Sweet Things Are Aswirl at 5 Generation Bakers
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
A beloved Pittsburgh classic for over 135 years, 5 Generation Bakers is the manufacturer of Jenny Lee Cinnamon Swirl Bread and other artisan baked products, made with the finest sustainably sourced ingredients.
Pittsburgh natives, the Baker family opened the doors to the first bakery in the family’s lineage in 1875. The Bakers baked for four generations until tragedy struck in 2006 with a Thanksgiving Day fire, causing significant damage to the facility. In 2008, Bernie Baker, the 4th generation baker, was forced to close the doors to Jenny Lee Bakery, leaving the Pittsburgh community without their much loved baked goods.
Bernie’s son, Scott Baker, decided he couldn’t let his family’s legacy die out, and in 2010, he founded 5 Generation Bakers. Now a multimillion dollar, international company, 5 Generation Bakers has stayed true to their coveted Jenny Lee Swirl Bread recipe, while expanding to a variety of baked goods: savory bread, artisan-style loaves, sandwich bread, and Chunky Cinnamon Swirl Bread. Baked in their state-of-the-art production facility in McKees Rocks, their products are available at 5,000+ locations across the U.S. and internationally.
Scott first learned of Honeycomb Credit through the Pittsburgh Food and Beverage Network (FaB), a peer network of artisan food businesses located in the Pittsburgh region. A number of FaB members had previously worked with Honeycomb to raise funds for growth projects, including Millie’s Ice Cream, Pittsburgh Pickle Company, and The Pittsburgh Juice Company.
Given 5 Generation Bakers’ dedication to giving back to the McKees Rocks and greater Pittsburgh communities, Scott was especially drawn to the community outreach aspect of crowdfinancing with Honeycomb.
“I talked to Chad of Millie’s Ice Cream and the brothers at Pittsburgh Pickle Company,” says Scott, “They were all really excited with what they were able to do with the dollars they raised through their Honeycomb campaign. I figured it should be something we look into as well.”
Kneading Some Dough
Around this time, an opportunity came up for 5 Generation Bakers that was hard to pass: a contract to make sandwich bread for multiple schools districts across Pittsburgh.
The only problem? They didn’t have the right-sized pans.
Scott launched a Honeycomb campaign to raise funds to purchase Pullman-style bread pans and cover R&D costs for some new bread products.
“As we were progressing through our Honeycomb campaign, I really enjoyed getting emails from different investors. Interacting with the people who are interested in us and want to support a hometown brand was the most fun for me,” Scott shares.
Another exciting part for Scott and the company was seeing their own employees invest in the campaign and feel a sense of pride and ownership over the company’s growth plans.
“The first one was Gina from our finishing department. She made a $100 investment in our campaign,” Scott shares, “I know that she took a lot of pride in it because she came up and was all excited to tell me. After that, we had a total of 5 or 6 employees who invested in our campaign.”
At the end of their campaign, 5 Generation Bakers had raised $35,200 from 38 community investors—and were thrilled with the overall experience.
“Our Honeycomb experience was a lot more fun than visiting with your banker,” Scott says. “It put us in touch with our customers. It’s a much more open process that creates excitement about the specific projects that you’re working on—a lot more fun than going to the bank and asking for money.”
When Things Pan Out
Along with helping them secure the sandwich bread contract for the Pittsburgh school districts, the pans have brought in more business opportunities than expected for 5 Generation Bakers.
“What has been a great side effect of having these pans is that we were approached by a distributor who supplies the military,” Scott shares. “The Navy is looking for a cinnamon swirl french toast in the shape of a 4 inch square. We have been working to develop this. Once it is actively being purchased by the Navy, it is going to open us up to other channels and divisions of the U.S. Military. We can grow so much bigger than what we had ever imagined with these pans from our Honeycomb campaign.”
“During the process of doing our due diligence on Honeycomb, we created a friendship with the Patterson brothers at Pittsburgh Pickle Company,” says Scott. “We came out with a cinn-a-pickle together. It’s a really neat piece of collaborative product creation, with real Jenny Lee cinnamon in their pickle formula. I am not much of a bread and pickle guy, but I love these pickles.”
Scott is always excited to share his Honeycomb experience with fellow business owners.
“We were really attracted by the aspect of social media, the attention, and the energy behind the campaign. That's why Honeycomb was right for us,” says Scott. “The Honeycomb experience is something that I am very happy to share with other business owners and get them excited about raising money in a crowdsourcing format.”
The Next Generation of Breadwinners
In the next year, 5 Generation Bakers will be focusing on growing into new markets and preserving their culture of high food safety. 5 Generation Bakers recently announced their partnership with Walmart, with Jenny Lee Swirl Bread products available nationwide on Walmart.com.
Along with selling to more traditional retail markets and food-service channels, 5 Generation Bakers is also broadening to contract manufacturing and licensing sales—creating more Jenny Lee collaborative products like the cinnamon pickle and manufacturing products for other bakeries that lack their capacity. They’re also expanding into custom food-service and developing the production process of bread for White Castle’s new slider menu.
To reduce the potential risks of growing into new markets, Scott recommends doing a deep-dive analysis of the markets.
“If we are interested, there are a set of questions we need to ask: Do we have the right equipment? Do we have the right skill sets on our staff? Do we need to have another Honeycomb campaign?” Scott explains.
“Once we determine if we have the resources, assets, and knowledge, then it comes down to the costs strategy. What is the value of the production per hour? Sometimes a product might look great until we realize we can’t make enough of it to hit the value of production. It’s a whole set of processes. Hopefully at the end of the analysis, we’ve identified a new profitable product that we can take to market.”