For a food outfit with a high profile — devoted customers, community-minded owners, lavish images on social media — Rounds Bakery of Reno has been something of a mystery since its combined retail and production operation on West Moana Lane closed in July 2020, at the height of the pandemic.
Soon after, the questions started. Would Rounds reopen? If so, where and when? There was talk of a new bakery at Tahoe-Regional Industrial Center (or somewhere else), buzz about interested investors, chatter over a potential sale
Several things fueled the speculation (besides social media silliness).
Rounds products could still be ordered online or purchased at local food spots. (But wasn’t the bakery closed?) Owners Anton Novak and Sean Cary were still honoring requests for charitable food donations. (Ditto?)
And then Cary moved with his and Novak’s three children to New Zealand, a move made possible because Novak holds a New Zealand passport through his mother. (Can a small business succeed with one partner 7,000 miles away?). The couple, often so garrulous otherwise, grew largely silent about what was occurring behind the scenes.
Novak, who remained in the U.S. to handle bakery matters, acknowledged why folks were confused. “Our products were still present in the community, but it was almost like, ‘Where are they coming from?’ “ At the same time, he said he could not give weight to ongoing speculation. “I had a business to run. I had to make sure our employees were still employed in the morning.”
The questions (and tittle tattle) can now be put to rest. Novak sat down exclusively with Reno News & Review to discuss how Rounds survived the pandemic and what lies ahead, including a new storefront, a new production facility and a new concept that has nothing to do with sriracha provolone bagels.
Temporary wholesale in Sparks; new business partners
Although Rounds Bakery ceased storefront sales in mid-July 2020, the business didn’t fully vacate its Moana Lane home of more than six years until the end of August.
Almost immediately, wholesale operations resumed, Novak said, in the leased kitchen of the Best Western hotel on Nugget Avenue in Sparks. (The hotel had closed its restaurant during the pandemic.) Retail employees moved to wholesale work like food assembly, packaging and delivery.
“While everyone thought it was us disappearing, retail sales were actually less than 10 percent of our revenue,” Novak said. “But retail was the place we really got to engage with our customers.”
Early in the pandemic, Novak and Cary joined with Kevin and Kaya Stanley, owners of Rue Bourbon (now for sale) and Old Granite Street Eatery, to provide meals to first responders. The couples discussed potential business partnerships.
Around the time Rounds Bakery relocated to Sparks, the couples merged their companies, forming a new entity, Life Tastes Good LLC, to hold their joint interests.
“During COVID, you could either pull in, or you could open up and look for opportunity. We all did the latter. We saw the opportunity to expand,” Kevin Stanley said.
“We came together over charity,” Novak added, “and we stayed together over profit.”
This past February, when Novak returned from a visit to New Zealand to see his husband and children, the plans for profit began taking serious shape.
A retail storefront at Legends
The new Rounds Bakery storefront is coming together at the Legends center in Sparks across from the movie theater. Build out? About $1.7 million, Novak said. The 4,000 square foot space will feature an order counter-slash-dining area out front and, visible through a glass partition, a display kitchen in the back to service the restaurant. (Wholesale operations will be elsewhere; more on that in a moment.)
The new shop will showcase freshly made quick-service food, what Rounds is calling Real Food. Fast: pastries, sandwiches (cold, heated, grilled), drinks (coffee, beer, wine).
“When I look at Legends, I know that people want good food, but we are not going to be the main attraction. They are coming to do something else,” Novak said. “If people don’t have enough time to sit for a full meal before the movie, we can still give them a quick brew or panini or a charcuterie board.
“The food won’t be made to order, but it will be freshly made. This enables us to feed people both in volume and in speed.”
Estimated opening is Labor Day.
Transforming the old Bavarian World
At the end of August, Novak said, Rounds Bakery will move its wholesale production from Sparks to the former Bavarian World bakery, store and restaurant that operated for nearly 50 years at West Sixth Street and Valley Road in Reno.
Rounds purchased the business, not the building, and Novak said renovations, underway since late April, are projected to cost at least $2 million. The gut job, he said, includes seismic strengthening, asbestos abatement, new electrical, solar panels, kitchen upgrades and new interiors.
“There’s no dance floor anymore,” Novak said. “There’s none of that.”
The ovens, industrial mixers and other baking equipment at Bavarian World aren’t going anywhere, though. “They will increase our production capacity by 70 percent right away,” Novak said. At the Best Western, “we’re currently pushing our ovens to the max.” (Also staying: the Bavarian World recipe book.)
Except for a small retail component, the new outpost on Sixth Street will make products mainly for wholesale customers, with one goal being to increase the number of restaurant, private food labels and grocery clients for whom Rounds does contract baking.
Restaurant kitchens that focus on preparing foods for other outlets to sell or deliver are often called ghost kitchens, so that’s what the Rounds wholesale operation has been dubbed.
At TRIC, electric pizza
In 2016, Rounds Bakery started provisioning and operating small markets for employees inside a business at the Tahoe Regional Industrial Center. Today, there are a dozen such markets. But the latest Rounds project at the factory will feature pizza, not bagels.
The Eating Company, scheduled to debut in late August, will offer signature or build-your-own pies that issue in about two minutes from an electric TurboChef pizza oven that can reach more than 800 F. The crusts, including a gluten-free version, will be parbaked at the ghost kitchen, then finished at The Eating Company.
“We have an incredible amount of baking talent on our team,” Novak said. “They know how to make pizza dough.”
The pizzas, for dine-in or takeout, will be packaged in boxes created by Cary imprinted with whimsical sayings (This is a salad, I swear!), or with games and brain teasers “so people can do something other than look at their phones while they’re enjoying their food,” Novak said. “Remember when you read the side of the cereal box as a kid?”
Salads, baked wings and pizza nachos are on the menu, too.
Dream of his father
The other afternoon, Novak briefly met with Kevin Stanley and with Heidi Rockburn, a longtime Reno food professional who recently came aboard as head of business development “to focus on relationships, start building relationships, figuring what else we can offer customers,” she said.
The conversation ranged from bagel chips to a potential aviation client, from cheese sticks (a new product?) to bag shapes to packaging with a rooster on front.
Later in the afternoon, Novak revealed yet another undertaking, a wholesale bagel operation he wants to begin building near the New Zealand wine country in 2022. This overseas project, and all the current Rounds projects in Reno and Sparks, pay tribute to Novak’s late father, a Czech refugee after World War II.
“He knew hunger very well. He scrounged food from dogs. He stole peas from farmers’ fields,” Novak said. “He vowed I would never know hunger. He always wanted to open a restaurant to feed people. I’m continuing that legacy.”
Bagels are bagels — but they can also be so much more.
Johnathan L. Wright is the food and drink writer for Reno News & Review. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsJLW or on Facebook personally or at @FoodNevada. Sign up here for the Reno News & Review free weekly newsletter.