Maker of Maine’s only grain-based commercial pizza dough expands
CANAAN, Maine — Heather Kerner donned her disposable shoe covers and walked through the swinging doors of her company’s gleaming kitchen. She stopped to point out the 160-quart spiral kneader, a new piece of equipment from The Good Crust that makes 350 pounds of dough at a time.
Kerner’s company, which produces the only commercially available pizza dough made from 100% Maine grains, recently moved to a manufacturing facility at 210 Main St. in Canaan.
The Good Crust’s move from a shared space with The Miller’s Table restaurant in Skowhegan to a newly renovated facility along Route 2 in Canaan marks a big moment for the small business. Since its inception in September 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has produced 61,000 pounds of pizza dough — and it plans to increase its manufacturing capacity nine-fold, Kerner said. Its plans include expanding its product line to takeout pizza and bialys. Projects involving the community are also underway. The establishment will hold its inauguration on Friday.
“Being this facility was a former restaurant, we inherited a full cooking lane that includes a pizza oven,” Kerner said. “We’re learning that customers here in Canaan and people transiting Route 2 are really looking for high quality pizza to go.”
A launch date to offer take-out pizza once or twice a week has not been set, but it should be shortly after the grand opening. The Good Crust will source pizza ingredients from local farms, and possibly some from Kerner’s farm, such as onions, garlic and chicken.
Kerner — who has been involved in entrepreneurship programs for the past two years, including Dirigo Labs’ first cohort of accelerators — knew early on that she would have to expand the kitchen space and freezer capacity of her business, she said.
The new facility, located about six miles from the flour mill where the ingredients come from, recently replaced its receiving door to accommodate the spiral kneader and purchased other equipment such as several dough dividers and machines to round. She replaced the indoor cooler with a walk-in freezer, and the company will install a large freezer in her shipping garage in July.
The Good Crust needed a manufacturing space that wasn’t dependent on another restaurant’s kitchen. Now the team has more flexibility and independence, which they needed to tackle new, bigger clients, said production manager Shawn Duffy. The company can now further build its own identity and culture among employees, he said.
Kerner’s initial goals were to stock her freezer with pizza dough that made quick dinners for busy mothers like her and to support Maine farmers and millers. Her twin sister is Amber Lambke of Maine Grains, and Kerner has used The Miller’s Table on this property as a space for recipe trials and as a pilot for her business.
Kerner also saw a pulp business as a platform for workforce development, and she thought it could be a solution to labor issues faced by businesses. She works at Regional School Unit 18, China and Messalonskee School District, and uses cereal while working with her students to teach them life skills.
“Having worked as a pediatric occupational therapist for my entire career, I saw people graduating and getting on long waiting lists for pre-professional experiences,” she said. “I really felt it was a waste of their potential.”
Using her non-traditional business model, Kerner has hired 12 people since she founded The Good Crust, including four who started as apprentices and connected to the business through Goodwill Northern New England and Manpower Maine. Some staff have physical and cognitive disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and one worker suffered a head injury. Others are recovering from addiction.
“We’re kind of like a little family in this business,” said Samuel Tierney, who was hired as the company’s first apprentice while in high school. “As we all grow individually, so does the company. Before I got this job, I really had nothing.
Tierney’s special education teacher got him involved with Manpower Maine, who then connected him with The Good Crust, Kerner said. Tierney also knew Kerner personally. It was a great opportunity for him to gain work experience and start earning his own money, he said.
Kerner works one-on-one with employees who need additional guidance, which sometimes means providing accommodations, such as limited shifts or clear instructions on where to place the brand sticker on a plastic bag, she said. She also provides training in soft skills, including professional behavior and the use of scorecards.
“As we grow, we have defined roles for the company that will likely be filled by social workers or occupational therapists who will be like job skills trainers,” she said, noting that the The company will be accepting apprentices again once the move-in process is complete. Completed.
Clockwise from left: Samuel Tierney packs pizza dough into a box at The Good Crust’s new manufacturing facility in Canaan on Thursday. Tierney was the first of four apprentices in the company; The Good Crust sells 16-ounce portions of pizza dough at health food stores and farms in Maine and surrounding states; Aidan Clark wraps frozen pizza dough in plastic bags. Credit: Valérie Royzman / BDN
In addition to introducing take-out pizzas, The Good Crust is working to market 4-ounce dough balls for bialys, Duffy said. Bialys are rolls similar to bagels, only with a deep well and seasonings in the center. Plans for a dry pizza dough mix that could be shipped and pre-stretched pizza rounds for hospitals are also underway, Kerner said.
She is working with state leaders in school nutrition to learn how The Good Crust can be used in cafeterias while meeting whole grain requirements, she said. Some of the partners are exploring how universities in Maine can start offering the pizza dough. Taste tests and data collection took place on 11 campuses earlier this year.
You can find pizza dough from The Good Crust at health food stores, farms, and other locations in Maine and surrounding states. Visit the website for more information.