Barb Gunning, owner of Chestnut Hill Bake at Home, makes pizza for a customer. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Barb Gunning, owner of Chestnut Hill Bake at Home, said she had no choice but to break away from the Mom’s Bake at Home chain after it decided to outsource its products in 2011.

Gunning said she received a letter notifying her that the company was closing its bakery in Manayunk She said Mom’s original crust used to be homemade with no preservatives or additives.

Gunning said she never received a sample of the new product.

“The new pizza crust was delivered to me by a third party,” Gunning said. “It was frozen and was full of things I couldn’t pronounce.”

The change almost forced Gunning to close.

“I lost over 30 percent of my business in six weeks,” Gunning said. “ I told the Mom’s people I’ll be closed by May if I stay with this. So, I started looking for bakeries that would make me a homemade shell.”

Gunning and seven other former Mom’s Bake at Home owners left. She changed the name to Chestnut Hill Bake at Home and began using her own product in February 2012.

Gunning said the changeover has been hard but “has been empowering at the same time.

“We lost a lot of business, and it’s really a shame,” she said. “The company has been around since 1961, and they just walked away.”

Now Gunning is in a legal battle with Mom’s Bake at Home. Gunning said she had a franchise agreement, which expired in December 2010.

“I asked them several times to renew it but they never did, and that’s when they dropped this bomb,” Gunning said. “I haven’t had a franchise agreement in almost two years.”

Currently, the business is run entirely by family. She can’t afford to hire anyone.

“The whole situation is unfortunate,” she said. “I was very upset and angry.”

She bought the store in 2005 after quitting her job at Weight Watchers corporate office.

“I love it,” Gunning said. “It’s worth fighting for.”

Gunning said it has been rough on her family because she is working all the time. Nevertheless, she admits that in some ways it may have been a gift. Now she owns her own business and sells a product she believes in. For Gunning, it’s more than a job – it’s a way to connect with her family and the community.

“We know each others’ stories,” Gunning said. “I look forward to the McClane’s every Friday. They have three little boys. Last year, they sent me a Christmas card, and I hung it on my refrigerator And if I am not busy, I’ll let them wash their hands and help make their pizza. It’s a fun job and I want to keep it. I want to be part of the community.”

And to many of her customers Gunning is just that – a neighbor.