Lotus Bakeries NV

Head 15 miles north of Gent or 25 miles east of Brugge and you're off the beaten path but, that's where one has to go to find the offices of Lotus Bakeries, one of Belgium's biggest bakers of cookies, specialty cakes and waffles.

Lembeke, a picturesque farming community of 3,000, seems to have more cows than people but it's been home to Lotus since its founding back in 1932. The head office/factory lies near the edge of town along the main road. Homes mixed-in with fields of corn surround the site.

Two signs in black near the top of the three-story building (built in 1995) let visitors know they're at the right place. The reception area is bright and modern and after checking-in with the friendly receptionist I take a look at a display featuring some of the company's products. More than 50% of the company's 153 million euros in revenues is realized outside of Belgium.

As a rule of thumb, I receive warm welcomes at companies located in somewhat rural, out-of-the-way locales and here is no different thanks to Jan Boone, General Manager Corporate Services.

A total of 320 people work here with 200 of those in the adjacent factory. Employee parking is free and plentiful, meeting rooms are named after cookies, smoking isn't allowed in the workplace, there are no onsite recreational facilities, no executive dining rooms and no company cafeteria though there are break rooms. There's no formal dress code, no corporate aircraft and if you bicycle to work there's parking for your bike but it's not covered. It's about a mile to the center of Lembeke, a 20-minute drive to the nearest freeway and an hour's drive (about 45 miles) to Brussels airport. Any employee perks? 30% off products at the company store.

Publicly-traded Lotus was founded in Lembeke by three Boone brothers back in 1932. Family members still own 58% of the company. CEO Karel Boone occupies a middle office on the second floor. On the wall behind his desk hangs a colorful contemporary painting. I note the family pictures, computer and one plant (real). The view out his window? Cornfields and houses. The oval-shaped table in the first floor boardroom seats 10.

As I start to leave Boone presents me with a large grocery bag filled to the brim with a wide variety of Lotus products. Wow, it looks like it would be fun to sample all the various wares but, I have zilch room in my panniers (saddlebags). I do however manage to find room for some of the goodies in my backpack.

Later that night in my hotel room I sample some of the goodies and go bonkers over the delicious caramelized cookies topped with chocolate. I was skeptical when Boone, earlier in the day, mentioned airlines using these cookies on their flights and because of the many, many requests by fliers on where to purchase the cookies, Lotus had to open a call center to handle all the requests. After tasting them I now understand why.

Company website: www.lotusbakeries.com