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Sales Rise at Butter Maid Bakery Thanks to Internet

BOARDMAN, Ohio — One need only pause and read the testimonials posted above the prep counter at Butter Maid Bakery in Boardman to gain an insight into how the internet has changed the nature of small business.

From Broken Arrow, Okla., to an unidentified Army forward area in Afghanistan, customers of the bakery have found and savored a taste of Youngstown ever since Butter Maid devoted more attention to selling its goods online.

“Our internet business has really taken off,” says Jeff Naumoff, whose family has owned and operated Butter Maid since 1955. “It’s been amazing. It’s tripled our business over the last couple of years.”

The communications revolution has allowed people from all over the country – many with roots in the Mahoning Valley – to remain connected with the flavors of homemade baked goods, especially the bakery’s signature kolachi.

“Kolachi is very popular in all 50 states,” Naumoff says, “and we do have a great military program where we send cookies to soldiers overseas in CARE packages.”

Today, more than 80% of Butter Maid’s business is conducted online, he says. “We’ve had a lot of success in Facebook advertising in reaching our demographics. That’s really where it’s all come from in the last year and a half.”

Kolachi has a long history in the Mahoning Valley. Eastern European immigrants brought their recipes when they settled here, Naumoff says. Many who moved away yearn for that hometown flavor, often complaining that they can’t get baked products this authentic elsewhere.

The roots of Butter Maid lie in Steel Street on the west side of Youngstown where Naumoff’s great- grandfather Dimitri started and owned the Steelton Bakery. After selling his share to his business partner, Dimitri opened Butter Maid in 1955 at the then newly built Boardman Plaza. “I think we were the third tenant in this plaza,” says Nuamoff, the fourth generation of his family to run the business.

In 1984, Butter Maid relocated to the Southern Park Mall, and eventually opened a storefront in a mall near the Pittsburgh International Airport, Naumoff says. But about 2½ years ago, the business closed its mall locations and consolidated in the very place it was born 61 years ago, the Boardman Plaza. “We had three or four locations at one time, and we thought it best to consolidate and focus on doing what we do well. And that’s making kolachi,” Naumoff says. “Opening back in the plaza was the perfect place – coming back to where we started.”

Naumoff’s parents, Jim and Gloria, are still busy every day at the bakery.

“We started when the Boardman Plaza was new, and we thank the DeBartolo family for giving us the opportunity to grow here,” says Jim Naumoff, referring to the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., which built the plaza in 1949. “Back then, it was the place to shop.”

Butter Maid has enjoyed success through four generations because it adapted to meet changing markets, the elder Naumoff says. “We’ve been able to change with the times. A lot of our business is internet sales. The companies that are successful are doing that. And Jeff’s helped us do that.”

The busy holiday season is about to start, Jeff Naumoff says, and the business employs between 10 and 20, depending on the time of year. On a late October morning, bakers are preparing a row of kolachi on a long stainless steel table. They roll the sweet yeast-raised dough nearly paper thin and spread the filling – in this case, a homemade walnut-raisin paste – evenly across the dough.

“We spread until it’s just about even across the board,” says Kai Murphy, one of the bakers. “Roll it nice and tight. Get a nice seal on it. It bakes perfect every time.”

Each roll consists of five ounces of dough and 13 ounces of filling. “So, we get a 24- to 25-ounce roll at the end of the day,” Murphy says. After some 40 minutes in the oven, the kolachi is ready for shipment via the U.S. Postal Service or displayed in the cases out front for immediate sale.

“We make it the same way your grandmother would make it, only on a larger scale,” Naumoff notes. “We do everything ourselves. We make them from scratch, we bake them, freeze them, vacuum seal them so they stay fresh, and then pack and ship them to the customer.”

Traditional kolachi is usually stuffed with a sweet brown-walnut filling, Naumoff says. Other fillings often used are apricot, poppy seed and prune. Butter Maid makes 13 varieties of kolachi, which include apple-cinnamon-walnut, raspberry-walnut, chocolate-walnut and pumpkin-walnut.

“We’ve gotten a little creative over the past few years with our growth and introduced new flavors that have become very popular,” he says.

The bakery makes a variety of pies, cookies and other baked goods as well, but about 75% of the business is based on the sale of its kolachi. Returning to the Boardman Plaza proved a good move because it allows the business to comfortably handle its online orders and serve the walk-in traffic.

“We wanted to come back,” Naumoff says. “It’s allowed us to be successful and focus on our internet business and the local community.”

Pictured: Gloria, Jeff and Jim Naumoff represent the third and fourth generation of the family to operate Butter Maid Bakery.

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Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.