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Joe Schwebel loved to tell the story about when he returned to the family bakery in 1960 as a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and asked his grandmother, Dora Schwebel, where his office was. Schwebel, whose husband passed away in 1928, raised six children on her own and helped feed the people of Youngstown, OH, during the Great Depression. “He would sit and listen to a lot of ideas, and at the end, he had the ability to bring all of them together and move forward with a plan,” Paul said. For 44 years, the brothers shared major business decisions.She had a no-nonsense approach to life and told Joe the company had done just fine over the years without him. Paul and Joe were opposite in business roles yet totally complementary in results. Those roles, responsibilities and relationships continue with other family members in the business.
And he thanks the Schwebels for treating him like part of the family. I could see that part of Joe lives on in Paul, Lee and other members of the Schwebel family and in people like Mr. Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well, and at Schwebel Baking Co., consistently achieving the highest level of quality often comes from experience. Getting on the day shift at the flagship facility often requires decades of experience on the production line, according to Michael Elenz, vice-president of manufacturing.
Promotional pieces show Happy the Clown, who made his debut in the 1930s to boost morale during the Great Depression. The bakery also produces breakfast breads as well as hearth-baked breads and rolls, and it distributes bagels, English muffins, pitas and tortillas.
A classic sign captures one of the bakery’s most memorable advertising campaigns: “If it’s not Schwebel’s, don’t eat it.” Lee Schwebel, vice-president of marketing and de facto curator of the company’s history, noted that less than 5% of all family-owned businesses survive to the fourth generation. Throughout the decades, Schwebel Baking has kept to its core competency and still focuses on what it does best, according to Paul Schwebel, the company’s president. The products are sold not only under the Schwebel’s brand, but also under national franchise brands such as Cinnabon, Country Hearth, ’taliano, Roman Meal, Milton’s and Sun-Maid. “That product dates back 106 years.” The formula hasn’t changed since Paul’s grandfather learned how to bake it in Europe and began baking 40 loaves a day when the family bakery started.
As he walks through the plant, he routinely points out how long many of his veteran bakers have worked for the company.
A mixer operator on the bun line needs 22 years to hold that prime position.