By Nicole Sweeney Etter, photograph by Adam Ryan Morris
It took two years and four recipes before Geoff Trenholme (B.S. ’99) was satisfied with his French baguette. His customers weren’t complaining—they often line up outside of Rocket Baby Bakery, his European-style bakery in the Milwaukee area, before the doors even open—but Trenholme was convinced he could do better. “You want that crispy crust and that nice open crumb that is moist, and that yellowness you get is because the ingredients are mixed so gently that it preserves all the natural flavors,” explains Trenholme.
Trenholme has a degree in computer science from the University of Minnesota. He spent a few years working tech jobs, then taught high school math in the Los Angeles area before deciding that he was more interested in pie than pi. Or, to be more exact, bread. “I’ve always found food very satisfying,” Trenholme says. “It’s actually a very basic human pleasure to make food for somebody.”
Trenholme trained at the San Francisco Baking Institute and interned at a few bakeries before he and his wife, Shannon, moved to Wisconsin to launch Rocket Baby, a moniker inspired by the nickname of their first son. Since opening in 2012, Rocket Baby’s reputation has taken off. The couple recently added a second storefront and also serve around a dozen Milwaukee-area restaurants.
As chief baker, the 46-year-old Trenholme is usually at the bakery by 4 a.m. and his days can stretch to 16 hours. He prides himself on using premium ingredients, locally sourced whenever possible, and the best techniques in artisan baking. That means taking it slow.
“As with anything that involves fermentation, time adds flavor,” he says. “Most commercial bakeries take shortcuts. We’re trying to do everything the hard way. We don’t cut corners. You have to be patient, and you have to have respect for the process.”
Trenholme and Rocket Baby are tasting success at a level they didn’t expect. “I expected to make good bread and pastries, but the quality is beyond what I had thought we would achieve, [as is] how well we have been received by customers,” Trenholme says. “To be here, two-plus years into the business, and know that we’ve exceeded our original expectations—it feels really great.”