Case Studies

Jeff Dunn – Nothing Bundt Cakes

Construction director aims to put a bundt cake bakery on every corner

After Jeff Dunn joined Nothing Bundt Cakes in 2021, he decided to make some changes. Dunn, who ultimately rose to senior director of construction and design at the Texas-based bundt cake baking company, thought the company’s design strategy and construction schedule could be more efficient.

“When I started, I was a team of one,” he says. “I hired two construction managers, a construction specialist and two design managers. With the team in place, we improved existing processes and created new ones to streamline and improve timelines.”

Dunn also switched to alternative store layouts and implemented other design tweaks. And he began choosing non-traditional locations for new stores.

Shaking things up is part of Dunn’s modus operandi. In his previous job at Snappy Salads, a Dallas-Fort Worth-based chain, he likewise made major changes to design, construction and facilities practices. By the time he built his seventh location for Snappy, he was improving the company’s unit-level economics, maintaining the chain’s signature look and feel while lowering build costs.

“With construction, I brought on more sophisticated contractors and vendors to streamline the construction process,” Dunn says. “I also implemented a project management software to track projects.”

Dunn’s crowning achievement at Snappy was the rollout of Ecotrak, an asset management software program that proved easy for restaurant managers to use. He also devised preventative maintenance programs to keep up facilities and equipment.

When he got to NBC, Dunn was ready for the fast-paced role he assumed. He helped the company open 51 locations last year and put it on track to more than double that this year with 110 openings. In total, NBC now has 516 locations in North America.

“It’s like Oprah: ‘You get a bakery! And you get a bakery!’” Dunn quips.

Expanding and redesigning

Intertwined with the company’s expansion is an interior design refresh that took up a lot of Dunn’s time until he left NBC in August 2023. All NBC locations are tenant finish-outs, so each looks slightly different, but Dunn tried to make sure they all had uniform layout and decor to allow for ease of employee training.

“It’s a little more simplistic,” Dunn says of the sleeker design. “And is more with the current times. We hadn’t really had a significant front-of-house update in 25 years. So, this is really a change—lighter colors, white and blue pops of color with confetti, and just really taking out a lot of the noise and allowing the cakes to shine and speak for themselves.”

And while the growth in the U.S. dwarfs it somewhat, NBC is also in the midst of an expansion into Canada. Dunn and his colleagues recently opened their third bakery in the Toronto area, and two more are in development.

Working with NBC’s supply chain department, Dunn built out a program to benefit NBC’s Canadian bakery owners, providing them with better support around equipment, goods and services upon opening and on vendor collaboration after they open. Bringing materials across the border, given tariffs and so forth, had become a bit of an issue, but Dunn and his team built relationships with vendors in Canada who could provide bakery equipment and supplies that meet Canadian regulations.

Keeping it cool despite challenges

Yet, growth did not come without its share of challenges. For example, last year, NBC’s walk-in refrigerator and freezer supplier began requiring a 26- to 30-week lead time on the appliances for new projects. And that clashed with Dunn’s timeline; NBC projects typically took eight to 10 weeks.

So, he had to do some creative problem-solving. Instead of rushing to create the walk-in designs way ahead of time and stretching out development schedules to match that lead time, Dunn worked with the company’s walk-in supplier and arranged to send in dummy drawings for dummy projects, putting those in the queue as placeholders without doing the actual designs or plans yet.

Those dummy drawings could be changed out up until six to eight weeks before launch, when the plans went into production. This way, Dunn says, they had a better idea of when projects were going to be in construction by the time they submitted the plans for the actual walk-ins.

“That was a huge win for us, because we didn’t have to have everything figured out 26 to 30 weeks ahead of time,” he says. “We could plug in locations where we needed, and then update as they were going into production.”

Learning from the best

A graduate of the University of Kansas, where he received his B.A. in communication studies, El Centro College, where he got his associate degree in culinary arts, and the University of Louisiana, where he earned his MBA in 2021, Dunn found his way to a key opportunity through personal crisis.

He started his career in restaurant operations, but moved into development about a decade ago when he and his wife had an infant son with significant health challenges. His son’s health issues soon passed, but Dunn grew to appreciate the more reliable schedule and better career growth available to him in the development world.

“I really liked the front-end development piece of it, and so I was able to move into development, and I’ve worked for a few different companies in development,” he says.

After cutting his teeth at Snappy Salads, he moved to Smoothie King in 2019, where he says he learned a great deal from Chief Development Officer Kevin King.

“At Smoothie King, I was a large part of the company’s brand redesign in 2021,” Dunn says. “I led the brand’s construction efforts though COVID as the rest of team was furloughed and laid off.”

After joining NBC in 2021 as director of construction and facilities, Dunn found two “pretty tremendous” mentors in Chris Tarrant—who came from Starbucks and, as a Canadian native, has been instrumental in the expansion up north—and Chris Bremer, who hired Dunn. Now a professional member of the Retail Design Institute, Dunn has enjoyed growing his skillset on the job, tutored by masters of the trade.

“I’ve been very lucky in having great mentors, great bosses and great leaders throughout my development career,” Dunn says. “They really helped me learn what it takes and understand how I can get better every single day.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VIII 2023 Edition here.

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