It sounds like a classic punchline: Lizz Redman, who co-owns Thunderbird Bakery in Oshkosh with her husband, Trent Wester, actually hates baking. A bakery owner who doesn’t like baking? Who would have thought?
Fortunately for Redman, who has a graduate degree focused on sustainable food systems, she handles the operational and marketing side of the business while Wester focuses on baking and production — which he loves.
Wester’s hobby started it all. A carpenter and welder by trade, Wester began baking for fun at home. When the bread turned out great, the two leaned on Wisconsin’s cottage food laws to start selling the breads at the Oshkosh Farmers Market in the summer of 2018.
The cottage food laws “allow you to bake items at home and sell them at a farmers market,” Redman says. “It’s a great way to keep costs down and test out the market.”
At the market, their bread sold out by mid-morning, so there was an obvious demand for what they were offering. At that point, they took advantage of free resources in the community, including the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp., SCORE and the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, to draw up a business plan. After qualifying for a loan and a Capital Catalyst grant through GOEDC, they expanded into their own kitchen space with a larger oven, where they’ve been working since October.
The couple kicked things off as a wholesale bakery offering breads and a few pastries, such as chocolate croissants and cinnamon rolls. They still sell at the Oshkosh Farmers Market and online through their website.
Wester says the bakery is off to a great start, especially considering he’s the only one working full time on the business. Redman still maintains a full-time job, and the two get some occasional help from Redman’s parents.
While lean at the moment, Redman and Wester have plans to open a retail shop and bring on additional employees.
“Our main goal is to continue providing a really quality product and eventually provide a great place for people to work,” Redman says. “The food industry is tough. It’s long hours and hard work. I also think another shift that needs to happen is making sure those jobs are sustainable as well.”