Business Owner, Benjamin Vickers. Photo provided by Bank of Central Florida, Member FDIC
For many bakers, their love for the art starts as a simple hobby, a creative outlet in the midst of life's demands. Benjamin Vickers, owner and founder of Honeycomb Bread Bakers, started his baking journey in college, experimenting in his dorms kitchen. Amid the hustle of academic life, he found solace and joy in the act of baking. “It was like carpentry, taking raw ingredients and crafting them into something entirely new, a concept that resonated deeply with me,” Benjamin stated, “as a hobby it developed, where I was doing more baking than studying.”
With a newfound determination, Benjamin enrolled in culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America located in Hyde Park, New York. From there, he embarked on a culinary journey that spanned the East Coast, only to find his way back to his hometown, Lakeland Florida. His first location opened in Lakeland through a farmer’s market, where he introduced a micro-bakery concept and directly sold as well as wholesaled his creations to cafes in the area. Eventually, Benjamin’s endeavors were getting too big for the space the farmers market provided, and was able to move into a more physical location in 2019.
While the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 created a lot of issues, it actually provided Benjamin and his team a much needed reset. “The timing, though coincidental, was a blessing in disguise. It provided us with an opportunity to refocus our efforts on wholesale and farmer’s markets, a lifeline that sustained us throughout the tumultuous year that was 2020” Benjamin recalled. With their move away from the Lakeland location, a contact with Destroyer Media introduced Benjamin to a location in Winter Haven, ready to be custom designed to fit his café’s needs. The prospect of relocating to Winter Haven and starting anew in a different setting was met with a mix of excitement and apprehension. The idea of rebuilding their brand in an unfamiliar community was undoubtedly daunting.
Fortunately, their prior experiences served as guiding stars. Benjamin and his team managed to transplant much of their branding and marketing from their earlier venture in Lakeland, enabling them to carry forward their brand confidently. Armed with the lessons of the past, they approached the functional design of their new space with a newfound confidence, shaping it according to their vision and needs. The process of integrating with the community was more than just establishing a physical presence; it was about crafting an intentional, purposeful environment.
During this time, their transition wasn’t just physical, but financial as well. “We were with a large bank before, but it was very impersonal. As a small operator, we were having a hard time getting them to take us seriously. So, it was pretty clear we needed someone with a local touch- someone who knew our name, and we knew theirs. We needed someone who would be able to take us a little more seriously, and be more than just a number on a spread sheet.” For Benjamin, communication, transparency, and peer relations are the pillars of his business, so working with a bank with similar values was pivotal.
During their journey to open their doors in Winter Haven, the building and creation of their café space needed funding. Benjamin’s father introduced him to Bank of Central Florida through a contact he had, and once introduced, it was off to the races and a smooth process to obtain loan for the much needed equipment funding for the café.
With funding secured, Benjamin was able to build the café and insert the custom equipment needed to run his café. Now that the shop was opened, getting customers was the next step in his plan. Similar to his start in Lakeland, Benjamin introduced himself into the Winter Haven Farmer’s Market scene, extending his reach into the local community. With landscape rich in coffee shops, Benjamin carved out his niche, focusing on quality and freshness in his baked goods and supply chain.
Transparency emerged as a cornerstone of Benjamin’s philosophy, turning away from gimmicks in favor of a steadfast commitment to quality and simplicity. For Benjamin, hospitality extended beyond the confines of the café; it entailed understanding the evolving needs of his patrons and anticipating their future desires, “I’m somebody that, when given the opportunity to see someone in person in a face-to-face interaction, I’ll take it,” Benjamin added.
That philosophy extends to those Benjamin wants to do business with; “When I walk in to make a deposit, everyone knows who I am, they know my nephew, how my mom’s doing- and vice versa, I like being able to know how they are doing, what their recent vacation was, etc. as it opens up the relationship and makes us feel stronger as a community.”
That person-to-person aspect is important, and being able to call up and feel comfortable talking can mean the difference. “We had a staff member a few months ago whom we gave a paper check to, and they tried cashing multiple at the same time and one of your staff, Mary, had given me a call to double check to make sure everything was okay to provide hospitality in that moment of unusual activity, which is something my previous big bank would never do.”
Undoubtedly, having a clear vision paved the path to Benjamin’s success. With each iteration, from his first venture to his second, and now his upcoming ice cream parlor, Ripples. Benjamin’s ability to pose the right question, and act on his learned experience has allowed him to make the right decision and take chances on his future. The support of a dedicated team, spanning from in house, to the construction teams, and our banking team has been instrumental in translating his vision into reality.
Soon, Benjamin’s new business, Ripples, will be opening as a passion project. Ripples is an Ice cream shop located in Winter Haven’s newest food and beverage spot, Bowen Yard. Ripples focus is a commitment to quality with an aim to evoke the idea of the “best summer” of your childhood. Learn more about Benjamin’s business, Honeycomb Bread Bakers, and stay up to date with any future endeavors on his site: https://www.honeycombbread.com