Every New Yorker has a favorite bakery and a favorite place to get a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich (pronounced as one word: baconeggncheese). If you’re really lucky, those necessities are nearby and all under one roof.
Rudy’s Bakery in Queens, New York City, has been a local favorite for over 90 years for this reason. Entering the old school bakery, you’re immediately greeted by a mile-long pastry case filled with danishes, turnovers, cookies, and chocolate-covered everything. And that’s not even half of what they offer.
As Yelp Reviewer Chuck C. notes: “Walking in, it takes literally all the willpower one has not to order everything you look at, as everything looks so frigging good. While I knew we would be getting donuts, it took like 30 minutes of window shopping before we knew what else we were going to pick up.”
Owner Toni Binanti’s goal when taking over the bakery 41 years ago wasn’t to trap customers in indecision. Rather, she wanted them to linger like they were at home.
“We didn’t want a commercial bakery,” Toni said. “Basically, I want people to feel comfortable sitting in here and say, ‘Wow, this is a true bakery.’ So for me, when you call me an old bakery, an old establishment, I love it. That’s my goal. I don’t want this to ever be this new, modern bakery, you know? I still have an old-fashioned register. I still do my math on a piece of paper. I don’t wanna change that.”
The bakery’s longevity has helped Toni connect with her customers in a unique way: getting to know different families across multiple generations.
“Some people come in here and they’ll tell me, ‘You know, my grandparents used to come to Rudy’s,’ and by the end of the conversation, I’ll be like, ‘Did they just move upstate? They just moved to Texas?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yes…?’ A lot of people think I’m this weirdo ‘cause I know everything about that. And it’s incredible. I don’t do this for the money. I do this ‘cause it’s in my blood. I mean, I just love to make everybody happy. Just… that’s me!”
Back when Toni started in business, the male-dominated industry wasn’t as welcoming to her. “Now, I have a lot of other women in business with me, and I’m proud of them. But when I started, there was no support group like we have today. How did I soar past that? You know what, I just gave it my all. I was true to myself, and I said to myself, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’
In 2018 or 2019, they awarded me with a businesswoman plaque. And one of my topics when I spoke was: This is one the best achievement plaques I’ve got. Even with all the awards I’ve gotten, I felt like I finally got all the accomplishments and recognition I wanted as a woman in business. ‘Cause I felt, after 40 years, I got the accomplishment that I needed to get, I guess, by being a woman.”
Even through the pandemic, Toni didn’t shutter the business completely. She delivered cupcakes to hospitals when other bakeries were closed, just to spread some cheer in trying times. When supply chains tell her that prices are increasing, she makes a point to explain to customers personally why Rudy’s baked goods are a little more expensive (rather than simply putting up a sign). She’s the labor in the bakery, putting in the work to ensure her business maintains that personal touch Rudy’s is known for.
“When you walk into Rudy’s, my goal is to make everybody feel at home,” Toni said. “It doesn’t matter who it is that walks through my door. We try to welcome everybody by name. If I don’t remember their name, I’ll remember what they bought. I’ll remember what they have, what they want.”
Toni’s four decades of success with Rudy’s is thanks to three main habits:
- Know your neighborhood. Connecting with regulars develops a deep connection to your business. You might have great bagels, but it’s your ability to remember their names and orders that builds customer loyalty.
- Share your expertise. Customers have opinions, but you as the business owner have experience. Guiding their requests with honesty and facts will help you build better connections with customers.
- Use negative reviews to improve your business. No one likes negative feedback, but sometimes it’s the best way to learn and grow. Use negative customer experiences to improve facets of your business, but don’t dwell on them.
Photos of Rudy’s Bakery on Yelp; interviews by Emily Washcovick and editorial contributions from Will Degirolamo
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Toni and Samantha, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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