Operator Profile: Companion Bakery and Café
Josh Allen believes the right loaf of bread can spark a great conversation between friends, neighbors and even strangers. That's the philosophy behind Companion, an artisan bakery founded by Allen in 1993.
"The Latin root of companion is cum pane, which essentially means 'with bread'," Allen said. "So a companion was someone with whom you broke bread, a friend with whom you shared. This was a perfect fit with my philosophy to open the business."
Allen may be on to something. The Wall Street Journal reports that "in the early moments of Egypt's springtime revolution, crowds in Tahrir Square clamored for bread and liberty" — demands similar to scores of uprisings since the French, creators of the celebrated baguette, revolted against the monarchy in 1789.
So with no formal training in bread making and only a stone French bakers' oven, Allen set out to create wholesome and delicious European breads that would unite the community. Starting with just six breads, Companion quickly made a name for itself and began getting orders from local restaurants and specialty stores.
In 2001, Allen expanded beyond a bakery and opened the first of two Companion cafés that serve his signature craft breads along with breakfast, soups, salads, classic sandwiches, homemade cookies, panini and more. Freshly baked Companion bread and sweets are also available in more than 50 area grocery stores and at the Companion Early Bird Outlet, which sells products by the pound at up to 40% below retail every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning at the company's South St. Louis bakehouse.
"By focusing on the 4Cs – our companions, customers, community and company – we have built a strong reputation for doing things right," Allen said.
Today, Companion bakes 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of bread a day and delivers to nearly 200 restaurants and grocery stores. The French baguette has always been Companion's most popular item followed by the Bavarian pretzel, which owes its success to the growth of microbreweries and gastropubs in recent years.
"US Foods has been our sole broadline food supplier for nearly 18 years and has always been responsive to our needs," Allen said. "Of the new products, we're thrilled with the Metro Deli™ oven-roasted turkey breast. It's great quality, slices well and maintains its integrity nicely in our sandwiches.
"We are both a partner and a vendor in that US Foods carries a number of our frozen artisan bread products and New York-style cheesecakes. Most important, we have a strong commitment to helping each other grow and prosper."
Above all, Allen strives each day to discover new ways to create innovative products, delight customers and connect with the community.
"I set out every day to try and help folks understand what they eat, who they purchase from and how they interact in a sustainable environment," Allen said. "We support local, independent businesses as customers, vendors and service partners. And we set about to do all that with an attitude of mutual respect and benefit."
By focusing on serving customers and the community for nearly two decades, Allen and Companion have become the embodiment of the Turkish proverb, "A good companion shortens the longest road."
8143 Maryland Avenue, Clayton, Missouri 63105
9781 Clayton Road, Ladue, Missouri 63124
Early Bird Outlet
4555 Gustine Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63116