By Keysha Drexel
While Savage’s Bakery has been a landmark in downtown Homewood since the 1950s, owner Van Scott gives the credit for the company’s most recent accolade to his daughter, Margaret Scott, who came on board with the family business about three years ago.
Savage’s Bakery was named Business of the Year by the Homewood Chamber of Commerce in December.
“I attribute that to the work that Margaret has done,” Van said. “She’s added a fresh new enthusiasm, and she’s worked hard to get friendly faces behind the counter.”
Founded in 1939 on Highland Avenue in Birmingham by William Savage, the bakery was relocated to downtown Homewood in the 1950s. Vann bought the bakery in 1978 after Savage died. At the time, Vann was just 27 years old.
“I knew that I didn’t want to sit behind a desk, and I needed a job that was active. I grew up loving sports, and this business is a lot more physical than you would think,” Vann said. “I knew I wanted to be my own boss and to control my own destiny.”
By the time he bought Savage’s from William Savage’s widow, Vann already knew the ins and outs of the bakery business.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama, Vann worked at Waite’s Bakery for about a year and a half. The Southside landmark known for its ice cream and cakes closed in 1988 after more than six decades in business.
“When I worked at Waite’s, I made it my goal to learn everything I could,” Vann said. “I would come in four or five hours before my shift started to work with the bakers so I could learn how to make everything that was served.”
That willingness to learn all aspects of the bakery business is something that the young entrepreneur continued when he bought Savage’s.
“I made up my mind to learn everything about the business so that if I had to, I could do all of it myself,” he said.
But luckily, Van has had the support of his family since he first bought Savage’s Bakery.
“My mother, my sisters–we’ve all worked here at one point or another,” Margaret said. “It’s truly a family business.”
That family, Margaret said, includes Savage’s employees.
“That’s something we really pride ourselves on and always have,” Margaret said. “Some of our employees have been with us since the beginning, and they really are like our family. The business has provided a wonderful life for our family, and I want that for our employees.”
Van also credits much of the bakery’s success to the hard work and loyalty of his longtime employees.
“Like Ben, our baker,” he said. “He was 19 when he started here, and he’s still here 33 years later. His own children have also grown up working here. Ben’s son feels like he’s Margaret’s brother.”
Vann said he’s often contacted by former employees who tell him how much working at Savage’s meant to them.
“They know that no matter how many years have passed, they can call me up and I’ll answer,” he said. “Just the other day, I had a guy who worked here as a teenager who is a very successful businessman now call me. He was looking for a good job for his stepson, and so he called me. That kind of thing means a lot to me.”
While Margaret grew up at the feet of her father as he made the bakery’s famous meltaways, petit fours, iced cookies and cakes, it wasn’t until a few years ago that she decided to make the family business her career.
A graduate of Mountain Brook High School, Margaret earned a bachelor’s degree in managerial finance from the University of Mississippi and then spent three years working at a ski resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
“I moved home when my sister was about to have her baby, and he’s 3 now. I hadn’t really planned on staying at that point, but it worked out that way and I’m really happy it did,” she said.
Working with her father every day is fun, Margaret said, especially when she gets to turn the tables on the boss.
“I like to boss him around from time to time,” she said, laughing.
Having his daughter learning the family business and making strides to expand the company’s reach is a true blessing, Van said.
“What’s wonderful for me is having my youngest daughter here. I never wanted my daughters to work here in some ways because I didn’t want them to have to work that hard. But having Margaret here has made our relationship so much closer, and I love it,” he said.
Margaret Scott now does all the bakery’s bookkeeping and has done a fabulous job, her dad said, of training new employees and taking care of the details that keep the business running smoothly.
“Margaret has been really proactive about doing the little things that make things better for our customers, whether that’s new signage or participating in community events,” he said.
As for the future of Savage’s, both father and daughter said they want to continue to build the business without compromising its commitment to its customers, employees and community.
“We want to still be going strong for the next generation while staying true to our history,” Margaret said.
That approach seems to be expanding the bakery’s reach beyond baked goods.
In 2012, Savage’s pimento cheese sandwich with sun-dried tomato bread was voted one of the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die” by the Alabama Tourism Department.
The pimento cheese in the sandwich is based on William Savage’s original recipe and is spread between sun-dried tomato bread that is baked fresh at the Homewood bakery.
For more information, visit www.savagebakery.com.