Jon Cerny feared he might have bitten off more than he could chew when he reported for his first day of "Bread School" last summer. Soon afterward, however, the Elm Grove Great Harvest Bread Co. co-owner's concerns were put to rest, and he's since found his new career increasingly easier to digest.
"I didn't know anything about baking bread, so I wondered what I was getting myself into, but I was told that was a good thing because I hadn't formed any bad habits," Jon said of the two-week intensive training course at the company's Montana headquarters. "I still have a lot to learn about the business, but my learning curve isn't nearly as steep as it was."
Jon previously earned his living as a corporate event planner in North Carolina. Last summer, he and his wife, Sara, who directs the store's marketing efforts, moved back to their native Wisconsin. Shortly thereafter, they purchased the Elm Grove franchise.
"We agreed that if we ever owned a business, it would be a Great Harvest store because we loved their products and they give their owners the freedom to sell whatever goods they bake," he said. "We wanted to raise our two children near family, so when the opportunity to buy the store in Sara's hometown came up, we jumped on it."
Easing the Cernys' transition into private enterprise has been the ongoing support of their employees and Great Harvest. The couple retained all but one of their 13-member work force - including one baker with 30 years of experience - while corporate headquarters assigned the Cernys a trainer who spent a week onsite observing the operations, analyzing finances and making suggestions about the product line.
With sales meeting expectations, the next item on the Cerny's menu is marketing the business, which produces specialty whole-grain breads and sweets, to area hospitals and nursing homes.
"Everything we bake is preservative-free," Jon said. "There's so many nutritional benefits in our whole-grain Great Harvest products that we especially want to make them available to prospective customers whose health is most at risk."
While Jon rarely longs for the corporate world, he still draws on his old career for inspiration.
"As with event planning, if you work hard, you'll reap the benefits," he said. "But in corporate, I had a fixed income, whereas now, the sky's the limit. If we help customers and give generously, it will come back to bless us."
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JUST THE FACTS
BUSINESS: Great Harvest Bread Co.
ADDRESS: 13404 Watertown Plank Road, Elm Grove
PHONE: (262) 821-0118
OWNERS: Jon and Sara Cerny
TYPE OF BUSINESS: Bakery
PEARLS OF WISDOM: "Be loose and have fun."
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