018
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Sugar bites from Shirley's Bakery are pictured on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Provo.

Though Utah Valley is home to an impressive variety of locally rooted restaurants, it also plays host to nearly 20 different McDonald’s and Wendy’s and a whopping 40 Subways where you can “eat fresh” at least 12 hours a day or more.

Factor in 24-hour options and the instant gratification of delivery, and the area’s local hotspot eateries have got their work cut out for them when it comes to bringing in crowds and offering food that even grab-and-go diners can’t resist.

So how do they do it? Dishing up food that’s fresh, delicious, unique and affordable isn’t easy, especially with swarms of fast-food competition, so we’re spotlighting three local restaurants that have found ways to not just keep afloat, but thrive in the highly competitive battle for your business.

Shirley’s Bakery

At 22 years old, Shirley’s Bakery in Provo has been around the longest of our picks, and was founded by Shirley Edwards as a means to support her five daughters when she became a single parent. The roots of her business all stemmed from a love of baking and sharing that love with others.

“All … recipes were created using ingredients found in anyone’s kitchen,” Edwards said. “I believe that is the definition of scratch. Real comfort food!”

Edwards loves to keep a clean kitchen and boasts to have “the best customers in town,” a conclusion reached from the personal relationships she’s built with them over the years.

“Running a Mom and Pop has been so awesome,” said Michelle Steenblik, one of Edwards’ daughters. “You really get to know your customers on a personal level. … I love to think that we are involved with a lot of special moments and traditions in our customers’ lives.”

Aside from simply offering tasty meals, take-home ordering, drive-through convenience and a sense of home, Steenblik said the attention to detail at Shirley’s sets them apart.

“We are a made-from-scratch bakery and café,” she said. “Our mixers start the mixing process every day around 6 p.m. in order to have fresh product when we open the following day at 7 a.m. I truly believe this is the key to making our items feel like it is coming from Grandma’s kitchen.”

All recipes are also crafted by Shirley herself.

“Creating recipes is like an art form,” Steenblik said. “It takes a lot of creativity and time to perfect one before our customers get the opportunity to enjoy the love she has created.”

Kneaders Bakery and Café

Kneaders Bakery and Café has been around nearly as long as Shirley’s, and has impressive roots in the community that have led to carefully selected franchises across the United States.

“Kneaders Bakery and Café began with an idea that people in Utah needed to experience authentic European hearth bread, so co-founders Gary and Colleen Worthington began building their dream,” said Kneaders CEO James Worthington.

Developing a consistent customer base isn’t easy, though. With fast, cheap options everywhere, Worthington said Kneaders’ success comes down to the quality and attention to detail.

“We focus on creating wholesome food made with simple ingredients that feels welcoming to customers,” he said. “We believe that everyday moments are special occasions at Kneaders and it’s that inviting atmosphere, along with drive-thru service that continues to attract customers to our stores for quick but quality service when they want it.”

Another focus of Kneaders is keeping things local.

“Kneaders is one of the only scratch-casual bakeries in the fast casual industry,” Worthington said. “That title means that we bake all of our hearth bread from scratch daily, in on-site working bakeries.”

The results are something to be proud of.

“As the CEO, it is incredible to look back on the progression of both the brand and the customers that helped us grow over the past 20 years,” Worthington said. “We have a multi-generational customer base and it is wonderful to walk into any one of our locations at any point during the day see grandparents, teenagers, parents and children all enjoying good company over great food. … It’s a very humbling feeling and I am grateful for their support every day.”

Cubby’s

According to Corporate Manager Jordan Rogers, Cubby’s, founded in 2012, also keeps the mindset of building a brand that’s focused on customers.

“Cubby and his wife spent countless hours creating a menu with healthy options where every person can find something they’ll love to eat,” Rogers said. “They continue to develop new offerings, and the most popular items will always be around. We want every person, regardless of preferences or appetite, to be able to find something on our menu that will keep them coming back.”

Though Cubby’s hasn’t quite hit the decade mark since opening, a few key things have led to its ability to spread to locations across the state.

“Aside from new additions to our menu, we’ve improved our operations and food quality,” Rogers said. “Cubby genuinely wants to make everyone’s lives better whether they are customers or employees, and we plan to continue expanding to create opportunities and provide great food for everyone. … If there’s a need that we can fill, we’ll do whatever we can to make sure that happens.”

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