ST. LOUIS — At an intersection where improv meets architecture is a place for baking — and breaking — bread. That place is St. Louis-based Companion Baking, where the company is regaling consumers through the bread it produces.

A tale may be told in the bakery’s adjacent café, where guests can watch the process through windows that separate the restaurant from the operation floor.  But once the bread is made, it’s someone else’s story to tell, much like when an architect creates a structure to bring another’s vision — and use — to life.

The Latin root of the word “compagnia” is cum pane, which means “with bread.” It’s the reason behind the name Companion Baking, chosen by founder Josh Allen. It’s also at the heart of everything the bakery does, be it with bakers, customers, customers’ customers or the guests who visit the Companion Baking cafés, one adjacent to the bakery and the other in nearby Ladue, MO.


“We want people to break bread together,” Allen said. “And we want to be part of that conversation.”

A St. Louis-area native, Allen grew up in foodservice distribution; his family founded and operated Allen Foods until its acquisition by US Foods in 2002, the company’s 101st year. He learned a few lessons growing up in food distribution’s transactional environment, and the first was that relationships are everything.

“One important lesson I learned growing up was that orders are made based on relationship or on price,” Allen recalled. “And if a customer has to choose, they’ll pick relationship every time.”

Planning to come home and take over the family business after pursuing a liberal arts degree at Stanford, Allen changed course when he discovered the art of bread baking during his time in Northern California. Instead of stepping into distribution, he rented 1,000 square feet from his father’s warehouse and started baking bread, all the while remembering his lessons on relationships … and one important exercise from an improv class at Stanford: Always say yes.

“My family’s business formed my approach to customer service, and the bakery’s business has grown because we always say yes,” Allen said. “Saying yes is the first rule of improv, but it’s also important in a service-related industry. It’s the right thing to do in solidifying a relationship.”


Companion Baking’s nimbleness — and ability to say yes — is how it provides fresh and frozen bread and sweet goods to foodservice and retail outlets in the 15- to 150-location range. A regional deli looking for a specific type of sub roll for a dozen or so locations is a space where Companion Baking can really flex its creative muscle.

The sweet spot where Companion Baking likes to play is also where many emerging foodservice concepts live. In a town like St. Louis, with its long-­standing independent restaurant community, this bakery fits right in. But that’s not to say Companion only serves its hometown. After moving into frozen distribution about 10 years ago, today more than half the bakery’s reach spans from the Rockies to the Appalachians, as far north as Minnesota and down into Oklahoma.

Allen and Companion Baking’s bread development team recognize customers’ need to create points of differentiation on their menu and on their plates, and the innovation happening at this bakery is catching attention from customers ranging from regional grocers to James Beard Award-winning chefs.

“If you’re a deli, you might want a specific type of bread, or if you’re a restaurant, you may want something really special for the table service,” Allen said. “We really enjoy helping our customers tell their story on the plate; that’s where our passion is. We want to find those people who want to tell stories … it doesn’t have to be our story, but we love helping them tell it.”

With that in mind, Companion Baking looks at “artisan” in a different kind of way. The craft is in creating something for customers to make uniquely theirs. One example is a custom hoagie bun. At first glance, it looks like any other one on the market, but it was developed to support a specific po’ boy sandwich only found in two restaurant locations in the country. That’s not just a hoagie; it’s a structure created for one customer’s vision and use.

Delivering that artisan experience, whatever it may look like, often starts with Josh Galliano, innovation leader and QA manager. Before making the move into baking, Galliano was a multi-year James Beard Award-nominated chef … and Companion Baking customer.


Because so much of the bakery’s business is developing custom products for specific menu items, Galliano’s experience plays a critical role in not only R&D but also ensuring a smooth transition from sales to operations to, ultimately, the final product.

“When our sales team identifies a target, Josh gets involved very quickly,” Allen said. “He can ‘talk the talk,’ so to speak, because that’s where he came from.”

Galliano’s relationships and reputation in the culinary world precede him, with credibility that makes him a ringer on the sales side. But it’s that pass-off into product development where his talent truly makes a difference.

“I have an understanding of what the food is supposed to be when it goes on or with the bread,” Galliano said. “But we are all a bunch of foodies here, and it’s about collaboration with the customer. A lot of times, it’s the brainstorming that matters most.”

While Companion Baking keeps its customers top of mind, Allen recognizes the company’s other stakeholders — including its own employees — as essential parts of the business. Companions top the list of the bakery’s core values — Companions, Customers, Community and Company — the “4 Cs” known throughout the bakery.

“We’re a family-owned company that has always had roots in the community,” said Donna Wolfersberger, marketing director. “We’ve also focused on developing our values around the community, our customers and our employees. Josh’s father took that philosophy with his business, and Josh has taken the same mindset.”

Although Companion Baking lives to tell its customers’ stories, the bakery’s brand is still vital, and the “4 Cs” can be seen in every move the company makes.

“It’s the backboard against which we throw every decision,” Allen said. “We make sure we are all in alignment, and it gives us something to think about to ensure we’re going down a path to serve those values.”

At the end of that path is one clear conclusion for Allen: “Happy bakers make better bread.”

And the better the bread, the better the stories.

This story has been adapted from the February | Q1 2022 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.