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We Know Our Sources: Orlando Baking Company

We Know Our Sources: Orlando Baking Company

The following story was written by Heinen’s partner Elaine T. Cicora.

When partners Nick Orlando and Kim Heinen sit down to talk, the mutual respect is unmistakable. Call it trust, or admiration, or just plain affection, it’s the type of compatibility that only grows out of a long and productive shared history. 

In this particular case, Kim and Nick’s families have been doing business together for nearly 60 years. Their companies’ histories, however, date back much further: Orlando Baking Company’s to 1904, and Heinen’s – now marking its 95th anniversary – to 1929. 

Today, Nick Orlando, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, represents the fifth generation of the Cleveland-based baking company – one of the oldest continuously operating, family-owned baking businesses in the country. Meanwhile, Kim Heinen, Director of Packaged Goods, is a member of the fourth generation to operate her family’s locally owned grocery business.  

Those shared attributes – locally based, family-owned – were part of what originally drew the two businesses together, says Kim. 

Shared Values Result in the Ultimate Partnership 

“It was a natural fit,” she recalls. “Both Orlando and Heinen’s were starting to grow in the 1960s and both were looking for partners that shared their values. I know that sounds really broad, but it’s surprisingly hard to find companies that do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do. But Orlando had a great reputation for honesty and integrity, and we felt confident they would always do the right thing – by us and by our customers.” 

Nick was similarly impressed. “When I first met the Heinen’s family back in the 80s, they were so focused. I could see that they were striving to be the best. And then, in 2019, “Consumer Reports” ranked Heinen’s as the third best grocer in the country – right here, in Cleveland, Ohio! Obviously, Heinen’s is proud of that achievement. But it made Orlando very proud as well to be one of their partners.” 

Heinen’s Vintage Image

Innovation Through Collaboration

An appreciation for product innovation and development is another quality the companies embrace, Kim adds. 

“We’ve always been able to share new ideas with them,” Nick confirms, “whether the ideas moved from Heinen’s to Orlando, or from Orlando to Heinen’s.” 

That innovative mindset has turned out to be a great thing for Heinen’s shoppers, he adds, since several of those shared ideas have gone on to become popular features of the retail landscape.  

Take Orlando’s beloved ciabatta bread, for example. 

“We introduced ciabatta bread to America back in 1987,” Nick recalls, “and Heinen’s was the first grocer to sell it.” 

The bread was so new to the Cleveland-area market at that time that people didn’t know how to pronounce it. “I still remember going around to local restaurants and stores, and the owners would tell me, ‘If I can’t pronounce it, I’m not buying it.’ But Tom and Jeff (Heinen) said, ‘Yeah, we’ll give it a try.’”  

Dense and crusty, the loaves – arguably one of the harbingers of the artisanal bread trend – have since gone on to become a favorite, both in Heinen’s shopping carts and in restaurant breadbaskets around the country. 

“And if it wasn’t for Tom and Jeff, we might not be making it today!” Nick concludes. 

Heinen’s was also the first grocer to sell Orlando’s kaiser rolls, which had been initially developed in the mid-70s to meet the needs of the growing number of “gourmet burger” restaurants. The hefty rolls went on to become Heinen’s first-ever BOGO sale item, Nick says. “They did great!” 

A Commitment to the Community

A commitment to supporting the Greater Cleveland Food Bank is another passion the two partners share, both through product donations and representation on the board of directors.  
Nick recalls being the Social Chairman of the Association of Grocery Manufacturers Representatives in the mid-90s at the same time Jeff Heinen was a board member. In fact, Nick remembers working alongside Jeff Heinen to prepare for the first manufacturer and broker luncheon ever held at the original food bank location on Payne Avenue. Nick wanted to host the luncheon at the food bank instead of a banquet room to help attendees learn more and get involved with the food bank; however, the food bank was not equipped to prepare food, so Jeff stepped in to prepare lunch for the event. “It was a big success,” Nick remarks.  

Kim notes that Heinen’s has had members on the food bank’s board of directors for decades, including current board member and Heinen’s Director of Operations, John Cymanski.  

“When hunger is a societal issue for so many people, organizations like The Greater Cleveland Food Bank are essential,” she says. “They do such important work in serving our community; but it takes a village, right? They don’t exist unless all the local food retailers and manufacturers support them. It has to be a community effort.” 

“Being in the food business, it’s a natural partnership,” adds Nick. “They’re one of the finest food banks in the country, and what makes more sense than supporting them?”

Food bank packing bread boxes

A Relationship Built to Last

Nick and Kim clearly hold each other’s company in the highest regard. Nick praises Heinen’s knowledgeable associates, the enticing merchandising, and the selection of premium products. Kim, in turn, notes Orlando’s values. “They do the right thing,” she says. “They are fair, they are honest, and they have integrity. As a result, we’ve developed a very trusting relationship over the decades.” 

That relationship has paid off in material ways as well. Nick reports that, in terms of store-to-store sales, Heinen’s is Orlando’s top customer. Heinen’s, in turn, sells “an awful lot” of Orlando’s products, Kim says: 1,400 loaves per week, to be exact, with more expected, “once the Italian Twist loaf (sidelined during COVID) makes its return!” 

Such a long and productive shared history between two companies is both unique and inspiring, Kim says. “How cool is it that Nick and I can sit down today and talk business, with the understanding that our predecessors probably had the same type of meetings 50 years ago?” she asks. “The only reason small, local companies like ours are still in business is because you have to be agile. You have to innovate. You have to be able to share ideas with your partners. And it takes mutual trust to be able to do that.” 

“In the grand scheme of things, we are just a little piece in Heinen’s puzzle,” Nick replies. “But they make us feel important. We know that to be able to continue to succeed as a family business, we need great partners. And that’s what Heinen’s has always been to us.” 

Elaine Cicora

By Elaine Cicora

Elaine T. Cicora is a well-seasoned food writer, restaurant critic and editor whose byline has appeared in publications including Scene, Edible Cleveland, Cleveland Magazine and The New York Times. Her work has been recognized with awards from the James Beard Foundation, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Cleveland Press Club, the Association of Food Journalists and Les Dames d'Escoffier International, who honored her with the MFK Fisher Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing. When not growing, cooking, eating or writing about food, Elaine can often be found on her bicycle, trying to pedal away the consequences. Head Shot Credit: Beth Segal Photography

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