Scott Baker comes by his last name honestly. When his great-great-grandfather Michael Becker immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1867, he changed his last name to Baker. In 1875, that surname came to signify Michael’s profession as well when he opened Michael A. Baker Bakery in the West End of Pittsburgh.

The Baker family has been in the baking business ever since, with each generation taking the good of the generation before and improving upon it. While 5 Generation Bakers, McKees Rocks, Pa., may only be shy of 13 years old, Scott Baker, founder and president of 5 Generation Bakers, is continuing his family’s enduring legacy by bringing their signature brand into the modern age.

“We have pride in what we do, and integrity is a big family value,” Scott Baker said. “But what was right for my grandfather’s bakery isn’t right for my bakery, so it’s about being true to our family values while doing what’s right for my business. Our values are important no matter what the business looks like.”

5 Generation Bakers has risen from the ashes of the family business, persevered through the hardships of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and is poised to capitalize on double-digit growth to take its family brand nationwide.

Scott Baker has been in the family business his entire life — first playing around and getting in the way as a young child and then as a part of the team starting when he was 13. At that time, the bakery was called Jenny Lee Bakery and run by his father, Bernie Baker, who is currently director of operations at 5 Generation Bakers. Jenny Lee dabbled in a bit of everything with 14 retail locations, a wholesale operation and distribution. The bakery produced donuts, cookies, cakes and its signature cinnamon swirl bread in a 100-year-old building in McKees Rocks.

Scott Baker started working on the bench and graduated to the mixing station at 16. Despite his passion for the profession, he wasn’t fully committed to carrying on the family business until his freshman year of college. When he returned home for a holiday break, an interaction with a grumpy cashier at a store was a crystallizing moment.

“When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I was home for Thanksgiving and I heard some cashiers at Kmart bickering about how they would have to work Thanksgiving back in 1989 — it was the first year they were open on the holiday — and I mentioned that where I work, we always had the holiday off,” Scott Baker remembered. “She asked me where I worked, and when I said Jenny Lee Bakery, she lit up and said, ‘Oh, your buttercream icing is so good,’ and I got goosebumps because I had completely turned this person’s day around. That’s how I knew what I wanted to do.”

Scott Baker spent a semester at AIB International, learning the skills he would need to be an asset to the business, and when he graduated college, he joined his dad at Jenny Lee Bakery. Everything was going according to plan until 2006 when the bakery suffered a massive fire over Thanksgiving. It took five months to rebuild the business, but the Baker family was committed to seeing this tragedy as an opportunity to make the bakery better. They reopened to great fanfare in April 2007, and then the Great Recession came.

“With skyrocketing costs and the business we lost, we had to close,” Scott Baker said. “I was burned out, and I was done baking. I was helping my dad liquidate the business, sorting out what was a business asset and what was a family heirloom when I found my spark again. I thought, ‘My grandfather rebuilt, and I can, too.’ ”

With the support of his entrepreneurial wife, Joella Baker, Scott Baker wrote a business plan for 5 Generation Bakers. At Jenny Lee Bakery, he had seen how the retail business had been declining while wholesale was growing. He knew he wanted to focus on manufacturing rather than distribution, so that’s what he set out to do.

“Supermarkets had the most success selling our products, so I decided to focus on manufacturing. I wanted to be a baker again,” he said.

He also wanted to find the efficiency that Jenny Lee Bakery had lacked. It had 300 products, short production runs and hundreds of ingredients to track. So Scott Baker decided to focus on one product, something that he could do better than anyone and was missing in the marketplace: the Jenny Lee Cinnamon Swirl Bread.

“I kept coming back to the swirl crimp bread because everyone sells it in retail shops, but it doesn’t have a huge presence in the commercial bread aisle, except Pepperidge Farm,” Scott Baker explained. “No one knows how to commercialize and automate the process. People like it, but it’s a really labor-intensive process.”

Scott Baker worked with Rondo to develop a semi-automated process to scale up production and find efficiencies, something he always has his eye on to find more.

He founded 5 Generation Bakers in June 2009 and fired up the ovens in the old Jenny Lee Bakery space in February 2010 with an investment from an old family friend, Russ Bundy, founder of Bundy Baking Solutions.

“My grandfather was Russ’ first customer when he was selling shortening, and he believes in the Jenny Lee brand,” Scott Baker said.

While Scott Baker believed in the Jenny Lee brand and was staking his business on it, he wanted to separate his new bakery from his father’s, too. 

Scott Baker also improved upon the original formulation to meet modern market trends. While the circular crimp-style loaf is decidedly original, he cleaned up the label, removing trans fats and GMOs. Jenny Lee stands for a quality, wholesome and delicious product, he said, and what better way to bring that to the next generation than with a commitment to clean label.

“I wanted Jenny Lee to be synonymous with clean,” he said. 

For five years, Jenny Lee swirl bread was all 5 Generation Bakers made in 5,000 square feet of the 34,000 square feet of the original bakery.

Whenever a customer would ask Scott Baker if he could make cakes or cookies or another product, he would respond by selling off his father’s old equipment for that product.

“I had 30,000 square feet of depositors and other equipment, so it was tempting, but instead I sold the equipment so I wouldn’t be tempted,” he explained.

The age of the original building also made a modern food safety program — another priority for Scott Baker — a challenge with wooden floors and glass windows.

“We barely passed our first food safety audit with a 755, but we adopted a continuous improvement mindset, and the next year we scored a 905,” he said. 

Scott Baker’s hyper-focus on his one product and streamlining efficiencies paid off, and the company experienced double-digit growth. When development in McKees Rocks forced him out of his grandfather’s old bakery space, it was time to really take 5 Generation Bakers into the modern age.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on 5 Generation Bakers, click here.