High inflation, soaring energy costs not baked into the business
Some folks have not learned the value and reward of hard work. But Lodi’s Mel Haining is not one of them. He still puts in a 12-hour day at his bakery located on E. Oak Street across and down from the Richmaid restaurant.
At 88 years of age, Haining is “up and at ‘em” at 4:30 a.m. five days per week and sometimes Sunday as well. Being a SeventhDay Adventist keeps his business closed on Saturdays. There probably aren’t many people who could keep up with his grueling schedule, especially after completing almost nine decades of life.
As a youngster, Mel began baking with his mother learning his trade early in life. However, he did not always follow this pastry path, and told me most of his career has been in construction-related businesses.
Originally from Phoenix, Haining came to Lodi for the marriage of his daughter to a fellow who comes from a well-known Lodi family. He eventually decided to stay. Around 12 years ago, he opened his bakery called “Sweet Mel’s,” which still is found at its original location.
“He’s old school,” said one of Mel’s favorite customers named Monica. “He feels like family. He bakes the way my grandmother used to do it. I especially love the lemon bars, cinnamon rolls and pumpkin-based goodies.”
Haining revealed he’d love to offer about 100 items in the store, but can’t afford the staff to do it. What he does have are a variety of items that are very popular with regular customers.
He considers pies his specialties, such as marionberry pie and apple. Birthday and anniversary cakes are also available.
In addition, Haining offers a variety of cookies that include sugar, pumpkin, chocolate chip and “cowboy”-the last which has an oatmeal base.
Other items include cheese buttons and bierock sandwiches.
However, because of high inflation for raw materials, all is not rosy for the business. “When I opened a few years ago, I could buy eggs for $1.50 per dozen. Now they’re four times as much,” he said. “Flower, butter and everything else has gone through the roof.”
Mel says his landlord has been very good to him, and he can’t afford to leave for a more central location. But in addition to raw materials, energy costs are eating him alive as well. “Just my electricity has been as much as $1,500 per month,” he bemoaned.
“I’m in a real squeeze,” said Haining. “Expenses are going crazy, but I don’t want to raise prices and hurt my customers.”
But at the same time, Haining realizes that at the present rate of inflation, the end result will be disaster and eventually put him out of business. He lost thousands of dollars last year and knows this trend cannot continue.
The senior baker is obviously not getting any younger and understands he cannot keep things going at the same pace forever. He believes “God has been good to me” for enabling him to perform at an energy level that is so unusual for someone his age.
He hopes the right person will be interested in taking over his business in the near future. He would like to see the same quality of his goods being offered in our local community for many years to come.
No doubt, faithful, regular and newly acquired customers feel the same way.