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Women in Foodservice
MB_Headshot_2.jpeg Corner Bakery
Melanie Barichivich joined Corner Bakery last year after an extensive career in the restaurant industry.

How marketing is playing a role in Corner Bakery’s turnaround plan

Melanie Barichivich, who joined Corner Bakery last year as its head of marketing, has urgency to get the brand ‘back in the face of the guest’

Corner Bakery has made notable progress since SSPC acquired the 100-plus unit brand last summer after its early 2023 bankruptcy. Some of that progress is evident in the numbers, like a $200,000 increase in average unit volumes in the last six months and an improvement in brand affinity and awareness scores.

Some of it is being made more behind-the-scenes, laying foundation for a strong comeback by the end of this year and beyond, and driven by a new leadership team and new vendor partnerships. One of the members of that leadership team is Melanie Barichivich, who was named the head of marketing last year after an extensive career in the restaurant industry working with brands like Pizza Hut, Popeyes, and Applebee’s.

She joined SSPC in February 2023 as the company was operating brands like Cici’s Pizza, Sonic, Roy’s, and Applebee’s, and she had a hand with all those brands. But it’s when the Corner Bakery was added to the roster that she knew she wanted to an opportunity to focus specifically on that turnaround.

“I knew I couldn’t do both, but I trusted SSPC’s ability moving forward with Corner Bakery. I knew the company had our back on a day-to-day level and had dialogue and openness. I saw them walk the walk with turnarounds at their other locations,” Barichivich said.

Because of that trust, she wasn’t daunted by the work that needed to be done, including a boatload of debt estimated at over $33 million. She considers it to be a learning experience to inform her contribution to the turnaround, starting with its stabilization. For the company, that meant retaining employees and providing best-in-class experiences. From her marketing perspective, that meant “getting back in the face of the guest.” Prior to the acquisition, it had been over 18 months since Corner Bakery had a presence on social or digital channels, for instance.

“They cut all marketing, and my goal was to get on track with that. I have my own experiences with Corner Bakery a long time ago and knew brand awareness was a big opportunity because the brand was associated with food and experience,” she said. “(The work) was low-hanging fruit.”

That said, the low-hanging fruit was “heavy.” Without much of a presence for so long, Corner Bakery became known for its bankruptcy and closures versus its artisan breads, freshly baked sweets and small neighborhood environment, Barichivich said. According to Technomic Ignite data, the chain finished 2022 with 138 units, nearly 14% less than 2021.  

“We know guests are wondering if this brand is evaporating, so re-engaging on social and digital was priority number one,” Barichivich said. “That required more than Champion (the marketing agency brought on board). We also needed our team members to help elevate the brand.”

To get that buy-in, Corner Bakery will refresh several brand elements – from the menu boards to merchandising – in the next couple of months. The company is also renewing its commitment to a “people-first culture,” with improved training programs that focus on the basics and cross functionality, more career opportunities, recognition programs, incentives and more.

“These are all refreshed elements that the brand has been needing for so long,” Barichivich said.

There are also new features in the works, like a loyalty program and website coming sometime this year. The company has also partnered with Qualtrics to gain stronger insights into customer experiences through in-store and online surveys. And, Corner Bakery is testing kiosks with Stingray Business and Bite to support those customer experiences while reducing labor costs. Driven by these updates, the company is targeting accelerated growth, starting with five to seven new cafes this year.

Despite the progress that has been made in a short amount of time, Barichivich admits she is now managing her own impatience, especially as the possibilities for this 33-year-old brand become clearer.

“We’re making changes, updating and rebuilding programs with our tiny, but capable team. It feels like we’re building a plane mid-flight – not enough progress has been made yet, but there are so many priorities we have to be disciplined and have the right strategy,” she said. “We owe it to ourselves and our franchisees to learn what works and spend wisely. We’ve accomplished so much already, but there is so much more to come.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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