Our member in the spotlight this month is Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts.
After spending an evening with them at the Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Award Ceremony, I was so impressed by how they manage their company and family succession that I wanted to share their story with all of our family members and partners.
Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts – A story of authenticity in product quality, family values and culture
The Quality Beginning
Tom and Pat Miller worked in the Miller family business which had its roots as a multi-location Shakey’s Pizza franchise founded by Tom’s parents in the late 1960’s. The franchise expanded to a regional distribution company supplying food ingredients and paper goods. When the franchise was sold in the late 1990’s, Baker’s Quality Pizza Crust was born. Tom and Pat, who founded the company, had the end user in mind from the outset.
They tailored their recipes and processes in order to provide their customers with the highest quality products. The company is the only pizza crust manufacturer in the Midwest, that we are aware of, that still employs traditional dough proofing and processing techniques and utilizes manual procedures at critical points in the production process rather than converting to entirely mechanical production processes. We do this in order to produce a product that is of hand-made quality. We have focused on creating lean and sustainable practices, allowing us to maintain consistent growth without sacrificing quality or increasing costs. Our products are more expensive but we retain our loyal following and continually add new distributors and end users.
Building on the principal of customers first, if you call Baker’s Quality you will generally speak to an owner. We make sure that our distributor and end user customer’s questions and concerns are addressed immediately. Because of the small and intimate nature of the business, we are able to address concerns in real time, stepping out onto the production floor to make adjustments when necessary.
Building on a Quality Foundation
As new stockholders of Baker’s Quality, third generation Chris Miller and Anne Cookson (Miller) have brought fresh ideas to the company, a passion for growth and motivation to succeed. They have introduced new products such as the Beer Infused Pizza Crust, which resulted from a partnership with Lakefront Brewery, flavored flatbreads and updated versions of older recipes. They recognize the importance of the relationships that their parents have built in the food manufacturing and distribution industry and work hard to maintain that respect and connection. Chris and Anne also take time to focus on and connect with their employees, just as their parents did. On a daily basis you will find them working alongside their employees and taking the time to learn what they can do to make their employees more satisfied with their careers and work/life balance. We have always made opportunities available, wherever possible in our businesses, for the cognitively disabled and have, in the last couple of years, provided jobs for incarcerated men, some of whom have become permanent employees after being released. We currently have a fairly long-tenured, diverse group of employees and always try to promote from within.
Growing up in a family business, Chris and Anne never saw the job as “work” but rather as “ownership”. Pat and Tom gave them opportunities from a young age to participate in the restaurants and concession stands, doing everything from pouring soda to making pizza, bussing tables and serving beer. As college students, they were brought into the production room at the Bakery to learn the business from the ground up. At home, business matters were generally left at the door so that Pat and Tom could focus on their family without distraction. This has led to an outstanding level of respect and support both in the office and out. Outside of their immediate family, the Millers have employed various nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors and friends throughout the years.
Expanding Family Values to the Business and Community
Throughout the years, we have stuck to our values as a quality driven company, not solely focused on the bottom line. We always maintain high expectations of ourselves and our employees to provide the best product on the market. We show respect for our employees, vendors and customers, living the belief that you should always treat others as you wish to be treated. Every day we walk into work and know that this company is our employee’s livelihood, therefore we have never laid anyone off and guarantee at least 40 hours of work per week. Our employees are like family. We offer a full host of standard benefits and have helped our employees with odds and ends like cash advances for gas money, donating a mattress and box spring and occasional rides to and from work. Every employee is given a gift on their birthday, for weddings, the birth of children and other special events in their lives and can take unlimited pizza crusts home. To help our employees grow and develop we offer flexible hours where possible to accommodate further learning and offer opportunities to our experienced staff to further their learning as it relates to their position.
The Millers have always played a role in the support of their community. Through Baker’s Quality and personally they make many donations both monetary and in kind to local food pantries, churches and, other local organizations. They make twice weekly donations of scrap product to a local cow farmer to use as feed, eliminating 1500 lbs. per week of landfill matter. As an employer, we provide a family supporting career with great benefits. Baker’s Quality has started a program to have our employees volunteer during the off season in order to both guarantee their hours and give back to the community. They have employed incarcerated felons and successfully transitioned a couple to full time employees after release. In addition, they have participated in job shadowing/ability assessment programs for the cognitively disabled and won an award in 2014 from the Wisconsin Rehabilitation Association as an outstanding employer for individuals with disabilities.
Innovation is in the Family DNA
Over the course of fifty years, the family has evolved their family businesses to stay ahead of changing needs. It starts with knowing who you are and sticking to those principles. As a company, Baker’s Quality has always produced on a smaller scale with techniques that cannot be scaled up easily. The company was founded on the idea that good food is free of preservatives, chemicals and additives and we continue to maintain that ideal. This allows us to make a superior product and differentiates us from our competition, creating loyal customers. Most of our growth has been customer driven through referrals and requests. We watch trends in the pizza industry and continuously develop new and innovative products. Baker’s Quality was accepted for membership in both the Something Special from Wisconsin program offered through the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Made in Wisconsin Program offered through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. We have been active members of the Family Business Legacy Institute for almost three years and have found it helpful to engage with other family business owners. We were also nominated for the 2018 Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year. In May 2018, we proudly received the “Rising to the Top” award by the Wisconsin Family Business of the Year. It is an honor to be recognized for what we do every day with our family, employees and community.