July 07, 2023
The Good Crust
Heather Kearner opened The Good Crust in September of 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop her from building and growing a business that supports inclusive employment and Maine’s grain farmers and processors.
Photos by Sean Alonzo Harris
Here is The Good Crust’s story in Heather’s words:
Seeding an Idea
I had been using local grains in my job in special education to teach functional life skills. We were utilizing Maine Grain’s products to make a pizza dough that my students were selling in pizza kits. 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.
I have been practicing occupational therapy for the last 25 years in pediatric settings, from hospitals to outpatient clinics to currently in a school. That skillset lends itself ideally to the mission of The Good Crust, in that we are inviting and accepting people with unique needs on our workforce.
We have a unique staffing model in that, from the outset, we intend to have an inclusive human resource model. What that means is that we are inviting for training individuals who might have cerebral palsy, autism, brain injury and addiction recovery. In order to ensure their success on the workforce, we provide significant accommodations in order to allow our team to be successful.
We implement practices that make our company different from others in many ways.
Number one, it’s very important for us to ensure our team members’ success when they onboard with The Good Crust. We might provide opportunities for individualized pre-teaching before asking a new team member to carry out their job duties at The Good Crust. Number two, we maintain close relationships with both public and private agencies as an opportunity for individuals to come to us for our workforce experience.
The Groundwork for Success
When I set out to start The Good Crust, I had no savings set aside to start a new business. I simply had a skillset that was very uniquely advantageous for an idea such as this. I had drive.
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 called Propeller.
As someone with a background in health and human services, I had never created financial projections before. One of the most tangible things that CEI has been able to provide is direct assistance for how to do that in a way that allowed me to secure a commercial loan.
CEI was willing to take a risk on an early-stage startup such as mine. 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.
Supporting the Local Grain Economy
I am very inspired by Maine’s own Helen and Scott Nearing, who wrote a really formative book called The Good Life. As someone who homesteads on my own property and grows a lot of my own food, I was inspired by their description of a good life, incorporating a balance between work and leisure and meaningful connections with people in your environment. In that way, I felt it only fitting, given the flavor of our product, to also name our company The Good Crust.
We are very lucky here in Somerset County to live in a region where dairy farmers are committing to revitalizing a grain economy, and we very much want to participate in that. We believe there’s wisdom in sourcing our manufacturing here in Canaan, in order to be close to the gristmill where we source all of our ingredients. In turn, we believe there’s wisdom in situating our manufacturing in Somerset County, less than 200 miles from the farmers that are growing the wheat that we hope to use.
Currently, we are producing a commercially available pizza dough, sold wholesale to pizzerias and breweries with wood-fired pizza programs, to schools and to home bakers. In two years’ time, we have our sight set on distributing The Good Crust up and down the East Coast and having a presence in every health food store and small grocer. We also hope to convince many more pizzerias and breweries with tasting rooms to incorporate the flavors of Maine’s own grain on their menus.
We envision the growth of The Good Crust bringing new opportunities for us to serve our region’s grain in Maine’s universities and school institutions. We’re also very excited to bring local grain to public events, such as the Common Ground Country Fair and the Kneading Conference that happens right here in Skowhegan.
Growing Personally and Professionally
My favorite part about coming to The Good Crust, and this includes myself, is being with people who are on growth trajectories.
Every day I come to work, and I just love to see the personalities unfolding in our team. One of my favorite and most memorable experiences was hearing one of our teammates, Joe, describe the significance of this job to him. In his words, he said, “A little sapling does not become a mighty oak overnight,” that it takes time and practice and experience to become a mighty oak. He saw his experience at The Good Crust as being similar to that analogy. In that way, I come to work every day and feel fulfilled.
Learn more about The Good Crust:
- Web: https://www.thegoodcrust.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thegoodcrustmaine
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thegoodcrust.maine
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