By Katie Fallon
Suzette Dinardo did not get involved in the family business until after she had already entered the business world as a young adult; but when she did join the business, she committed herself to preserving the recipes created by her grandfather more than 80 years ago.
Dinardo is the owner of Henri’s Bakery, which has locations in both Sandy Springs and Buckhead.
The bakery, which she runs with three other family members and an army of staff, was first opened by her grandfather Henri Fiscus on the corner of 10th and Peachtree streets in 1921.
While Henri’s has been an Atlanta-area tradition for more than half a century, Dinardo and her siblings weren’t convinced to join the family enterprise until business got to be too much for her grandfather to handle.
“I worked outside of the company until I was 25. Then I joined forces with my sister Madeline,” Dinardo said. “None of us worked in the business, but it grew and we just had to get in here. My sister called me one day and said we had to give two weeks notice at our jobs. It’s a lot of work.”
Henri’s came to Sandy Springs in 1983 after being approached by Rich’s to buy five of its bakeries.
“We thought we’d give it a try,” she said. “After a year, we evaluated them and Sandy Springs was a successful store.”
It seems the Sandy Springs bakery has been a success ever since.
As is often the case with family-owned businesses, Henri’s has its multi-generational followers. In fact, Henri’s has developed such a following that Dinardo said she has already started to think about the holidays, which is the bakery’s busiest time of year. Dinardo herself usually sticks to the business end of things during most of the year, but said everybody has to roll up their sleeves and help out with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner orders.
During that holiday rush period, Dinardo said the business can get so busy that staff works practically 24/7, with just enough time to venture home for a shower and change of clothes. When the last dinner is picked up on Christmas Eve, the family will often pop open a bottle of champagne after locking up for the evening.
The customer loyalty, however, is not confined to in front of the counter. Henri’s still has two employees who were hired at age 14 by the original Henri. Those employees are now 65 and 67 years old.
“They’re our family,” Dinardo said. “They were here before I was.”
Similarly many managers and other employees have pressed their teenagers into service, especially during the months when they are home from college or out of high school for the winter or summer breaks.
“Everybody’s kids have worked here at some point,” Dinardo said.
Along with the consistency of the staff, Dinardo said the products Henri’s offers have changed little over the years in an effort to honor her grandfather’s recipes. While a new assortment of French pastries have been added over the years, the products still keep in line with the tradition began by Fiscus.
From the various products to the method in which they are baked, not much has changed at the bakery.
“We really try to keep my grandfather’s recipes,” she said. “To this day, we will not buy a cookie machine. We cut them out by hand.”
In addition, the bakery still uses butter and no preservatives, which is why freshly baked products not sold at the end of the business day are donated to a local shelter. That combination of ingredients, though, does not lend itself well to the more dietary baked goods. Dinardo said that was a conscious decision.
“When someone walks into a bakery, they’re not looking for diet products,” she said. “That a whole different ballgame. People come to Henri’s because they want their po-boy and they want their chocolate éclair. If we change that, we won’t be in business.”
Upon entering the bakery during a recent lunch hour, one customer knew she would find something good to gobble up.
“Oh yeah, this is going to be fun,” said Sandy Springs resident Pam Mitchell as she walked through the front door.
After choosing a ready-made po-boy from the display case, Mitchell met a friend outside to enjoy her lunch in the sun. She said she is actually a new Henri’s convert.
“I’ve driven past [Henri’s] a million times and never went in,” Mitchell said. “There are just so many places to have lunch. But then I kept hearing people talk about it and decided to check it out.”
Because of the unique offerings, Dinardo said she does not fear being run out of business by the mega-supermarkets with in-house bakeries.
“When I look at that, I think we’re a totally specialty,” she said. “People come to Henri’s because they want quality. A majority of that other stuff comes from a freezer, is iced and put in a showcase. I think it’s a whole other world.”
While the Sandy Springs location has remained a success for Henri’s, Dinardo said the Buckhead location still holds a special place in her heart because it is the direct continuation of what her grandfather created.
The Buckhead location on Irby Avenue near the Buckhead Triangle also offers an extended menu of ready-to-go meals and keeps its oven on continuously except for a period from Saturday night to Sunday. Both locations are open every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.