ANDREW HUTCHISON, BAKER, BUSINESS OWNER, & BREAD LOVER

Andrew started working in the food industry right out of high school but never envisioned baking, let alone being a business owner, as his career. His passion for art, local grains, and being in the kitchen led him to where he is now: manning the ovens at Madison Sourdough in Madison, Wisconsin. He never intends to leave.

I started as a baker at Madison Sourdough, and I ended up buying it four years later. I like being a business owner because I get to control some of my own destiny in some ways. It would be hard for me to be told what to do. I’ve had to make hard decisions, and I enjoy that. I really like being responsible for myself and for the people who work for me. I took over this business when I was twenty-five so I had a lot of learning to do. That’s pretty young for a business owner. The weight of the responsibility of that… I had to grow into that, but I really, really enjoy that.

The company was very different when I started. We weren’t in this location, we didn’t do food, we didn’t have a café, we did like six types of bread and some pastries, and that was it. Our commitment to local sustainable foods, local producers [pause] wasn’t as strong then. Once we took over, we made some really quite simple changes like getting our butter and eggs and milk and stuff… foundational things that we produce a lot of… in Wisconsin.

I had my first co-op membership when I was eighteen, which was awesome. I started my first garden when I was twenty-two, and that really changed my perspective on quality of food, freshness, and the sort of importance of like sustaining your own, if you will… Or trying to support people close by and support a much more sustaining community. I think the co-op turned me onto, “Okay this is cool. This is coming from a specific farm that’s really close to Madison.”

We’re not 100% committed to working with local farmers. A lot of it has to do with quality. Like greens that have a ton of bugs in it as an example… We can wash ‘em multiple times here, try to deal with it… if I get a customer, which has happened, who says, “There’s a caterpillar in my salad.” That’s really unfortunate. At the same time it’s kind of cool because you know its super fresh because that caterpillar is still alive. There’s something kind-of special about that, but also the customer doesn’t understand, and that’s an issue.

Berger photo 2

What drew me to it then is different from what keeps me here today.

My first baking job was with The Great Harvest Bakery. This was right out of high school when I was eighteen and the breads that we did there were very different than the breads that I’m interested in now, but at the time it was pretty amazing. My interest in the baking wasn’t just the job. I wanted to really enjoy the things I was making. When I was a child the idea of being a chef or a baker or a cook was a very different thing than it is today. In the early 90’s and the 80’s being a chef or a cook was like a straight-up blue-collar job, you know what I mean?

Art is a way of thinking creatively… It taught me to think a certain way about what I do. I went to [UW] Madison here—when I graduated I had a bachelor’s of fine arts. I was between a rock and a hard place financially because I put all my eggs in one basket for this job I ended up not getting, and I just needed to do something that I knew how to do. Baking and working in the kitchen was something I was comfortable with. I drove by Madison Sourdough and I was like, “I’ve had their bread. It’s really good.” I stopped in and they said they were looking for someone. The next morning I called, set-up an interview, which was at 5am in the morning the next day, and I thought it would be kind-of a cool thing to do for a few months.

After a couple months, it became clear that it was something I really enjoyed and something that I would commit to working for at least a year. Learning how to make decisions and living with them—it’s a good lesson. Life is too short to sit around and worry about the past or the future; you just need to go forward.

It was a lot of hard work, but the company was so small. I was the only full-time baker along with the owner and his wife, and there was something special about that because I got to engage with the owner who was the head baker and really ask a lot of detailed questions. There was time for that conversation to happen. When I was starting it was truly like old-school master and apprentice relationship, where the standards were very high for me and I really enjoyed that.

I worked six days a week. I worked from 2am until 11am each one of those days. I would get up in the middle of the night. I would have a lot of solitary time… Like a good four hours of solitary work, which I really enjoyed where I could just focus on the work and the rhythms… Listening to music… kind of meditate on what I was doing. Not just making bread but what I was doing with my whole life.

It was a sort of transitional period for me. I look back on those days very fondly.

What I liked about making art was that I had a connection to all other artists before me, and I really feel that even more strongly about baking: That I work within a tradition that gets passed down. When I get up at 3 o’clock in the morning I think about the other bakers who are up doing the same thing, and I think about the bakers who did it the generation before me, and I think about the person who taught me how to make this bread and that he learned working mostly with French bakers. To connect to that kind of history… it carries a lot of weight for me.

After a year of baking, my first year of baking, I took some time off. I was like, “Oh, I’ll take some time off and I’m gonna go travel.” When I was in Paris, Cam Ramsey who previously owned Madison Sourdough, hooked me up… I got to work with this baker for a few days and it was really, really inspiring. At the time I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back and continue to bake. After that experience I was like, “Oh, I am super into this. This is really cool.”

It’s like a connection to that history. To see a third generation baker doing what he was doing… we were carting around breads on the street. Just walking deliveries on a little cart, going to restaurants, having espresso with chefs… their lifestyle was so routine and so set, but like simple and enjoyable in a lot of ways. They worked really hard but it was just sort of like, “This is what we do. We live above the bakery. This is what we’ve done for generations.”

Berger photo 1

My role as a baker is to take the wheat, which is just this seed of grass, and guide it towards it’s like intended… most excellent purpose… which is a loaf of bread.

Bread is essentially fermented grain. It’s amazing that as a culture we’ve developed skills to get there—guiding that process to make something that is truly nourishing and stable. It’s truly transformative. Wheat, in particular, has been the cultivated crop of the world for thousands of years. There’s lots of other grains out there, but wheat… It’s been sort of foundational for civilization as we know it.

I love bread.

There’s nothing like a good-fresh-warm baguette. With some butter on it… like high-fat butter… it’s so good… Specialty breads are great, like nut breads, but I’ve grown more and more to really appreciate whole-grain loaves as my everyday bread.

I’ve really held onto staying a baker. Other chefs who cook still and own their restaurants will say the same thing: If you back away, if you leave that, you’ll lose something. Something will be lost… Whether it’s like really tangible or more kind-of like the spirit of a dish, or the spirit of a bread, or spirit of a place.

I’d rather give up the business and still bake. Its kind-of crazy… There’s usually three bakers when we start the morning, and we’re all kind of waking up, but we all know what to do. We all have our stations. We don’t really talk a lot for the first few hours unless we need to, and I think that’s important to just kind-of like get into the process, get into the day. I enjoy the mornings because I need that little bit of solitude… that quiet. I’ll never not be a baker.

— Liz Berger

CHRIS BERG, BUTCHER AT A SMALL GROCERY STORE

In a small town the odds of finding your ideal job are low. Chris Berg did: as a butcher at a local small grocery store. He bought a home with his wife right down the street. He grew up on a family farm. It was hard for him to give up farming, but becoming a butcher was just a happier and better way of living for him. He has been at Gempler’s Supermarket now for 15 years.

I grew up in a small dairy farm in Green County, Wisconsin. It was a family farm that had been in the family’s name for a hundred years and it was a very good place to grow up and… a good way of life. I really liked it.

I had a close friend that was a butcher and I had asked him about the job and what it involved. My guidance counselor told me I had to choose a profession—butcher was what I ended up choosing and I went from there. It was something I could do part time and still be on the farm with my father, so it kind of fell into place. I didn’t get into school right away because there was no opportunities—it took me a year before I got in there.

The schooling was a 22-week course and they just taught you the basics, mostly how to cut beef and pork. You had two directions to go, you could either be a sausage maker or you could be what they call “in slaughter,” which you were, ya know, butchering animals. That’s what I chose and it’s not an occupation for everyone, let’s put it that way. There is a lot of people that do not care to go that direction.

If you are a meat cutter—the education I got—you had to learn how to be a butcher first. If you were a sausage maker, you kinda ended up being in the sausage kitchen all the time—at the time, that really wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted that meat cutting experience also, so down the road I could use it to my advantage. My favorite part of being a butcher is—believe it or not—you know what all the good cuts are, so when you go home at night you are certainly gonna have good meals. You know what the good stuff is.

Some of the animals are no fun to cut, that’s for sure. I guess once you get used to it they’re all about the same. The big thing is you have to learn the bone structure of the animal. Once you learn the bone structure you know where to cut the meat off the bones easier. If you don’t know what the bone structure is, you don’t know how to cut or prepare a lot of the cuts like steaks and roasts. You gotta learn the bone structure—and the good parts of the animals where the good stuff is—and from there it makes it pretty easy.

I did work part time with another experienced butcher at a store—as they say, on the job training is always the best training. Certain days I would be a meat cutter or a butcher and then I would go back and still have my chores and things to do on the farm with my father. It worked out as a part time job from the get-go and it really fitted my situation, let’s say.

I also ended up at a locker plant to start off with, so I quit that job and decided I better do what I went to school for. And there again we did the slaughter and meat cutting there and I was there for probably 2 ½ to 3 years. I would work one day a week on what they call the kill floor, where you would slaughter and then the next day you would start to cut meat and do the beef and the pork. You would have custom orders and people would have their animals brought in and leave an order how they want ‘em cut and wrapped. I actually learned more from on the job training then I did in school. There again, on the job training is hard to beat.

The older guy that I worked part time for decided to retire and I went up and talked to him about the job at Gempler’s Supermarket. They were looking for someone and I told them I would be interested. I don’t know if it was more of what I wanted—but an opportunity. After about 2 weeks they give me a call and just said, “Come on in and start your job.” And as far as the interview went, it was pretty much non-existent because they knew me and I just more or less walked in and started.

Well when I get to work the first thing we do is we start to assemble equipment. We have to go through the equipment all the part and pieces to make sure I hadn’t missed cleaning some of the parts or pieces might have some meat on them. Then we have a place where we hang our special orders, we start to arrange our special orders so we can start to work them into our daily schedule. We go out and look in the meat counter and see what has to be cut. We might be out of this that or the other thing and we have to write those items down and come back and start to cut those items and put them back into the meat case to get things where they should be so the customer has some product to buy. But believe it or not, dealing with the public is probably one of my least favorite things because you have to continuously act like you are pleasant although sometimes you aren’t. You got your good people and you got some people that might not be so good.

Then on Mondays we have price changes for our new specials for the week. So we take the prices from the previous week and we put it back to regular price. And prices for the new week we put on sale price, so we have sale items every week.

Then close up. We turn around after we are done at the end of the day—we there again do just the opposite. Sanitation is a big part of any meat cutting store, any grocery store, or custom locker plant. We take apart all the equipment and tear it down. We have to do the pre-rinse. We rinse everything down and try to rinse a lot of the excess meat particles and stuff off the equipment. Then after we do that we do the soap cycle which is [a] machine on our hose that puts soap on all of our meat cutting parts, and we scrub up to try and get nice and clean, then we turn on the rinse and go around and rinse. Then once we do that we turn on the sanitizer and we sanitize all our equipment. That kills a lot of the bacteria, so after that we are ready to call it a day.

Well the store that I work at is a fairly good-sized store. I would rate it as a medium-sized store. It’s not real small and it’s not real big. It’s probably 4500 square feet and out of that maybe 1/3 is our meat processing room. We have a smokehouse; we have a sausage stuffer, a saw, a grinder, a tenderizer and we have several meat cutting tables. We also have several cooling tanks.

The machinery used is mostly meat grinders and meat saws. So first you took and sawed the carcass into different parts, whether it be the shoulder, the rear part of the animal, or the middle and at the loins, you would start to break it down from there. A pig—you would make pork chops and from the rear part you would have the hams and hocks. And the front part, the shoulders, you would have pork steaks and a shoulder roast. A lot of people don’t realize where the different cuts come from in an animal. Actually pork and beef is just pretty much the same bone structure, but just different names for the body parts, let’s put it that way.

We also have what they call a tenderizer, so I can cut some boneless pork chops and run them through the tenderizer and that makes a pork cutlet and we sell a lot of those. Same with the beef. I have to saw what they call a short loin and the short loin is where your T-bones and porterhouse steaks come from. Porterhouse I usually get 5 to 6 of those on a short loin and then you have to a trim ‘em, clean ‘em up with a scraper, take the bone dust off of them and put them on a tray and make them look real nice so the customer likes the looks of them. Once we get it on the tray we put some film over it and put it in the meat counter and that’s the way that works.

Then our other machine that we use a lot is the grinder with beef. We have our ground beef, ground chuck, and ground round. The ground round is usually taken from the rear part of the animal—they call it the bottom round—and that’s a very lean cut. We run that through the grinder and we usually get right around 90% lean grinds out of that part of the animal. Then for the ground chuck—that comes from the front part of the animal and the ground chuck has a higher fat content, but it is excellent for burgers on the grill. The fat is actually what gives your meat a lot of flavor. You wouldn’t wanna make a hamburger out of ground round because there is very little fat and you would be disappointed at the end result. You wouldn’t have the flavor you do with ground chuck, so there is a difference. Actually ground round and ground chuck are our top sellers in the whole meat counter because there is so many things you can do with ground chuck and ground beef.

I guess the big thing that has changed over time is the amount of product we are producing. I would say at this time we are doing a lot more sausage making. It has become successful where we are at and our meat counter has done very well. I’m thinking [I’ll] keep going as long as I can, god willing. I’m about 58 years old and I’ll probably have to go about another 10 or 12 years. I really don’t plan on retiring. I’d like to… as I get older maybe go part time and have a niche, something I can do on the side to keep busy. I guess that’s my retirement plan. I’m gonna go until I can’t go full time anymore or maybe go part time.

— Marissa Berg

ANNEMARIE MAITRI, OWNER OF BLOOM BAKE SHOP

Annemarie Maitri is the founder and owner of Bloom Bake Shop, a local, organic bakery in Middleton, WI, that offers both traditional and vegan/gluten-free desserts. Daughter of a pilot, she was born in Japan and lived around the world. Louisiana is where she called home and where her love of food began.

I definitely have a lot of fond childhood food memories. What probably stands out to me most is growing up in the South. My parents had a carport and they would set up this table that had troughs all the way around it. I just remember family sitting around the table peeling shrimp and crawfish and crab and boiling potatoes and corn. I remember all of our hands would be on fire from the crab boil seasoning. My parents were always bustling around the kitchen. I don’t think I remember a time when someone wasn’t in the kitchen.

Both my parents were more savory cooks, so I was really self-taught in terms of baking. After dinner, I always craved something sweet so I would just make random experiments with dessert and my dad would coach me from his chair at the dinner table. They gave us a lot of freedom in the kitchen, and I remember making beignets for my family and friends using a little hot fryer at eight years old—unsupervised! My dad always enjoyed my experiments and I think that kind of fueled my confidence. Since then, I’ve always been a dessert girl.

Moving to Madison was definitely a turning point for me. My good friend Katie handed me “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and between reading that book and all of the farmers markets in Madison, it just completely changed the way I thought about food. The interesting thing is that growing up and spending part of my childhood in Louisiana, that is actually how we lived, but it didn’t have a name. We had our milk delivered to the door with a big fat thing of cream on top, our eggs were fresh—it didn’t have a name like “local” or “sustainable.” That’s just how it was.

The decision to create Bloom was definitely driven by friends and family. I started out in sales, and when we moved to Madison, I had the opportunity to stay home with my children, but I knew I wanted to do something in addition to being a mom. All I did was cook and bake. Eventually, I kind of self-evaluated and realized, all I do is make dessert, and I really like it! Choosing Middleton as Bloom’s home was based on pretty pragmatic demographic research and I definitely have my Middleton supporters, but to be honest, Madison, as a leader in the local food-scene, is really our audience.

In the beginning, I was kind of everything. Staff structure has changed a lot. I have more people now, but I don’t know if I’m sleeping any more, because new things happen when you grow. I used to be one of the main bakers and now I’m more of a fill-in person. There’s a big administrative piece that’s a part of my job now in addition to the wedding piece of Bloom. We’re still teeny, but we now have two morning bakers, Eric and Mark, Nicole, who works administratively with me, as well as outreach to corporate accounts, two part-time staff members and four fill-in staff members.

Being in our fifth year now, knowing “OK we’re here,” is great. The first year we just wanted to stay open, but now we’re at this real growth point and I have people who have been with me for four, five years. For me, being good to my employees is everything. Right now, I’m at a place where I have four full time people working with me. So, I’m the owner. Some owners make a certain percentage over what other people make. Well, I don’t believe that I should make any more than the people working the same amount as me, which is a really unique approach. And I feel really good about it because, if I’m choosing ingredients that are fair-trade or organic, how could I not treat my employees with that same respect? 

A lot of people say they purchase locally and its like two ingredients. We did it rather boldly—I broke down my entire cupcake and looked at every single ingredient. I had to look at where we were going to get flour, and at that time, we didn’t have any access, but now we have Lonesome Stone Midwest flour. Then I looked at sourcing our chocolate, which took me a while to find a good source. Then I had to think about how much it was all going to cost, because our eggs are four dollars a dozen and our butter was getting close to six bucks a pound last summer. It was scary because, you can’t really push the threshold of a cupcake past $3.25-$3.50 without people being shocked by the price. So, it was bold and, truthfully, I was scared, but I knew that if I had to close my doors at the end of the year, at least I was doing it in, what I think, is the right way. We actually broke even our first year – barely. But that’s pretty amazing considering what we were selling and how we were purchasing. So, I just wasn’t going to do it any other way and now, I hope it’s making other people realize that it really is possible.

You know how sometimes you negotiate a better price for things? That is never a conversation that I feel is okay to have when buying local. How are you going to ask someone that has been working the fields to give you a better deal on something? If anything, it’s the opposite, when they come in after being up at three in the morning with their cows making butter and they apologize for being a case short. You really feel what you’re getting from these people. The case of butter just has a completely different feel; you see those people when you’re making what you’re crafting.  It’s not faceless — which, to me, is awesome.

Our new breakfast sandwich is super cool, because the biscuit is Organic Valley buttermilk, Murphy Farms butter, Pecatonica eggs and bacon, and Cedar Grove cheese. And then with the vegan/gluten-free sandwich, we are able to work seasonally with whatever vegetables are in season at the time. It’s such a way for it to be completely our little local baby.

We have a very intimate relationship with our customers. We have some people that we’ve made every single one of their family’s holiday cakes, pies, desserts. I love that they give us feedback—good and constructive—it only helps us grow. I need that really synergistic relationship because… you’re feeding people.

When we first started getting weddings, it was very grassroots. It was mostly people looking to support local, organic businesses. What I think we’ve done a great job with is our taste and our presentation to where we’re just as competitive as the bakeries that are known for weddings but not local ingredients, which is pretty amazing. Sometimes, we get people that don’t care about our philosophy, which is fine, but what’s really cool is when you get someone who may not have cared, but the experience changed the way they think about things.

I feel like we educate quietly every day because of the choices we make. When people ask us about our ingredients, it opens that conversation. I think its going to be interesting to see how the future of the food movement plays out in education, and that’s where I feel a passion of mine lies, is how can we get to underserved communities and create some education, because food is not a complicated thing to have people come together around – it’s universal.

I would love to see our strong little bakery in Middleton thrive – it really is thriving. From there, I don’t know, I really love what’s happening. I don’t see myself with a ton of different locations. I think maintaining slow growth is the best way to grow, at least to me. The relationships we have at Bloom are everywhere. The relationships we have with our purveyors, the trust and the belief we have from our customers, the reward our staff feels – those relationships are everything.

— Morgan Menke

SCOTT RICHTER, GROCERY STORE MANAGER

In 1947, Scott Richter’s grandfather, George started a grocery store in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Today, Scott’s father, Larry, and uncle Norm own and operate that store as well as another in Burlington, Wisconsin. This legacy continues, with Scott being the store manager in Burlington, his sister Sue the assistant manager there, and his brother Joel the grocery manager in Twin Lakes.

I helped out in the store when I was 14, started out as a bagger, which is where most people start out in the grocery business. Being a bagger I would say was good, but everybody wants to be a stocker. Obviously, you need to be older; you need to have more training, and that kind of stuff. But overall, I enjoyed my job and what I did. As I got older, [I] went to another location in Delavan—as they had a Sentry—started bagging there when I was in high school. I got promoted to stocker there, and then when I graduated, I started working back at our Twin Lakes location on a full-time basis, in the produce department.

My favorite memory is when my grandpa would help me bag groceries. I mean at the time, I was probably more embarrassed than anything else, but that’s definitely one of the memories that always sticks with me. I was very lucky that I got to work with him and he was a very hands-on type of person, so that I did like.

I really enjoyed working in a grocery store because it’s in my blood. It’s something that I found out I was good at and that I knew I could excel at, so that’s why I decided to keep up with it and see it all the way through. Saw a chance for me to grow in the business and hopefully grow up the ranks and become manager. I was assistant manager and grocery manager and moved up along the way and enjoyed all facets of the business.

Everything’s harder when you’re an owner’s child. People think it’s given to you. I take pride in the fact that I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten and there’s nothing in the store I can’t do. I started as a bagger, so I know every part of the business. I did learn a lot from my grandpa, from my father, from my uncle. I paid attention and learned everything I possibly could from them. They were good people to learn stuff from as far as what to do and what not to do. I took it and made it my own and worked my way to where I am now.

When I heard that Burlington was for sale, I approached my dad and uncle and told them that it would be a good investment. It was a growing community and there was place for expansion for our family and it would be a nice addition. In 2003, we purchased Burlington—we decided to grow our business.

There’s a lot of competition, it’s one of the more challenging parts of being in the business in the Burlington area that we’re in. In our community of 10,000, we’re sitting with five grocery stores, including us. There’s Menards that has a full set of groceries, two Kwik Trips on both sides of town, they actually came from a grocery background and they know the ins and outs of groceries. It sounds silly, but people will go there for milk—anything they get there is one less thing they’ll get with us. Our location is in the crossroads of Burlington so I mean everybody’s always driving past, whether it be to get to the high school or grade school—we’re in a good location. We have had a Super Wal-Mart in our town for 10 years now, and we’re still here. In a lot of towns, you’re lucky if you’ll last 6 months.

We look at their ads on a constant basis; we look at what everyone else in the industry is doing. The best ideas are usually stolen, which is what we do. We’ll take a look at somebody’s ad or their social media and try to outdo them that way. From our supplier, Affiliated Food Midwest, we have people that come in and talk to us about things we can do to stay relevant in the current grocery world.

As far as big box relevancy, we more so pride ourselves on quality, value, and service. You’re never going to beat them by price; it’s just not going to happen, unfortunately. They have more buying power than we do. We take great pride in our perishables: meat, deli, bakery, produce, and we feel like that’s where we can go up against the big box store and actually compete against them.

We do a lot of charity work. We have Funds for Friends, which donates 1% of the customer’s purchases back into the community. Between our two stores, in the last year we’ve donated $27,000 back to nonprofit organizations—a lot of churches, nonprofits in town, and schools. We do a food drive every year for the local food pantry, last year we raised $10,000. Anything we can do to get involved and get our name out there in the community and help anybody we can, we do.

I mean we all live in our communities, we do shop with local businesses and they shop with us. It’s something good where like I said, in the chain stores maybe you don’t get that independently owned and operated aspect of it. We can put a face and name on our business and everybody knows who we are and what we do for the community.

Social media definitely does play a big role nowadays. We text our customers, we have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter page, we also have email blasts. It’s been a huge change. I think we’re right on with what we’re doing. The most difficult part is how you get them to pay attention to what you’re doing social media wise. Trying to stay relevant as far as Facebook and in all of that, I mean it’s a full time job in itself.

My typical day would be: I usually start at 9am. I get in the store, make a round, look at everything, stop and see most of my department heads and you know, see if there’s anything that needs to be done for the day. My job has a lot to do with advertising. We do a custom ad that we build ourselves, and that’s pretty much my job, which has changed for me in the last two years. But, it’s also helped me grow and look at my business in a way that I’ve never looked at it before. So yeah, I mean I usually start my day—you know—building or proofing ads. I’m always working on about three different ads at a time and emailing people or talking to them on the phone for deals and pricing, that kind of stuff. Then obviously, there’s the running the business side where if we’re busy on the front end, maybe I’m checking, maybe I’m helping stock stuff, putting loads away, or putting displays out. I mean each day varies, but my main purpose and goal is advertising and that’s what I try to stick to the most.

Favorite part about my day is—honestly would be interacting with the people. I do spend a lot of time in the office, but I do enjoy getting out of the office and seeing—whether it’s customers, workers—talking to them and seeing where I can help them as far as employees but also anything I can do to help a customer. I would never turn the other way and not help them.

One of my most challenging parts of the job is being independent and trying to watch wherever you can save money. We do a lot of things ourselves. I am the resident electrician—there has been plenty of times where I have been, maybe sparks have been flying and I’ve been electrocuted a bit. So that’s always different and challenging, but fun. I’m a very hands-on person and if I can fix something myself without having to spend money, we’re definitely going to do that ourselves—anyway we can cut costs.

Retail theft is another very challenging part. It’s a big problem in our industry: the number one shrinkage. The more people steal, the more money we lose, the more our prices go up and so on and so forth to cover that cost. Stopping the shoplifter can always be—you never know what you’re gonna get. Every single person I’ve ever met in the grocery industry has had a swing taken at them and that’s part of the dangerous side of the business. I’ve had to do some running, I’ve had to do some tackling, some holding people down—there’s been plenty of that kind of stuff.

Obviously there’s never enough time in the day as far as getting everything done. I know I’m a little bit of a control freak when it comes to some stuff but learning to give responsibility to other people has really helped, and surrounding yourself with good people. I can’t do my job by myself, so luckily I have people around me that help me with that, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get it done.

There’s some people that probably see me as their boss, which I am. Just trying to get them to understand that not only am I—my mantra has always been my door’s always open. If someone needs to come in my office and they want to talk or need a favor, they can always come in and talk to me. They also know that I would never ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do. If anybody needs something: if I need to help them put stuff on the shelf, if I need to cut stuff up, if I need to package cookies, whatever it might be, they know that I would jump in and help them in a heartbeat.

My sister is my assistant, so we see each other everyday. We get along—it’s great—we work well with each other. Obviously there’s time where there’s disagreements and there’s been plenty of shouting/screaming matches in our office. At the end of the day, we love each other and it’s a good thing to get it out and talk about it rather than keep it inside. My dad and uncle are taking less of a role, I don’t see them as often but they’ll come around every once in a while. They still are technically the owners, so we do have to bounce things off of them and talk to them about things we’re trying to accomplish.

I’ve definitely enjoyed working with my daughters at the grocery store. They are all good workers and pitch in where they can. They’ve all worked in different aspects of the grocery business and it’s nice to know that they have that, some people wouldn’t. When they come in there I get to see them and spend more time with them, it’s definitely a plus. Going on lunch with your daughters is probably one of the highlights of your day. Getting that one-on-one time with them that you probably don’t get with them anywhere else.

For myself, I would enjoy to someday takeover the family business. I would like to grow the family business, would like to get more stores and operate and grow our business the best I can. I know we’ll grow, I know we’ll only get better moving forward. It’s something I’m very passionate about: I do love my work, I do love my job, I love the people I work with, I love every aspect of it. I would never trade it for anything.

Richter’s Marketplace in Burlington, Wisconsin
Richter’s Marketplace in Burlington, Wisconsin

 

–Hayley Richter

ROSEMARIE WAGNER, FORMER EMPLOYEE IN FAMILY-OWNED BAKERY

Wagner’s Lakeside Bakery was the product of deeply rooted tradition and whole-hearted passion. Rosie Wagner, the owner/baker’s daughter, worked in the family bakery. This experience greatly impacted her life and work in the food industry. Family values, traditions, and passion were the foundation of the business, baked into every pastry, bread, and cake in the case.

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We go way back as bakers. My grandfather was also a baker as well as my great grandfather. My father was a baker’s apprentice in Europe. He came here and worked for a bakery for quite a few years and then he chose to open his own bakery. He brought a lot of European products into this particular bakery, lots of European tortes and coffee cakes. It was in South Milwaukee, 1100 East Oakland Avenue. Me and my sister went and helped him. I was twenty.

It was for sure a big family ordeal to keep the bakery running, and I wish that I had gotten more involved with the actual baking and preparing so that we could still have the business. It was great because we got to spend a lot of time together, and we were close. I think the bakery brought us closer together. We were all there every day. My sister started to have kids early, and were able to bring both of our children to the bakery. There was an apartment upstairs and my mom would watch the kids, both mine and my sister’s, and so as a result I think my kids grew closer, lifelong relationships with my sister’s kids. My mother was the backbone of the bakery, she pushed us all, reminded us all of everything that needed to be done. She was the caretaker—took care of us, took care of the kids, made sure that my dad ate and slept, made sure that everyone did their job to her satisfaction.

We’d have a good 25-30 people on payroll, anything from sales clerks to bakers to donut fryers to donut icers, to cake decorators and then of course the cleanup staff, delivery drivers (me). Who did the hiring depended on the position. If it was for a baker, then my father definitely took care of it. If it was cleaning staff then my sister or I would take care of it, but by and large my dad did anything that had to do with producing the bakery.

My typical day was to get up at 2:30 A.M., drive to the bakery, load up the delivery van, go and deliver to customers all over downtown Milwaukee and Oak Creek for 3-4 hours. Then I would go back to the bakery and unload anything that needed to be unloaded, then we would help in the store anywhere else that was needed—help with the tortes and pies and customer service, get any supplies that my father needed. We would do some paperwork and head out.

Bakers work third shift. [My dad] would stay on premise. He had an apartment upstairs in the building—slept during the day while my sister and I took care of things that needed to be done. He would get up at 6 or 7 at night—start with the donuts, made every day fresh in one of the two big donut fires. Then the other bakers would start on breads, coffee cakes, cookies, and someone later would come and ice the donuts once they’d cooled, pack the orders for deliveries. My dad would also do sheet cakes, specialty decorated cakes for customers, and then tortes or anything else that needed taking care of. We used to make a coffee cake that we called a pizza coffee cake. It was round, just like a pizza, and it had four different sections to it – cheese, strawberry, blueberry and cherry. That was a big favorite. Also had German Chocolate Cake, that was a favorite, carrot cake, cream pie, banana cream was a favorite, lots of breads—sourdough bread, seven grain bread, wheat, rye, we carried all kinds of bread. He had a couple of recipes that were in German weights instead of American; he had to buy a German scale just to produce some of his recipes.

There were for sure repeat customers, our “Sunday morning regulars.” The thing that is probably the most challenging is the customers, because you get the ones that are satisfied. The ones that aren’t – they are the most challenging. What I liked the most about the food industry is the joy in someone’s face when they have something that you prepared that they really really like, or when they come back because of the food you made. It is always nice to get to know customers [on] a familiar basis—you knew what people liked, what they didn’t like. It was always harder when you don’t know a person to get them to be receptive. I think that working at a small bakery changed the way I treated people, I learned to treat people as friends, not just customers. Always do your best. Always greet the customer. Be friendly. Treat someone like you would want to be treated and always make sure that you are giving the best quality you can give.

We advertised very much through word of mouth. I wish we had known how big Starbucks would be because coffee and donuts… we would have been good together. Working with food is the same wherever, everything must be cooked and cooled properly. The larger corporations everything is mass produced, whereas the smaller ones are more personalized because you don’t have to make big volumes. I preferred working in the family-owned, mom and pop place. Supposedly Walmart is family owned, but something that is really family oriented is more enjoyable than something so corporate. When you work for a small company you get to know everyone involved, whereas in a big company you don’t know everyone. The smaller atmosphere is much more personal.

It was nice to see each other every day, talk to each other every day, spend time together, see each other’s glories, I guess you could say, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. We worked with local schools, programs with the school where they would go to school half the day and come work the other half of the day, we were very involved in the community with raising money, donations, we tried to stick mostly with the local Oak Creek chapters, local police department and fire department, community events, etc.

My favorite memory would be the wedding cakes, dealing with brides and grooms—actually delivering the cakes and setting them up was awesome. My father was famous for his wedding cakes. People would come in and order cakes for an occasion at work, all different reasons, baby showers, etc. My sister and I, once a year, would go to A Wonderful World of Weddings and give samples and display our product. That brought a lot of people to our wedding cakes. Christmas Cookie season was great too. We had assembly lines and my dad would make hundreds and hundreds. The whole family would get together and make cookies and box them all up.

The bakery isn’t open because my father became ill. We were going to relocate. My sister and I knew so much about the store, but unfortunately because of our other various responsibilities, we didn’t learn the trade as well as we should have. As a result, once my father no longer could do it, well we couldn’t do it without him. Both me and my sister wish that we had taken the time to learn the trade better. We absolutely regret closing the bakery. We realized that if we had hired people to do the administrative work that we were doing instead of hiring them to do the baking that we should have been learning, then we’d still have that tradition in our family. The bakery did make good money but if we still had it, my kids could learn how to make donuts instead of just eating them, they could have had that work ethic instilled in them too.

The bakery is still open, but not run by our family and it isn’t nearly as recognized. My father was a passionate man. The bakery to him was like a portrait. He had a vision and he made it happen. You could see the glow that when he made something that not just looked good but tasted good – it was art. To see the passion in him—he just loved it.
— Katelyn Pecha

SHELLY CROSS, CO-OWNER OF HUMBLE PIE

Pie is much more than just a type of pastry one can choose to eat. For Shelly Cross, co-owner of Humble Pies in Madison, WI, pie symbolizes childhood memories, family traditions, and an emotional experience. Along with fellow co-owner and sister Jill, they continually put the costumer first by recreating the Southern style pastries they grew up on.. With each story she tells her smile glows that much brighter.

My sister and I use to travel with our father, to visit our relatives—out kinda in the country from where we lived in the city of Little Rock, Arkansas. We would always stop out there, to try pie at different places. Sometimes we would even go an hour out of the way so we could eat pie at a place we heard was good. That is my earliest memory of really being interested in pie. I was probably around ten or eleven years old.

I have been helping my grandmother for so long I can’t remember the first time I baked. My mother on the other hand would not keep sweets in the house. So if we wanted something as a sweet we would have to bake it while she was out of the house. So when she worked we would come home after school and we would sneak and bake. Probably cake was the first thing: chocolate cake. And we realized after a few times that she wouldn’t be mad for very long. We weren’t suppose to be cooking when she wasn’t home, but she wouldn’t stay mad for very long if it was good.

I had never thought about opening a bakery. I have had my own businesses before. I had done some stuff with antiques and linens and things like that. I had just gotten a divorce and my sister and I were looking at something we could do together. Neither one of us have culinary experience, but we were talking about it over the phone while I was still in Georgia. Whatever I ended up doing for a living I wanted to be by my sister. Baking is something that we enjoy so much we thought it would be a great idea if we could make it work. Once I moved here that’s when it really became more real. So we started going around to other bakeries and restaurants trying their pies. I think that’s when we first felt—after we had gone to every place we could find—it was like our pies are really different than anything we have had here. We just thought people would really like it. It was thrilling to realize you know we are not just talking about this–we can actually do it.

We’ve been here for almost three years. But before that we baked to order. We worked out of other kitchens. We rented space from other bakeries. At one point we were baking, my sister and I, just on one table and we would stand across from one another and we would just pile stuff in stacks in order to do everything. But it was fun—I mean I can’t really complain about it. When we moved into this building, we were actually overwhelmed by how much business we got. We still have people come in three times a week just to support us. I don’t think they really need that much pie, but people come in and get stuff for their office or to send gifts just so people know about us. The neighborhood has been really supportive of us. I don’t know if we would have started somewhere else we would have been successful. They’ve been great to us. We love it here.

Since we have opened the retail bakery, we have continued to grow steadily with time. It’s a child. You feel like you have to come in and take care of it. It’s your thing. People are counting on you. It’s the sense of responsibility to the business and to your costumers. Even if I am tired once I get here, its really fun. It’s fun to bake. I love working with the other employees.

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Storefront of Humble Pies located at 10 S Allen Street

One thing that I try to do is let our employees express themselves through their baking. So if they want to do a different kind of… [looks off and points at the case] I mean those pumpkin pies may have a different topping every day of the week. But if someone is inspired to do something different, then that is what this is all about. We are baking more than just a pumpkin pie. We also don’t like to hire people who have done a lot of baking in another commercial bakery because a lot of what we do is not the way they would do it in a commercial bakery. It’s the way you would do it in your home. We think that’s what gives us a better product. Our main criteria is someone who loves to bake—and that they be enthusiastic about giving someone a great product.

Baking is relaxing in a way, but it’s also the idea that someone is going to be really pleased with what you make. Its going to bring someone happiness that’s what I think about a lot when I am baking. That is really important to us. A wedding that we did early on, probably about our third wedding—the bride kept ordering more and more pies and she was all ready doing all different kinds of pies all different shapes, sizes, and different flavors. And the order just kept getting bigger and bigger so we were talking to her and her fiancé and were like, “wow you must be getting a lot of RSVPs that you were not expecting because you have a lot more pies.” Her fiancé looked at us and said, “no she keeps ordering more pies because she is afraid that there aren’t going to be any left overs!” [Shelly falls back into her chair with a bright smile laughing.] If someone is that excited about your pie that is a great feeling.

Really we do everything ourselves so as it comes up we learn how to do it. Anything that we try that’s new I love. The Pasty have been something I never expected to make. We do a traditional one, but we do a lot things that are pretty far off the tradition. I enjoy putting together those Pasties. They are challenging. None of our pies are a straight traditional recipe. We try to make changes that modernize the flavors and we bake very seasonally so that changes frequently. What we’re seeing from farmers plays a role too. For example, we just got a bunch of pears and we didn’t know what we were going to do with them. But once we got them, tasted them, talked about it with other employees, people started to get ideas and then you add onto those ideas. Sometimes its just you know “I am really craving this, how can we do a pie like that.” It seems like I am always thinking about how something could be a pie. It’s not a chore, its just how your brain works when you are so involved with pie.

I do think our crust is our claim to fame. It’s flakey and buttery. Just the flakiness of the crust is the biggest thing. We do get very busy around Thanksgiving and then of course π Day [Pi day, March 14] everyone gets pies. And that’s actually our busiest day of the year I would say. It is exhausting. We have to do huge quantities. We just do what we can. Pecan pie is pretty popular. Pumpkin around this time of year [September]. In the summer, we do a lot of blueberry. That is very popular. Cherry gallet, which is just a flat crust that we fold over the edges and then we use a sour cherry filling that we make with Door Country Cherries.

Winter we do cream pies that incorporate local dairy and continue to do root vegetables throughout the year in the pasties and quiches. We had some opportunities with the Milk Marketing Board to make pies incorporating some hard cheeses. We did a cheddar almond cream pie that we did not think was going to work. But that is a delicious pie. It does not taste anything like its ingredients. It kinda transforms into something tangy but also creamy. That was very challenging, but the result is we have several really good recipes that we can pull out during the winter that incorporate different kinds of cheeses.

SHEL2
Mini Alabama Pecan Pie

The most rewarding experience is having people come in and say how much they love pie or how much they thought they didn’t like pie and now they realize they do. It was just the pie they had before that wasn’t very good.

We had one costumer, her mother died and for the funeral her mother-in-law sent her one of our pies. We delivered it to her and now she’s become a great regular customer and friend. Just hearing the way that had affected her at a time when she was really having a rough time… The pie had reminded her of her mother and was comforting. It meant a lot to her. You never expect starting a bakery that your pie could mean something so much to somebody.

— Racheal Knoke

LEE ECKSTROM, OWNER OF LIL’ BUDDY’S POPCORN

Lee Ekstrom started Lil’ Buddy’s Popcorn three years ago in downtown Oregon, Wisconsin. He founded a landscape company twenty years ago and has since been inspired to pursue a fun, side business selling gourmet popcorn and Chicago style hot dogs. The atmosphere is fun, stress-free, and happy. The customer always comes first. Whether customers or delivery drivers, Lee makes an effort to talk to each person who comes in as if they are old friends. 

You have to go in 110%, you cannot go in half way and a lot of people do and those people fail. And in my mind I never fail. And I’ve talked to other business owners and you don’t know how many times people have come up to me and go, “oh my gosh business is just horrible, I don’t know what to do,” and all this. And I, I would never say that. Even if business was slow, I would never walk up to anybody and say, “oh man, I’m hurtin’, I’m hurtin’!” No, things are great! Always great—it’s all about positive attitude. Never let ‘em see you sweat, ever! I like to walk into a room and be a ray of sunshine to everybody. Even if I’m not in that great of a mood; it doesn’t matter. That’s how I go through my day.

So, my typical day starts leavin’ the house about 7am. I take my daughter to school. I stop by the shop. I look over everything from the night before, ‘bout a quick ten minute walk around just to make sure I don’t need anything—everything looks good no water lines are busted. I mean there are the little things no one ever thinks about, you know I’m always just lookin’ for potential problems. Everything looks good, I lock up the shop and I leave, I go to my landscaping business. I work there ‘til about 9am and then I come back to this shop and then I spend about the next half hour getting everything prepared for the day. That’s turning on all the slushie machines, getting tomatoes, onions cut, loading the cash register, making sure I have change for the paper, whatever it takes for that day to happen. And then I leave.

The store is opened by my first employee that works the day shift and she arrives about 10:30. I usually then check in about noon, at the start of the lunch hour to make sure she doesn’t need anything. Did she run out of money? If everything is good I leave again for the rest of the day in the landscaping business, come back about maybe four o’clock. Check. That’s the start of the second shift. Make sure everything is still good. Everything is good. We can usually then call it a day after that. And the girls that run this place are amazing. I train everybody to be a manager and I find that helps a lot. Or we would be here nonstop. You can’t be here nonstop. It just, you’ll go crazy you know. You gotta trust your people to do quality work for you and if you’re hovering over them, they won’t do it. They have to learn how to do it. And it makes them nervous you know.

But that’s your typical day. Now, Fridays and Saturdays are my popcorn making days and I will be here all day all night making popcorn for the week. I’ve been in business so long I don’t notice—doesn’t bother me. Twelve, fourteen hour day is nothin’ you know. I can take maybe a Monday afternoon off. I just take whenever I can, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think of things in, “oh man, Monday through Friday, weekends off,” it doesn’t mean nothing to me you know. And the beauty is that I have the flexibility to be able to do things for the family. I can go to my daughter’s concerts and this and that. And coming with flexibility, sure you gotta pay the price. You always have to answer to somebody. So, if I take a Friday afternoon off I may have to work Saturday, but, big deal, I just saw my kid sing in a chorus concert. There’re a lot of parents that miss stuff like that.

I had the education of hard knocks. You know I started my [landscaping] business when I was twenty-seven and I thought I knew everything…nothing really scared me. Like most people assume it’s just super super hard, you know… and it is! Don’t get me wrong, but you know it’s all just time and effort of what you put into it. I mean the school of hard knocks is very very humbling.

When we started Lil’ Buddy’s three years ago, what we didn’t know—I mean the school of hard knocks is very, very humbling. The first day we opened we literally were so swamped we looked at each other… we didn’t know what to do. And luckily her [my wife’s] cousin, Kim—they own a shop in Oregon and they’ve been doin’ this for years in the food service industry. And she actually literally came down here and told us just to step back and took over. And we watched her and went, “oh, okay this is how you do it.” Just take a deep breath. Cuz I run pretty hard and I go, “waaaah!!” going all crazy, you know and she was the calming force that said, “this is how you handle it.” And like I teach every employee here, don’t let the customer see you sweat. You know, you’re always cool and collected. Even if you make mistakes, it doesn’t matter. Smile. They don’t know anything. We learned a lot from her and after our first day we had to shut down for two days cuz we sold out of everything (laughs) and we thought we had a lot.

I have no competition. No one does gourmet popcorn well around here and no one sells a true authentic Chicago style hot dog. We will always just keep doing what we do and we will just expand what we are here…I figured if I can do popcorn and Chicago dogs I’ve got a little bit of greatness right there. You can’t remain stagnant. Too many businesses, they come up with a model and they stick with it. I think you should always constantly evolve and change. I describe it as an interesting place we’re interesting people and we have interesting stuff to sell. That small town feel…you don’t want to lose sight of that.

Oregon for about the past 15 years has been a pretty dead bedroom community. And since I started this place I work real close with the chamber president who came aboard about the same time and we made a pact together that we gotta bring life back down to this town. It’s a great little town and we do whatever it takes to bring people down here.

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You can always come in here and find somethin’ totally different. Most of these other popcorn places have five or six flavors they market. That’s it. I can go through my folders right now of my popcorn I make and I bet you I’m over sixty right now. I’d rather produce that. Like my wife said, people want different stuff: change. But I understand that from a business point of view when you get large like that, they have to do that. I’d rather not do that right now. It’s good to be king. I know that sounds so cliché, but that’s literally what I tell myself every morning. And the least favorite part about it is being up at two in the morning going, “oh my gosh, I’m the king.” There’s a lot of pressure. People rely on you for paychecks and business and you know there’s a lot of bills involved in this.

lee2

You know…our store is very visual. We keep it clean. Spotless. Neat lookin’. We don’t have trash layin’ around. And we’re always welcoming to other businesses downtown. Promoting ourselves, promoting downtown business is huge. We get to know these people. Make ‘em feel very welcome. In today’s society—oh my gosh—hospitality management is a dying art. Nobody knows how to treat people with kindness and respect anymore. We do. We get a lot of regular folks that come in and actually I think they like comin’ in here because of the people that work here. I mean the product is wonderful but we give them such an… overwelcoming is not the term, but we are so hospitable to people I think they get a kick out of it. Very rarely do you have an unhappy person in here.

My dad taught me years ago, “right or wrong, let the customer always be right,” and we do. We take advice from almost everybody. We love suggestions. You’d be amazed by the flavors that customers come up with. We do special orders. You know, I don’t sweat if I lose a couple dollars here and there. It’s not worth it cuz they usually walk away happy and they’ll be back. We’re a small company but, in all my suppliers eyes, we’re a big deal. Name recognition is huge. About twenty years ago also when I went into business, I vowed to be on everybody’s A-list. I feel by doing that I get special treatment. When I need somethin’, they will do whatever it takes to get that product to me. So with that said, I always pay them immediately, I’m polite to ‘em. I strike up friendships with people. I don’t just show up and go, “okay I need this, send it to me.” No, I get to know these people. And these people know my family. They know my employees. They know our name. You don’t have to be the wealthiest to be famous.

— Ruby Carpenter

WARD FOWLER, CO-FOUNDER OF COLECTIVO COFFEE

Ward Fowler is one of the three founders of Colectivo Coffee, a wholesale coffee roasting company based in Milwaukee. Ward, his brother Lincoln, and his friend Paul Miller opened their first store in 1993. Since then, they have opened twelve locations and three kiosks around Wisconsin.

I grew up drinking coffee. It was much less of a passion though. It was simply a consuming tradition in my household: and it was definitely not good coffee. Things began to change, though, when I went to Scotland and a friend from down the hall, who was into coffee, introduced me to it. That’s when I really started to get into it. I remember getting my first cappuccino and thinking, “Oh my god. I have never tasted anything like this!” Getting introduced to your first well-made cappuccino with enough espresso and perfectly made foam, with a little bit of turbinado sugar over the top, is just oh! So good.

I guess I kind of had step-by-step appreciation for coffee. And I guess that’s kind of what I want to bring to customers now. I want people to notice what they are drinking and say “Oh, that’s really good!” Kind of like I did that first time. I want drinking coffee to go from this background experience to something that forces your attention. Most people don’t brew coffee accurately enough at home to capture what’s special about the origin. And that’s the thing I’m most interested in.

When Link and I were younger, we started this speaker business: building high end, fancy home audio loudspeakers. We were kids just out of college and did this as hobbyists, like geeky little teenagers. It was a failed business basically though. But the one upside was that we met Paul through it ’cause he had a warehouse space in the same building as us. 

Eventually, we started getting together and spent what little money we had on coffee. We would go to Northwestern Coffee Mills, which was this old roasting operation on Broadway. I remember it was about six bucks a pound and Paul would come down to our space, and we’d just hang and listen to our music blaring from our stereos.

We all started noticing that coffee was becoming this trending thing, like in Seattle and the Northwest. This is when Starbucks started opening up and these places were just ripping the cover off the ball. I mean they were so busy and doing such shocking volumes. It was astounding. We knew that there was an opportunity in this.  So we developed a vision for our first coffee shop. We wanted to open a café in the Bayshore shopping center which would be a retail coffee operation, and we would have roasting coffee at the site, maybe make sandwiches, and we even had a newsstand. But we kind of backed ourselves into a corner and it turned into this whole sale roasting operation. It kind of all happened really quickly.

We thought the coffee we were roasting at the beginning was so awesome. (laughs) Total youth. We were so convinced of this. And it was… pretty good. We would bring people in and say, “You gotta see what we’re doing here. You should be buying our coffee. It’s awesome. Come in an you can see this impressive operation and you can taste some of this coffee!” And of course this place was a mess, but we were really proud and we were really excited.

When we first opened on Prospect, some guy wrote us this letter that said “Went into your place and really loved it! Congratulations on opening! I was so pleased to see that you took so much detail seriously.” It was nice to see that it actually paid off. We always want to create an environment that is somewhat theatrical, perhaps, where it was evident that we addressed a lot of detail. Emphasis on design, and environment, and art, and aesthetic were there at the beginning and are still there now.

We want environments with a vibe to them. We don’t want people to feel like they’re in a library. I’ve gone into other cafés and you feel like you have to be quiet and it’s not good. Music in our locations is often too high to concentrate and it’s intentional. I think it’s important to do this, even if we get complaints about it, which we do a lot. We just want that vibe to be right. We want to make it feel good so everybody is comfortable in our spaces. We want to be as inclusive as possible and reflect the neighborhood in which the thing sits.

I think that places like ours are important. Really important. Life was different before Starbucks and companies like us. Because there weren’t environments like that where you could gather—seeing your neighbors and being with them. And there wasn’t a culture like that. I think as a result, the way people live, in general, is different. I love it when I go into one of our stores and there’s old people and young people, and moms with kids and dads with kids, and teenagers with girlfriends, and whatever! That’s when it’s best. It’s like you took the neighborhood and just threw them all in there! You feel like it’s your community that way. Detail and matching it to the environment is really important for that to happen.

We have a ton of community relations, which helps with creating that specific environment that caters to location. We get a lot of inquiries from nonprofits. We have significant connections with these community institutions and they revolve around the arts, the performing arts, cycling, education, and urban ecology centers—a lot of these relationships, we’ve had for years. Sometimes people don’t understand why or what we are doing at these places. One reason is that we get exposure by supporting these organizations. It’s marketing. But it is also a reflection of our values. If you are supporting these institutions that make a community special, you find that they are lots of other people that value these same things. And what we support is not lost on them. It makes their loyalty different and enduring. Once you convince a customer you share values like that, they are never going anywhere else. That’s their lifeblood. We want them to stay with us.

When we were a relatively small company, we began to buy coffee directly from a cooperative of growers in Mexico, all the way in the south. I thought that it would be so exciting to have a direct relationship with coffee growers like that. I’m particularly proud of this deal because it’s still going on, sixteen years later. Having a relationship with anyone or anything for sixteen years is just not easy. Relationships have ups and downs. And what you need to have is commitment to each other.

When I originally went down to Mexico, my wife, Mary Jane, was pregnant with my first son, Henry, and I told the growers that.  So after making a connection with them, years later, they reached out to me and said, “Its been awhile since you’ve visited and were thinking that if you would like to come down, we would have a ten year anniversary celebration!” They then added, “We would be so happy if you would bring your son. It’s the ten-year anniversary of our relationship together so that must mean your son is ten years old. We would love to meet him.”

Henry and I went down there and it was just like the first time I went. We stayed with a family and the natives had a big reception at their bodega where we sat at the table for guests of honor. Everyone was there. They made these proclamations and said things like, “We are welcoming our brother!” I am so proud of this relationship and connection. I think it’s very unique and important.

I think I would still be engaged in my own business if I hadn’t created Colectivo. I really wanted to do my own thing. I just wanted to get on with it after I graduated college. It was luck that Link, Paul, and I got connected. Lincoln and I were coming from a failed business and what we had learned was to limit the downside. I think in our subconscious it was that when a business ultimately fails, it’s better not to lose a ton of money. But you can’t succeed at business when you try to contain the damage. You just cannot. When we were just starting this business, I remember Paul saying, “We are building this thing to kill it. We want to kill it. We aren’t gonna go through all of this trouble and damage to just be a little bit successful.” This was the single most important thing that I have learned from my partner. You have to make the investment. You have to commit.

Paul, Lincoln, and I are all still very actively engaged on a constant basis when a store is being designed and when it’s being built, but our jobs have changed over the years. I kind of administered the business at the beginning, Lincoln dealt with equipment, and Paul was all about the retail and design. Though we all have some specialization, we make all significant decisions as a group. We have a good partnership that way. It’s an easy one. We are really close and no one is extreme.

We’ve gone through all of these stages. There are some things about a small organization that you simply cannot maintain and there are some things that I really liked. There used to be so few people around that you could discuss and make change in any way that was very immediate and simple. Direct! Just raise your voice and everybody heard. And now there are locations and everything is different and we have to be far more deliberate about how we communicate to people. But the single greatest challenge is effective communication. As you get bigger that’s just harder. We are pretty good at it now, but it’s taken learning.

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I have to admit that there are a lot of people that I couldn’t tell you their name.  Everybody here—I know their name and that’s a lot of people. But a lot of people at different locations I don’t know. But this company began as this tiny little thing and now we employ 400 people, so it’s a reality that’s changing and delegating real responsibility is something we have had to learn over the years. The three of us are pretty unified at trying to become as irrelevant as possible. Our coffee department—Rosco runs that. Nathan does all of the coffee buying—spends millions of dollars on coffee. The service department—they don’t call me on Saturday mornings. And there’s no typical day for me. I have a lot of meetings with a lot of people and I circulate the cafés and just see how things are going.  It’s not a sophisticated reflection of a company when you are that critical to its survival.

Somebody who was in business for a long time said that they were trying to figure out ways to have fewer employees and I can appreciate that. I mean people are complicated and they cause problems. But I remember thinking that roasting coffee isn’t curing coffee. Its cool, don’t get me wrong. I love our coffee and I still get psyched for coffee every morning. The coffee changes even though you’re buying from the same place—it’s changing and it’s exciting. And it’s satisfying that we are buying and selling and creating sustainable relationships. But for me, the most meaningful and redeeming part of a business is the employment part. I have to say after twenty-two years, I still feel this way. I’m still interested in and curious about people. And I am proud of how many people are a part of Colectivo.

— Gabi Caron-Schuler

BARB MILLER, CO-FOUNDER OF GREENBUSH BAKERY

Barb, along with her husband, Marv “The Donut Man,” opened the Greenbush Bakery in Madison, WI in 1996.  Although she doesn’t eat the donuts often, her favorite is the double chocolate cake donut.

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Failure was never an option for Marv and I.  Opening the Greenbush Bakery in 1996 represented a complete career change for my husband. In the early years of the bakery, Marv spent nearly every day learning, creating, and perfecting the donuts people now know and love.  During this time, I was still working as a nurse so I helped with the new business on my days off and the weekends.  The early years were not easy and that has been the hardest part about owning our own business.  We have the freedom to succeed or fail and it is up to us to decide which path we want to take. 

Marv and I didn’t come from a long line of bakers.  We would do normal baking with our families but we had never made donuts before owning a donut shop.  Marv got his training on the job from a worker who was a part of the business that was previously in Greenbush’s spot.  The days were long and I can’t tell you how many times Marv fell asleep here with a bag of flour as a pillow.  All the equipment we started with was in need of some repair or complete replacement, neither option being a cheap one. 

Marv has been many different things in the past from a jet mechanic to an insurance salesman and is quite the handy man.  He can fix a lot, but for the more difficult repairs, he’s done his research and we have several manufacturers on file to call if we need to.  Although this was just the beginning of Greenbush, we knew we were heading towards the path to success.

In 1998, we were approached by the Jewish community to become a kosher certified kitchen.  We were excited about this opportunity that came knocking on our door and gladly welcomed the challenge of getting such a prestigious certification.  This process involved the rabbi inspecting and checking over the entire kitchen.  Anything and everything going into the making of our products had to be kosher.  The rolling table was sanded, all the utensils and cookware that touched the donuts had to be boiled for 45 minutes, our ingredients had to be kosher, and all packaging, pan liners, and cleaners had to follow kosher guidelines.  We’ve been recertified every year since and like the Donut Man always says, “Kosher Means Quality.”  The standards are set high to receive this certification and we could not be more proud of it.

Our staff has not changed much throughout the years, however, we do hire the college kids to work the counter and they vary throughout the years.  We have had nursing students, engineers, and teachers all work here and we are flexible enough to work with their schedules.  We absolutely love working with the students, we have even been invited to some weddings!  Despite most of our employees graduating and moving on, some of our full timers have graduated and decided to stick around here at Greenbush.  A goal that we have always had is that we not only have a smiling staff—but no matter what the circumstances are, our customers leave with a smile.  On the bottom of the printed list of duties for the staff it says, “A smile is contagious, have fun!” which helps keeps our goal in all of our minds.

We love the customers.  We have students at all hours of the day.  We have church people, we have families, we have working people.  We see people from all walks of life but I especially enjoy the families with their little kids.  They’ll come in on Sundays in their pajamas because they ask to come get donuts first thing after waking up in the morning.  We’ve had customers during alumni day or homecoming that come in and tell us how our donuts got them through all their finals.  In fact, this morning I ran into a man who was one of our first customers and it was great.  You don’t just forget what opening day felt like and the first customers who come through the door. 

At Greenbush we only sell donuts and the reason for that is said best by the Donut Man, “You can’t be everything to everyone”.  It’s very important that we stick to one item and don’t dilute our margins because if you try to get to big, it gets difficult to please everyone.  With that being said, we still have forty plus different flavors, kinds, and fillings.   We’ve specialized certain recipes to help create the wide variety we have. Marv learned how to make donuts on the job training so he was really just thrown into it.  There is a lot of mixing, fixing and tasting that goes into specializing the recipes. 

As for inspiration for the different flavors?  Well, as Marv would say, “Make things of yesteryear.”  We’ve gotten a lot of suggestions throughout the years, we’ve worked on them, and now that’s what we have.  It’s fun to see what the guys come up with and try out.  When we make the new flavors, we make sure that the recipe is exactly how it should be.  Consistency is not only important for us, but especially to our customers.  That’s one reason we make our whole variety of donuts everyday.  Another reason is that we do wholesale to several different outlets like Willy St. Co-op, Metcalfe’s, and many churches on Sunday mornings. We’ve streamlined our wholesale accounts throughout the years because for us to do business with them, they have to be worth it.  We do deliveries most days and the donuts that we send out are always baked fresh.  We don’t want our product going out, being pushed to the back of a shelf, expiring and then our customers not getting the donuts the way we intended for them to. 

We do a lot with the community.  We donate to many different groups, some examples being the Special Olympics and the Luke House.  Donating to these groups is absolutely awesome.  Some days we bring what donuts we have left over to The Luke House or The Port, a part of the St.Vincent de Paul Society, and you just see people’s eyes light up when you walk into the room.  I have taken my college grandson and nephew during the Christmas vacation to do special deliveries for The Luke House and The Port and people are so appreciative of what we bring.  The happiness that comes from all of that is really what this is all about. 

When we started, we were very small.  Now?  We’re huge.  We have our shop; we do wholesale to several outlets, deliver to many churches on Sunday mornings. Our website just launched a few months ago. We have a new delivery truck and we give back to the community whenever we get the chance.  We even have a few aprons in the time capsule at the Overture Center for people in the future to open in however many years.  It wasn’t easy getting to where we are and we couldn’t be more grateful for the staff and customers we have.  Marv and I do a lot of thanking because we have great people here and we are very proud of them. As far as opening another store goes, it is talked about all the time and thought about constantly.

— Caroline Krolicki

BARRY LEVENSON, CURATOR OF THE NATIONAL MUSTARD MUSEUM

Despite having minimal previous experiences in food (outside of eating it), Barry Levenson, former Attorney General of Wisconsin, left his comfortable law career to take a leap of faith and open the National Mustard Museum in 1995. In the twenty years since the original museum opened in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, Levenson has taken the museum further than he ever dreamed he could.

2:30am on October 28th, 1986. I’m wandering aimlessly though the grocery store, devastated by the heartbreaking loss my Red Socks have just suffered. Suddenly, I hear a voice, seeming from on high: “If you collect us, they will come.” I look up, astonished. I’m standing alone in the condiments aisle, looking up at row upon row of mustards. I grab 12 or 15 jars and head to the cashier. Little did I know where those 12 jars would take me.

So let’s back up: How does an assistant attorney general for the state of Wisconsin end up a mustard enthusiast, to put it lightly? Sometimes, I wonder myself. I loved my job and never thought I would leave it as it was the ultimate law job for my interests. It was great: I was arguing cases for the state supreme court, writing briefs, and writing is what I love. It was engaging—it was fascinating, intellectually stimulating work. But for all that, I had no idea what the future had in store for me that night.

I joke about it, but that’s really how it all started. Mourning my Red Socks, I found myself in an all-night grocery in Madison, Wisconsin, at 2:30am on that fateful night. Whether I literally heard that voice or not, I’m not sure, but I do know that was the moment I decided I should start collecting things. Maybe it was just fate that I ended up in front of the mustards. I mean, imagine if I had ended up in front of the feminine hygiene products. 

It’s not as though I had any outstanding experiences with mustard or with food in general that may have influenced this particular path. Growing up, food was something we ate, of course, but beyond that it really wasn’t anything special until my senior year of college. I was interning at the Council of Economic Advisers at the White House at the time. One of the economists invited me to dinner one night and totally blew me away with this chicken bordeux dish. I was just amazed, shocked that she had made this fantastic dish. In response, she pulled out the original New York Times Cookbook and showed it to me. I was just so thrilled with it. The next day, a copy of that ended up on my desk, a gift from Irene Laurie, who really, you could say, turned me on to cooking. I had never done any cooking before, and that’s when I started to experiment.

This experimentation of foods wasn’t enough to make me quit my comfortable job at the Department of Justice of course. About six months after I started collecting mustards, I got my second sign though. I was arguing a case at the US Supreme Court and as I was leaving the hotel, I saw a small, unopened jar of mustard on a room service cart that I didn’t recognize. Thinking maybe it would be good luck, I put it in my pocket and brought it with me to the Supreme Court. Security of course asked why I was bringing mustard. “Oh, I just am.” I did, in fact, win that case 5-4 with the mustard in my pocket and I still have that jar. It’s probably my favorite and most memorable jar in the collection because it has a real story behind it. That was when I started thinking, “What would life be like if I were to open a museum?” It started to morph into a fantasy, and as the years wore on, I finally decided that I could wonder and fantasize about it all I want, but I’ll never know until I do it. So, I just did it. It was probably the craziest thing I ever did, quitting a very secure, well-paying job (with benefits!) to essentially jump off a cliff. But I did it.

I was a frequent guest on a Chicago radio station and one day, I asked if I could taste mustards with Spike O’Dell on WGN Radio. We did it, and during a break, I had an idea. “Spike,” I said, “I know what kind of mustards you like, since we just got finished tasting them. Let me come up with a mustard that’ll have your name and the station’s name on it.” “No,” he said, “I don’t think the station will go for that.” I had other plans. “Oh they’ll go for it, because tell them that for every jar that we sell, the company and I will donate $1 to the WGN Neediest Kids Fund.” I thought we would sell maybe a couple hundred jars, but boy was I wrong. We sold thousands, and ended up donating almost half a million dollars to the Neediest Kids Fund.

Here in Madison, we’ve raised money for a lot of organizations that I think have been very happy to be a part of it. I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to be part of the community, especially during Mustard Day. It’s a great, old-fashioned street fair: Carnival, games, free hotdogs, the Weiner Mobile is here every year. Really, when you bring 7000 people here, it has a huge impact on the community, and we just put on a party for the city of Middleton. It’s an opportunity to give back. 

There have been so many rewarding experiences over the years. I’ve written a children’s book called “Mustard on a Pickle,” and I’ve probably given away as many as we’ve sold, but there have just been times when a little kid comes in and I just can’t resist. There have been so many experiences of just seeing a little boy or a little girl’s eyes just sparkle when they’ve got this book. There was one, just a cute little guy, maybe four or five years old, and his eyes just lit up. He was out the door two minutes later, but then, all of the sudden, he came back in and gave me a big hug. I’ve heard from his mother about how that really affected him and how it’s his favorite book. I’ve heard from a lot of parents about how “Oh we have your Mustard on a Pickle book and it’s his favorite book. We have to read it to him all the time.” So that’s something that makes me feel really good. 

I also remember a woman calling me to order some mustards for her nephew and she was telling me how much she loved the catalog, and she mentioned that her husband had just passed away the week before. She was talking about our catalog, which we try to make as funny as possible. She said that she had brought the catalog into his hospital room and he laughed out loud. That was the last time he had laughed. 

Moments like that make everything worth it. To me that’s biggest joy of all, that people have come here and just had a good time. I can’t say that people came into contact with me as a lawyer and said, “Boy I really had a good time dealing with that lawyer.” I may have been a nice guy—these memorable experiences just didn’t happen lawyering.

So that’s the story of the National Mustard Museum. Would I do it all again if I could? I think I would. I advise people, “Keep your day job, but don’t lose your daydream.” This collection, which has grown to more than 5,800 mustards, has allowed me to reach more people than I ever could have as a lawyer. This job has not made me rich, in money terms, but I think it has made me rich in emotional terms and in ways that nothing else can match. It has brought me in touch with people I would never have met and that’s something that I would gladly do again.

— Nicki Davis