One of the big benefits to being a smaller operation is staying nimble. Even as Baker’s Quality Pizza Crust’s rapid growth has forced operations to grow, Chris Miller, director of operations, wants the company to maintain its flexibility. Baker’s Quality’s operations in its new facility allow the production team to hop from product to product, adjust pizza crust sizes and even experiment with new product ideas.

The Waukesha, Wis.-based bakery currently operates in 25,000 square feet with plans to move into another 11,500 square feet in the next few months.

“We didn’t anticipate needing it for years, and now we already have contractors in there,” Mr. Miller said. “All of the sudden we’ve been inundated by customers that we now have the ability to serve with the newline.”

Two sheeting lines produce either fresh/frozen pizza dough or par-baked pizza crusts as well as a line for the company’s small doughball business. A smaller sheeting line serves as Baker’s Quality’s R&D production line.

To maintain flexibility, Baker’s Quality plans production two weeks ahead and makes everything to order. While customers are asked to give 14 days’ notice, Mr. Miller said they try to accommodate customer changes at the last possible moment to provide the best service. The company can make quick adjustments like this because the bakery operates on four 10-hour shifts, Monday through Thursday. While the bakery is technically closed on Friday, this extra day can provide buffer for overflow orders if necessary.

“We pad each day with extra time knowing that it comes with the territory,” Mr. Miller said. “We always have those extra requests where something was forgotten or a distributor picked up a new customer, and they don’t have enough to fill the order.”

Good production schedule management also minimizes changeovers and streamlines production. This keeps production lines flexible and allows Baker’s Quality to reach its full capacity.

“We probably have 15 or 16 recipes that we run in a week, and we have to be able to manage how we can get everything we need for an order without bouncing around recipes,” Mr. Miller said. “Switching recipes sucks, but changing sizes is easy. You have to be able to see far enough ahead to get all of that order produced before you change over.” 

With that many recipes and changeovers, Baker’s Quality has not invested in automated ingredient handling yet. The bakery juggles multiple types of flours to provide customers their signature products, though Mr. Miller anticipates he’ll have to make the switch in the next year or two.

“It’s a battle of being able to make those trendy products on the fly with different materials versus the efficiencies of a silo,” he explained.

The bakery does use SG Systems, however, to track and trace ingredients. This system ensures the employees who are batching ingredients are creating the most accurate batches, or goodie bags as Mr. Miller calls them, for each recipe. It then tracks the lot numbers through the entire process. These ingredients are added to one of three spiral mixers from Mixer SRL, which create 300-400 lb dough batches.

From there, two production lines create par-baked pizza crust or fresh/frozen pizza crust. The fresh/frozen production line was purchased three years ago as the company’s first investment away from the reversible sheeter to an AMF Tromp sheeting line.

On the fresh line, dough is added to the hopper and goes through five reduction stations including a multi-roller and cross-roller. The crust is cut to the appropriate size and sent through a CSE cryogenic nitrogen tunnel freezer. Trim dough is fed back into the line to cut back on waste.

Dough for the new par-baked sheeting line has a stop before being fed to the sheeter: a 24-hour proof. At the end of each day, Baker’s Quality has 150 barrels holding 70 lbs of dough each that proofs at ambient temperature before being punched down and placed in the retarder overnight. This is where all the flavor develops.

“The fresh dough doesn’t go through this step,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s up to the customer to give the dough that fermentation.”

The par-baked crusts also are much thinner than the fresh/frozen product. To reach a target of 1.7-mm thickness, the dough goes through eight reduction stations.

“It gets super crispy when you cook it,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s our No. 1 seller.”

After sheeting, the crusts are cut out and travel through the 33-foot Den Boer tunnel oven and bake for only 1 minute and 15 seconds. Product cools in ambient temperatures on a set of cascading cooling conveyors. As Baker’s Quality is developing new products for customers, there are plans to invest in a spiral cooler to accommodate longer cooling times than the 3 minutes the par-baked crust requires.

Ten employees stack, bag and box product. The packaging department is where Baker’s Quality’s flexibility has again prevented it from automating.

“Because we want to stay in that market of being more niche and very nimble, we have a lot of different sizes and that’s expensive to automate multiple sizes,” Mr. Miller explained. “So, we’re very hands-on in our packaging.”

Customers, who are mostly distributors, pick up their own orders.

With triple capacity and plans already underway to continue growing in the new space, Mr. Miller is pleased with the move and what it means for the business.

“The No. 1 thing was we wanted to do everything we do in that old building in a single shift here in the new building, and right off the bat, we realized that,” he said. “The efficiencies on the new line have more than been realized.”

The efficiencies Baker’s Quality has now will support the family’s big plans for the future as it transitions leadership from the second generation to the third. Mrs. Cookson and Mr. Miller see the importance of sticking to what their company was built on — high-quality product and excellent customer service — as being the key to the company’s future success.

“We’re focused on learning from our past and applying that to the future,” said Anne Cookson, vice president of sales and marketing. “We work really hard to make sure we’re carrying on the legacy that our grandparents and parents built. We’re very intentional about our growth plans, and I want to make sure that we never forget our strengths.”

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.