CANAAN, Maine. Heather Kerner donned disposable shoe covers and walked through the swing doors into her company’s sparkling kitchen. She stopped to point out the 160-litre spiral mixer, a new piece of equipment at The Good Crust that makes 350 pounds of dough at a time.
Kerner’s facility, which makes the only commercially available pizza dough made from 100 percent Maine grain, recently moved to a manufacturing facility at 210 Main St. in Canaan.
Good Crust’s move from its shared space with The Miller’s Table restaurant in Skowhegan to a newly refurbished facility on Highway 2 in Canaan marks a big moment for small businesses. Since its founding in September 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has produced 61,000 pounds of pizza dough and plans to increase its production capacity by nine times, Kerner said. Her plans include expanding the product line with pizza and takeaway bialys. Community projects are also in the works. The grand opening of the facility will take place on Friday.
“Because this space was a former restaurant, we inherited a complete culinary line that includes a pizza oven,” Kerner said. “We’re learning that the customers here in Canaan and the people who drive on Route 2 are really looking for high quality pizza to go.”
No date has been set for the launch of takeaway pizza once or twice a week, but it should take place shortly after the grand opening. Good Crust will source pizza ingredients from local farms and possibly some from the Kerner estate, such as onions, garlic and chicken.
Kerner, who has participated in entrepreneurial programs for the past two years, including the first cohort of the Dirigo Labs accelerator, knew ahead of time that she would have to expand her company’s kitchen space and freezer, she said.
The new facility, located about six miles from the mill where the ingredients come from, recently replaced the inlet door to match the spiral kneader and purchased other equipment such as several dividers and rounders. It replaced the internal cooler with a freezer, and in July the company will install a larger freezer in the garage.
Good Crust needed a production facility that would not depend on the cuisine of another restaurant. According to production manager Sean Duffy, the team now has the flexibility and independence it needs to work with new, larger customers. The company can now create more of its own identity and culture among employees, he said.
Kerner’s original goal was to fill her freezer with pizza dough that could be used for quick meals for busy mothers like her and to support Maine’s farmers and millers. Her twin sister, Amber Lambke of Maine Grains, and Kerner used The Miller’s Table on the site as a recipe trial site and as a pilot project for her business.
Kerner also saw the dough company as a platform for workforce development and thought it could be a solution to the workforce problems faced by businesses. She works at Regional School Division 18, China School District and Messalonski, and uses grain while working with her students to teach them life skills.
“Having worked as an occupational therapist in pediatrics throughout my career, I have seen people graduate and end up on long waiting lists for professional experience,” she said. “I really felt it was a waste of their potential.”
Using her unconventional business model, Kerner has hired 12 people since she founded The Good Crust, including four who started out as apprentices and were connected to the company through Goodwill Northern New England and Manpower Maine. Some of the employees have physical and cognitive impairments, including autism, cerebral palsy and a worker with a traumatic brain injury. Others recover from addiction.
“We’re like a little family in this business,” said Samuel Tierney, who was hired as the company’s first apprentice when he was in high school. “As we all grow individually, so does the company. Before I got this job, I really didn’t have anything.”
Kerner said that Tierney’s special education teacher brought him to Manpower Maine, who then connected him to The Good Crust. Tierney also knew Koerner personally. According to him, it was a great opportunity for him to gain work experience and start earning his own money.
Kerner works one-on-one with employees who need extra guidance, she said, which sometimes means providing accommodations such as limited work shifts or clear instructions on where to put the branding sticker on a plastic bag. It also offers training in interpersonal skills, including professional behavior and the use of timesheets.
“As we grow, we have mapped out roles for the company that will likely be filled by social workers or occupational therapists who will be job skills instructors,” she said, noting that the company will again accept apprentices once the relocation process is complete. full.
Clockwise from left: Samuel Tierney packs pizza dough into a box at The Good Crust’s new manufacturing facility in Canaan, Thursday. Tierney was the first of four apprentices at the company; Good Crust sells 16-ounce servings of pizza dough at health food stores and farms in Maine and nearby states; Aidan Clark packs frozen pizza dough in plastic bags. Photo: Valerie Roizman / BDN
In addition to releasing pizza to go, The Good Crust is working to bring 4-ounce bialys dough balls to market, Duffy said. Byaly are buns similar to bagels, only with a deep recess and spices in the center. Plans are also in the works to produce dry mix pizza that could be shipped and pre-stretched pizza circles for hospitals, Kerner said.
She says she is working with state school nutrition leaders to learn how Good Crust can be used in canteens while meeting whole grain needs. Some partners are looking into how Maine universities can start offering pizza dough. Tasting and data collection took place on 11 campuses earlier this year.
You can find The Good Crust pizza dough at health food stores, farms, and other locations in Maine and nearby states. Visit the website for information.