Rhode Islanders look at everything differently than the rest of the country does. From a local’s perspective, that’s probably because everyone who lives anywhere else just doesn’t see it in their own special way.

So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that one of the largest wholesale bakeries in the smallest state in the nation developed its own version of a breakfast bread that’s as thick as Texas and comes with a French influence, no less.

Calise Bakery recently launched its Brioche-style Cinnamon Chip Texas Toast that’s quickly gaining popularity throughout the many parts of New England that the company serves and beyond.

Michael R. Calise, attorney and fourth-generation president of the family bakery that’s been in business for more than 100 years, identified the popularity of brioche in the foodservice industry and wanted to bring it into the retail market.

Working alongside Mike Pritchard, vice president of sales, Mr. Calise and the bakery team developed the kosher-pareve, dairy- and egg-free bread that may be served as a twist on French toast or part of a bread pudding that’s fit for New Orleans.

The new product also filled a gap in the company’s product portfolio with something untraditional.

“We always try to be a little different,” Mr. Calise said. “We can’t compete with the larger companies in doing the same things that they do. We want to bring something new that’s at the forefront of the industry for our customers. It’s built on the success of brioche but doing it differently so everyone could use it for breakfast, for desserts or as a snack.”

Calise Bakery operates an 85,000-square-foot facility that houses two high-speed roll lines and a bread line that produce fresh specialty bread, buns and rolls distributed in 11 states — 15 in all if frozen delivery is included — throughout the Northeast.

“We bring a homestyle bakery appearance that you would figure comes out of a very small bakery,” Mr. Calise said. “There are a lot of small players that can do it here and there, but we have the ability to bring those distinctive products to many other retailers in a much larger geographic area.”

Despite its relatively modest size, he added, the company is listed among the leading buns and rolls sellers in the country according to IRI data.

Moreover, it’s expected to grow as the business expands its frozen and fresh direct-store-delivery (DSD) system, which includes 80 routes that serve a core market.

Its signature product is the New England bulkie roll. More like a soft Kaiser than a hard roll and with a much longer shelf life, the bulkie roll is slightly larger than a hamburger bun with a thin, tender crust and soft interior. It’s a perfect example of the little points of differentiation that go a long way for Calise Bakery.

“It’s the ‘workhorse’ of the bakery, and we sell millions per year,” Mr. Pritchard said. “The bulkie roll, whether it’s sold through foodservice or retail, is approaching 60% of our business. That’s how important it is to our bakery. Many other bakeries have taken a shot at emulating the product, and over the years, most have fallen short.”

Other top-sellers include sub rolls followed by the bakery’s expanding line of Italian-style sandwich breads, its classic 2-lb hearth ryes and even fresh, raw dough that’s sold out of the refrigerator case for making homemade pizza, calzones and other meals. However, it’s the bulkie’s versatility that makes it so popular and has made Calise Bakery a household name in the region.

“In the summer, if you have a hamburger on a bulkie roll, you won’t want a burger on a traditional bun anymore. It’s that good,” Mr. Calise said.

These sandwich and other foodservice trends lay the foundation for creative concepts at Calise Bakery.

“From a product-assortment perspective, a lot of ideas and innovation come out of foodservice because customers’ tastes change so rapidly, and the influence could be coming from Europe or the Middle East,” Mr. Pritchard observed. “It can come from anywhere.”

Mr. Calise added that its nimble new product development process involves very few layers of management, so it is quick to market.

“If Mike Pritchard and I decide we want to launch a new product, oftentimes within a day or two there are samples on our desks, and pretty darn good ones,” he said. “We may have to make them a couple times, though, to tweak something here and there.”

Specifically, Calise Bakery strives to identify a white space in the bread aisle or in-store bakery/deli that it can fill as a regional player in the broader market.

“Even though we operate a highly automated bakery, we don’t want to compete with the sliced bread companies,” Mr. Pritchard noted. “We want to find the next product that the customer is looking for — something that is new, fresh and tastes great, and that’s what we focus on. That’s what we accomplished when we introduced brioche-style products that are growing at an exponential rate. Every restaurant and hamburger chain in the United States is using brioche rolls of some sort.”

It did take several iterations of samples, scoring and taste-testing among the bakery staff to fine-tune the prototypes for the Brioche-style Cinnamon Chip Texas Toast.

“I remember one batch came out, and every loaf disappeared from the bakery,” Mr. Pritchard said. “Once your employees are buying into it, that’s the green light because they’re consumers, as well.”

The bakery, he added, is currently exploring new sweet and savory flavors to extend the brioche-style bread and roll platform to other eating occasions throughout the day.

This article is an excerpt from the March 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on the Calise Bakery, click here.