Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts in Waukesha, Wis., purposely avoids trying to be something it isn’t. The family behind this growing Midwest bakery is committed to providing small batch, custom pizza crusts to its foodservice customers.
“We put a high emphasis on making sure the product is as good as something they would make in their own restaurant,” said Anne Cookson, vice president of sales and marketing and a third-generation member of the Miller family behind the business. “We don’t want the end consumer to know that our customers are buying a frozen crust. We want them to believe they are getting a homemade crust.”
The bakery provides its customers — distributors, mom-and-pop pizza shops, sporting facilities, schools and universities, resorts, and other foodservice accounts — a clean label, fresh/frozen or par-baked pizza crust made with traditional techniques. This takes a lot of time and a lot of space.
“We’re doing something that larger crust manufacturers are not going to be doing,” Mrs. Cookson said. “We’re not putting out the cheapest crust because of that.”
But the price point hasn’t stopped Baker’s Quality from growing. Current demand in the Midwest maxed out Baker’s Quality’s capacity at its former facility, and the company now has big plans to expand beyond the Rocky Mountains. That required, however, a new facility and some new equipment to take those traditional techniques and build in greater efficiency.
The Miller family has been in the pizza business in some capacity since the 1960s, when Mrs. Cookson’s grandfather moved to Milwaukee and opened pizza restaurant franchises. Eight locations’ dough, cheese, meat and other toppings were supplied by a commissary, which morphed into a small distributor company, Pizza Commissary Inc. (PCI Foodservice).
In 1997, Mrs. Cookson’s parents, Tom and Pat Miller, who took over after Mrs. Cookson’s grandfather passed away, sold PCI to another local distributor with the stipulation that the family would continue producing the pizza crust. It was at that point that Mr. and Mrs. Miller started Baker’s Quality, and the family started making the move away from the restaurant industry to the pizza crust business. The Millers sold their last restaurant in 2007.
“The restaurant industry is a difficult business with competition and low margins,” said Mrs. Cookson, explaining the move. “We knew we had a good crust, and we weren’t making it in-house. We were making it in a wholesale bakery already, so there was a natural progression. People wanted to buy it, so why wouldn’t we sell it?”
Tom and Pat Miller are still involved in the business as president and vice president, respectively, but the transition to the third generation, Mrs. Cookson and her brother, Chris Miller, director of operations, is well underway. Mrs. Cookson and Mr. Miller run the day-to-day operations of the business. Mrs. Cookson and her brother weren’t expected to take over the business, but once they both decided they were in, there were some conditions: They had to find a job outside of the family business for a time to experience working for someone else, and then they had to work their way up from the production room floor.
Mrs. Cookson, who spent her time away managing a horse farm and serving as a professional rider, said returning to the bakery on the production floor in 2014 helped her get reacquainted with the processes and gave her the ability to relate to the employees.
“When we’re giving direction about what they are doing on the line, we can jump into production and show them,” she said. “Going through those hoops really gave us an ownership of what we’re doing and belief in what we’re doing.”
Mrs. Cookson works very closely with her brother. At the older facility they shared an office. When they moved into the new plant, they took their own offices for some personal space … but not too much. A window in the wall they share ensures the collaborative nature of their relationship continues.
“We’re best friends,” Mrs. Cookson said. “We have completely different skill sets that complement each other.”
This article is an excerpt from the June 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Baker's Quality Pizza Crusts, click here.