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Inside Colectivo's Troubadour Bakery

Colectivo, formally known as Alterra Roasting Company, has been brewing coffee in Milwaukee since 1993. But it turns out they're pretty good bakers too.

The company has been making all the scratch-baked goodies you see at their cafes since 1999. Today, the Troubador Bakery, housed in Colectivo’s Bay View location, is the source of all the scones, muffins, cookies, breads you see in all of their locations.

Colectivo co-founder, Lincoln Fowler says in the beginning, Alterra sourced their bakery from elsewhere, but problems they encountered quickly got them started making their own products.

“We wanted to control the quality of the product, we wanted to innovate and we quickly discovered that baking is a very difficult business," he says. "It took us years to really get the thing operating in a way we wanted it to be.”

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Credit Adam Miller
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Adam Miller
Troubadour workers roll out fresh dough and transfer muffins fresh out of the oven.

On a busy day, over 16,000 pieces of handmade products pop out of Troubador’s ovens. And as Fowler can attest, the fifth time was a charm in establishing a bakery and space that could meet the company’s increasing demands.

"The growth has kind of gone in lock step as the company has grown, as the number of cafes have grown, obviously, the requirements for bakery have grown," he explains. "So we just developed along with the rest of the business."

Hugging the bakery floor, the Bay View Colectivo building gives cafe customers an inside look on how their favorite treats are made every day.

The bakery floor and business is, as Fowler describes it, a bustling “dance of commerce,” running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Drivers typically start their day at 9 or 10 pm, loading deliveries to Madison or Chicago.  Bread makers and laminators punch the clock at 2 am, followed by a constant stream of other bakery and cafe workers.

Crew members are constantly busy on the bakery floor rolling out dough, mixing batter, transferring trays and loading the ovens. Large ovens from Italy, America, and France line a section of the bakery floor to handle the steady stream of sweet and savory products.

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Credit Courtesy of Colectivo
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Courtesy of Colectivo

But one of their most impressive pieces of equipment is the bread oven installed by crews from both Colectivo and California.

Built with approximately 20 tons of concrete within the oven walls to retain heat, the oven is "in place and never moving." And with the amount of bread being produced, the oven "gets turned on and it'll stay on probably for the rest of its life because it doesn't make any sense to turn it off, because it doesn't really cool down," Fowler notes.

As long as you really fresh product that is made every day, there is always going to be lovely stuff to choose from. - Lincoln Fowler, Colectivo Co-founder

It’s only in this oven that Troubador bakes their distinct “slow made bread." A practice well worth the wait according to Fowler. “We take our time and allow that bread in its dough form to rise and hang out. It really develops the flavors and quite frankly the bread has some more moisture to it and has much greater life," he explains.

In addition to time invested into making products, Fowler notes that all of the ingredients used in their bakery are local whenever possible.  

With so many different recipes being made, Fowler says  it is hard to pick a favorite. He admits, although he doesn't have a sweet tooth, the cowboy cookie is "a killer cookie."

Fowler is confident there will always be something on the menu anyone can enjoy for as long as the Troubadour's ovens stay on and the workers continue to make the recipes with care.

“All I can say is I think that as long as you really fresh product that’s made every day…there’s always going to be lovely stuff to choose from,” he says.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.