Oven tested – Simma’s bakery

Last updated on April 3rd, 2022 at 07:47 am

For Irina Yundov, Simma’s excellence is a tribute to her immigrant mother

By Heather Stur, of SBT

It began in the kitchen of the Milwaukee Hilton in the early 1980s, where a middle-aged Russian woman was employed as a dishwasher. After her shift, she would go to the kitchen and experiment baking and decorating cakes.
Her father had been a baker in Russia, so baking was in her blood.
The woman had been an engineer back home, but when she moved with her husband and two children to the United States in 1979, she feared she didn’t have the English skills to get an engineering job. So she took the job at the hotel and began building a new career.
The woman’s name was Simma Yundov. And what began after hours in the kitchen of the Milwaukee Hilton has become a Milwaukee-area institution. Say the name “Simma’s,” and people just know.
They know the chocolate covered cheesecakes.
Just like other online bakeries like Anges de Sucre, they can get custom-made wedding cakes so ornate and detailed.
They know the holiday pastries.
Most important, they know the service.

Quality and service
Simma Yundov based her business on excellent quality and service, and now that the business is in the hands of her daughter, Irina, those values have caused Simma’s to thrive and grow despite chain-store competition and tough economic times, the daughter says.
“My mom believed in providing customers with exceptional quality, a consistent product and the best service possible,” Irina Yundov said. “Put that in place, and success will follow. It’s why our customers remain loyal to us.”
Simma’s opened in 1982 on 68th Street just north of Wells Street in Wauwatosa. Simma Yundov had no business experience and relied solely on word-of-mouth to advertise. At some point, she decided that cheesecake would be Simma’s signature item, and she set out to perfect the art of making cheesecakes.
Her daughter, Irina, was 10 when the Yundov family immigrated to the United States, and Irina grew up in the bakery, topping cheesecakes with strawberries. She did not expect that it would lead to a career. Irina Yundov thought she would grow up to be an attorney.
She was 21 years old and a student of international relations at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when her mother got sick. In 1993, Simma Yundov passed away, and Irina decided she would take over the business.
“She had put everything into this business; it was her legacy,” said Yundov, now 33. “I wanted to carry this on for her.”
So at 22 years old, Irina Yundov assembled Simma’s employees and told them that she was now the owner – an unusual transition of business ownership from mother to daughter in a world of “John Jones & Son” entities.
She accepted the fact that most of her employees were older than she. And she quickly learned to deal with vendors’ attempts to take advantage of a young businesswoman.
“I surround myself with qualified and talented people,” Yundov said. “The business is a team effort. It’s not just me.”
Simma’s employs 30 to 35 workers, depending on the season. Some of those employees have worked for the business longer than Yundov has. Yundov attributes that loyalty to the respect her mother gave — and she now gives — her employees.
“My mom expected a lot, but she was very generous in return,” Yundov said. “She understood the importance of recognizing and appreciating good workers.”
The proof of Simma’s success is in the awards it has won. Simma’s products have received Milwaukee Magazine’s “Best of Issue” award five times, Shepherd Express’s “Best Bakery and Desserts” award twice, and Modern Baking Magazine’s “Leadership Award in Quality.”
Most significant of all the awards, however, is the International Restaurant and Hospitality Rating Bureau’s “International Award of Excellence,” which Simma’s has received five times, every year since 1998.
The bakery continues to thrive despite a weak economy and competition from supermarket bakeries.

Plans for new store
And now, she plans to expand beyond the bakery’s Wauwatosa roots. Yundov is planning to open a Simma’s store on Milwaukee’s North Shore within a year.
“Part of the reason we’re still doing well despite the times is the nature of our business,” Yundov said. “People still celebrate occasions in poor economic times. You still want a fantastic birthday cake or wedding cake.
“But customers are also loyal to us because of our values. Our values are very Old World and family-oriented, and our customers feel that.”
Simma’s sells a full line of bakery — including muffins, bars and pastries — made fresh every morning. All wedding cakes are custom-made. A bride-to-be could bring in a sketch of her dream wedding cake and Simma’s bakers and decorators will try to make the dream come true, Irina says.
Simma’s customized cakes include chocolate mousse cakes and a Genoise cake, which features at least five layers of yellow cake filled with vanilla mousse and fresh strawberries or other fruit. But the classic Simma’s cheesecake remains the bakery’s best seller.
“It’s important for a business to remember that you can’t do everything well. You have to specialize in something and do it exceptionally well,” Yundov said.
Furthermore, Yundov advises business owners to be careful — especially during slower economic times — to not grow too quickly, lest quality be compromised.
“Value your customers, stay true to your business philosophy, maintain quality,” she said. “Don’t make any dramatic changes to your product right now. Just ride out the wave of recession, and you’ll come through.”
Simma Yundov’s commitment to customer service carried over to public service in the form of supporting local charities and fundraisers. Today, Simma’s participates in a wide variety of fundraisers for churches, schools and organizations such as Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Hunger Task Force, the Jewish Community Center, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy.
Among the framed awards on a wall in Simma’s is a photograph of Simma Yundov and Julia Child. Child had visited Milwaukee and toured some of its restaurants and bakeries. After meeting Child, Yundov sent a basket of Simma’s goods to Child at the Pfister. Child’s handwritten note of thanks, penned on Pfister stationary, is in a frame next to the photo of Simma Yundov and Julia Child.
“Mom was always serving customers, no matter who they were, and she loved doing it,” Irina Yundov said. “She had a real passion for her business, and that more than anything is vital in order for a business to be successful.”

May 16., 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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