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Updated: August 28, 2023

A shared success in the Good Crust: A Canaan business builds on Maine-grown ingredients

File Photo / Courtesy of The good Crust The Good Crust was founded in September 2020 by Heather Kerner, who worked with CEI’s Women’s Business Center.

In the classic tale of the Little Red Hen, the titular hen goes from seed to wheat to flour to loaf quite famously by herself – nothing taken, nothing shared. At the end of the day, the Hen’s table is set only for one.

But when Heather Kerner decided to get into the dough business herself, she took a different approach — one that supports others as a key feature of the business model, grown with the support of her community and Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Kerner’s business, the Canaan-based Good Crust, is unique in that it combines a focus on food production with high-quality Maine-ingredients with tailored workforce development goals.

The Good Crust was founded in September 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has since been producing high quality pizza dough made of authentic Maine ingredients for her many clients throughout the state and the country. As Kerner works hard to ensure her clients receive the highest quality pizza dough, she also ensures that the Good Crust employs those who may not otherwise find employment. These individuals include those with cerebral palsy, autism, traumatic brain injury, as well as addiction recovery.

Planting the seed

If the Good Crust is a unique business, Kerner is uniquely suited to create and run it.

She has spent the better part of three decades preparing to lead the Good Crust, even if she did not know it at the time. She worked as an occupational therapist for nearly 25 years, supporting individuals with similar support needs to those she now employs. Throughout her time in the field, she worked in various pediatric settings, from hospitals to clinics to schools. It was when she began using local grains, produced by her twin sister Amber Lambke’s company Maine Grains, to help build her student’s dexterity and independence that the idea for a business, and a workforce model, were born.

“I had been using local grains in my job in special education to teach functional life skills. We were utilizing Maine Grains’ products to make a pizza dough that my students were selling in pizza kits,” Kerner says. “From that idea was born the idea for the Good Crust, that we could accomplish two goals by starting our company. Number one, we were looking to source a pizza dough that was made with 100% Maine grains. Number two, I set out to use the Good Crust as a platform for workforce development.”

Kerner had an excellent idea, connections to source ingredients and decades of therapeutic experience to support her goals, what she lacked was experience running a business and the funds to get started. For this, she turned to Maine robust system of entrepreneurial support, starting with the Women’s Business Center at CEI.

“As someone with a background in health and human services, I had never created financial projections before,” Kerner admits. “I first came to be aware of the services and programs offered by CEI in the middle of the pandemic. I was registered to attend an accelerator class [offered by the Women’s Business Center] called Propeller.”

The Propeller program, a six-week accelerator course, is designed to guide women as they build their tech or tech-enabled business. And while Kerner’s product didn’t have much to do with tech, she figured gaining those skills would be important in getting her dough to market. “Because I learned how to identify customers and how to talk to them, I was positioned to begin earning income and paying my team as soon as dough production began,” she said.

The course also introduced her to CEI, which led to connections with an advisor at the Women’s Business Center and CEI’s lending team.

“CEI was willing to take a risk on an early-stage startup such as mine. When I set out to start the Good Crust, I had no savings set aside to start a new business,” Kerner says. “Where other local banks would have required a significant down payment on a commercial property, CEI was willing to both provide the counseling and preparation I needed for a commercial loan, but also secure the lending. Without that assistance, I would’ve spent an additional year fundraising for an initial down payment on my manufacturing facility.”

That commercial property was 1,200 manufacturing facility in Canaan, where the Good Crust moved in mid-2022, with 11 part-time employees, having already outgrown a shared kitchen in Skowhegan. The CEI loan also helped her secure much-needed equipment, such as a large capacity commercial mixer, 3 phase power, dough-baller, and walk-in freezer.

Natural growth

Photo / Courtesy of CEI
From left, Sarah Guerette, director of the CEI Women’s Business Centers; Diane Sturgeon, Maine district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration; Betsy Biemann, CEO of Coastal Enterprises Inc.; and Grace Mo-Phillips, program director of the new CEI Women’s Business Center South, in Portland.

In less than three years, the business had moved from startup to growth phase, and Heather continued to seek out resources in the Maine entrepreneurial system to support this often-tricky part of a business’s lifecycle.

The Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership helped Kerner develop a plan for an efficient layout to make the most of her new space, as well as the development of a food safety plan. Heather also gained superb lessons in business management from the Maine Center for Entrepreneurship’s 2022 “Top Gun” program. Her inclusion in Dirigo Lab’s first accelerator cohort in 2022 allowed her to hone her pitching skills, which paid off when she won second place in Green Light Maine’s pitch competition that year.

As she grows, Heather continues to receive expert advice through the CEI’s Women’s Business Center including being paired with a consultant who helped her develop a cold outreach and marketing strategy. Her early growth positioned her to come back to CEI for a second loan to expand her freezer capacity; allowing her to further ramp-up production. Heather has also connected with the CEI Workforce Solutions team even further improved her hiring and employee retention practices. She also accesses financial consultation services with Sarah Guerette of CEI’s Women’s Business Center to hone her financial metrics and projections for growth

Harvesting the rewards

File Photo / Courtesy of The good Crust
The Good Crust founder Heather Kerner

Throughout her startup and growth, Kerner has remained steadfastly committed to her business’s values and has worked extensively to ensure her original mission of inclusive employment and supporting Maine’s local food system remains the center focus for the organization.

Heather currently employs 3 full-time workers and 13 part-time workers. The Good Crust have a waiting list for available apprenticeships and have solidified workforce development partnerships with Goodwill Northern New England, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, Maine Culinary Technical Education Centers, and the Harold Alfond Workforce Development Compact. Her operation funds 150+ hours of paid workforce training for its entire workforce annually.

The company is a significant purchaser of locally-grown grain, they are on track to have purchased 100,000 pounds of Maine-sourced grain in 2023 alone (this provides Maine farmers with a value-added rotation crop for 100 acres of Maine farmland). This is anticipated to be 200,000 pounds in 2024. She is a proud participant in the Farm-to-School movement to bring local, whole grain ingredients to institutions and now works with over 40 schools in Maine. Her diverse team gives back to the community by offering their physical space to the Winslow Mobile Food Pantry, volunteering to provide free fried dough to the Make a Wish Fall Festival in Canaan, and sponsoring dough for fundraising efforts of the Maine Grain Alliance.

Kerner also recently applied for and won a $10k grant through CEI’s Tastemaker Program, which will support a third-party audit of the Good Crust’s Food Safety Plan implementation, as well as achieving kosher certification, making not just her business, but the product itself more inclusive of a wider range of people.

Kerner also gives back to the entrepreneurial support system that helped her hone her business skills by acting as a guest speaker in the Women’s Business Center’s Propeller program inspiring up and coming entrepreneurs with her journey and experience, and serving as a speaker at the 2022 Better Maine Conference, hosted by Dirigo Labs, on Building Inclusive Workplaces.

And Kerner is just getting started. Her current growth target is to have the Good Crust’s signature pizza dough in grocery stores all along the East Coast, because in Heather Kerner’s book, the more people at the table, the better.

File Photo / Fred Field
The Good Crust in Canaan

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