Three Brothers Bakery has deep roots. Before it was a “Houston institution,” employing 65 people at 3 locations in one of America’s most diverse cities, it was a small bakery run by the Jucker family in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Poland. When World War II spread throughout Europe, the family was sent to Nazi concentration camps. On May 8, 1945, Sigmund Jucker woke to find that the camp’s SS soldiers had fled. He cut through the surrounding wire fence, leading himself and the other prisoners to freedom.
After liberation, the Jucker siblings relocated to Texas and began building new lives around the skill they knew best: making bread. On May 8, 1949 – four years to the day after their imprisonment ended – brothers Sol, Sigmund and Max Jucker opened the first location of Three Brothers Bakery in Houston.
More than a half-century later, the bakery has expanded and thrived, overseen by a new generation of Juckers. Grounded by a deep connection to the past, Sigmund’s son Robert and his wife Janice channel their family history into a commitment to the future, both in the form of culinary innovation and in the economic growth of Houston’s inner-city neighborhoods. After living in several cities throughout Texas and the US, Janice Jucker feels that the diverse, multi-generational community of Houston has been key to the business’s success.
“This business wouldn’t have survived in Dallas. I saw bakeries struggle in San Antonio,” she recalled, noting that even as competing businesses and online retail pose a threat, the power of childhood memories keeps customers coming back with their own families.
“Happy memories are so powerful — customers recall seeing a certain case of cookies, or challah, or gingerbread men, and then they want their children to experience that,” Jucker said.
The business hires from within Houston as much as possible, and the multi-generational connection has held true for employees as well. Employees who worked in the bakery as teenagers often encourage their children to do the same, according to Jucker, who speaks with pride about the career paths of bakery ‘alumni’, including more than one nuclear physicist. “If you say you work at Three Brothers Bakery, that’s a good thing,” she said.
Rooted as they are in history and in Houston, the current generation of Three Brothers Bakery has embraced the challenge of presenting itself to an ever-changing world. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Janice and Robert recognized the importance of storytelling to a wider audience, and hired a PR firm. They rode the wave of the ‘cupcake craze’, baked cheerily misanthropic Valentine’s Day cookies, and their ‘PumPecApple’ pie went viral, feted on the Food Network and immortalized in Buzzfeed gifs. Their pecan pie has earned national praise and was named “The Best Mail Order Pecan Pie in America” by Country Living Magazine, Town & Country Magazine, Bon Appétit and Southern Weddings. These days, the ‘media alert’ Jucker has set on her computer for the business’s name goes off nearly every day.
Looking ahead, Three Brothers Bakery’s momentum into the future remains strong. According to Janice Jucker, the next big challenge will be to meet the demands of what she calls the “I-want-it-now” culture of Amazon and GrubHub — they are working with a courier service to accommodate customers’ rising desire for food delivered on-demand.
Even as Three Brothers moves full-steam into the future, its strong local foundation is still essential – even more so than in the past. Janice noted that their devoted local customer base has allowed them the security to experiment and take risks. If a new idea doesn’t work out, “I don’t worry about whether we can hang on,” Jucker said. “I know we’ll be here.”
Throughout the evolution of Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, ICIC has been a key partner to their growth. The Juckers sought guidance and resources through participation in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, where they honed their strategy and planning skills. They are also alums of ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections program, which allowed them to work through additional barriers to growth. All have contributed to their five-year growth rate exceeding 170%, which got Three Brothers Bakery recognized on the Inner City 100 list in 2015 and 2016 as one of America’s fastest-growing inner city businesses.
The Juckers already have new projects in motion, driven largely by the community around them. After a regular customer proposed they add coffee to their repertoire, the family most recently dived into the roasting business. And Jucker has set her sights on making Three Brothers Bakery “the King of King Cake,” after receiving an increasing number of requests for the Mardi Gras treat from local Louisiana transplants. Additionally, another location within Houston area is in the works, and the family has begun discussing the possibility of franchising the business.
Even through so many years of growth and change, the ethos of the founders remains. They continue to thrive in and uplift their inner-city community which, as Jucker says, is a perfect fit for a business that came from a ‘history of hunger’ and struggle.
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