Old family recipes, fresh new ideas
By Elizabeth Perry
Scott Baker of 5 Generation Bakers in McKees Rocks continues a tradition of innovation that began with his great-great-grandfather more than 148 years ago.
The Baker family has owned and operated bakeries in the Pittsburgh area since 1875, with each iteration and generation evolving with the changing market.
What began with using a horse-drawn cart to deliver bread to area customers has transformed today into doing customer outreach through the QVC shopping network. The bakery is currently seeking out investors to build a second-shift team through online crowdsourcing for further production of Jenny Lee Swirl Bread products.
“A lot of good things are happening,” Baker said.
Online orders went up by 1,000% during the pandemic because people could no longer go to the grocery store. In 2020, the company began a partnership with QVC, a television shopping network, to sell its cinnamon swirl bread to an audience they couldn't reach otherwise. Baker has become a bit of a fixture on the channel, and the company was awarded the QVC Customer Choice Food Award in 2022 for best bread in the Desserts and Baked Goods category.
Shortages in labor and supplies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic nearly sank the business, said Baker, who was often the first one in the bakery and always the last one to leave.
Baker said it was “a year of 80-hour weeks.”
‘I had a weak moment and thought of throwing in the towel,” Baker said.
At that point, his father Bernie Baker came out of retirement to help with operations. Bernie will be turning 78 in August and works about 60 hours per week.
“It keeps me young,” Bernie said.
Baker said 10 of the bakery’s top 12 customers are ordering more than before because the pandemic shuttered many smaller bakeries. Surviving businesses are seeing an increase in sales because of this. The idea for a second shift came because they are having a hard time filling all their orders.
Baker turned to Start Engine, an online crowdfunding site that enables him to sell shares (membership units) in his company to investors in order to get additional funding. Baker learned of the site while watching the television show Shark Tank. Baker then invested in the group’s startup fundraising thinking it would be a good option for future needs.
Last year on Labor Day, Baker began pulling together resources and legal advice to create the campaign. After months of work and an investment of about $25,000 to launch the fundraiser, they’ve raised $139,954.17 (as of press time). Baker is hoping they can raise even more.
“Ideally, we raise a million dollars,” Baker said.
On any given day, the Chartiers Avenue bakery produces between 20 and 22 batches per day, with 384 loaves per batch, which means production of between 7,680 to 8,448 loaves of bread daily. If a second shift is added, that will up the number of batches by 10 to 12, said Baker. Currently, there are 33 employees making small batch loaves of the cinnamon swirl and other flavor bread. Ideally, Baker would like to add 18 more through a second shift. To retain employees, Baker has offered to pay $2,000 on a down payment to buy a house in McKees Rocks.
“We feel if we can help employees discover home ownership they can discover generational wealth,” Baker said.
5 Generation Bakers is continuing to move into new markets. Baker’s company has recently struck a deal with Pittsburgh Public Schools to provide 139,000 breakfast sandwiches to students through the Nutrition Group. Baker said their cinnamon swirl raisin bread will now be sold at Costco warehouse club stores.
Baker said he hopes in the future to partner with a dedicated gluten-free bakery to begin offering bread that is safe for people who suffer from Celiac and other wheat allergies. Crowdfunding info can be found by searching for 5 Generation Bakers at startengine.com.