BY IVA MAURIN
DAN DAN, Saipan — From its beginnings as a small bakery in Chalan Kanoa with about 10 staff, in 76 years Herman’s Modern Bakery has grown into a full-blown bakery and cafe with 119 employees.
Sited in Tun Herman Pan Road (formerly Airport Road), the family-run business expanded the bakery’s retail store and reopened an upgraded and accessible Tan Marikita’s Café in September.
“Previously with the old set up, the retail and cafe` were a combined operation,” Annie G. Hayes, general manager, told the Journal. The total square footage was 768 square feet, she said.
“With the expansion we isolated the bakery retail alone to 534 square feet, to where it is now in the new area. All our bakery bread displays are situated in there, plus we have two refrigerated display cases in there as well and still have ample room for our customers to move around. It’s a much better, nicer set up.”
The renovation has added room for diners, Hayes said. “Previously we had a maximum of 35 sitting capacity. We have expanded the area with a total square footage of 1,037 square feet. We doubled our sitting capacity and still have sufficient room. We can add a couple more tables for additional sitting capacity if we wanted to. We’ll see when things get back to normal,” she said.
The back of house has also seen additions.
“Our kitchen then was only 324 square feet; with the new expansion we made it larger and gained more workspace and separated the preparation room, the cooking area on the other side [for] a total of 723 square feet. There’s ample room, so that we can accommodate catering jobs as we get them with no trouble,” Hayes said.
Overall, she said, “We’re pleased with the expansion, with the exception that the timing of the pandemic hit us right about when our expansion was ongoing. We had to continue in spite of what was happening with the pandemic.”
Hayes said Herman’s is coping with the challenges the business is facing, most especially the pandemic.
“We were very fortunate that we only have a few people furloughed, and that [now], pretty much everybody’s back. … We’re very fortunate that we’re in the food industry and people are still buying bread, baked goods.”
She also said until tourism is back and given that no one really knows when the pandemic will end, the business still needs to tighten up and review every cost and expense, to “hunker down and secure for a rainy day.”
Hayes said Herman’s has had to adjust — accommodating only up to 43 people now in the Cafe — due to COVID t guidelines and restrictions in the Northern Mariana Islands. Herman’s intend to double this number as soon as things go back to normal.
“Initially, when we did this expansion, the intention was to open including dinner. Right now, because of all these restrictions and the guidelines, we’ve stepped back. We have a menu pretty much in place already, so it’s just on hold at the moment, but we wanted to introduce them to the community,” Hayes said.
“Obviously we’re still waiting for that heyday. … We have good days and then, there’s really slow days. Sunday is usually our best, when people show up to church. Another thing is that families are still traveling. They come in and buy bread and pasta boxes, but it’s not like it was before, with people traveling from Guam and everybody wants [something to bring home].”
For people who are hesitant to come into the bakery or cafe, Hayes said Herman’s has partnered with Eats Easy, the NMI’s first food delivery app service, to make it more convenient for the community to order through their phones, and have food delivered wherever they are.
Aside from that, Herman’s is also one of the food service vendors for the NMI Public School System and provides meals to public school students — breakfast, lunch, and snacks — through the PSS Grab-and-Go food distribution program.
In mid-March Hayes said Herman’s had to layoff almost 20 food service employees because of the PSS shutdown due to a COVID-19 community spread cluster. The spread was contained; PSS also has now gone back to blended learning and has since recalled its staff to again provide food service.
Hayes also expressed optimism on recent developments, in terms of federal aid coming into the NMI — which means more money to circulate in the community, but will be happy to see the economy return.
“It’s slow progress, but I think the government is considering the safety of the whole community. I think that should be the foremost focus,” she said. “The COVID Task Force is doing a great job.”
The business and its clientele remain steadfast, even growing.
Hayes said, “The baby boomers grew up with the Herman’s sweet bread, our signature bread, and they still come back. Their grandchildren are now eating that sweet bread and they keep coming back. That in itself — knowing that our community is satisfied — that is the most appealing. The success of the company is that people are still very satisfied with what we do and have been doing for years.” mbj