| Jim Fabino, chief operating officer, left; Desmond Torruella, director of finance; George Erasmus, vice president of |
production; Marc Essenfeld, chief executive officer.
The American fascination with artisan bread began in earnest in the early 1990s. Consumers, previously hungry for the mass-produced soft white breads of their childhoods, suddenly found themselves craving the more rustic loaves their parents grew up with. Demand for Old-World, European-style bread continues to grow and crusty, open-crumb loaves are staples in restaurants, delicatessens, gourmet food shops and supermarkets across the country.
Peter Lobel, owner and chairman of Tribeca Oven, anticipated the trend. In 1988, Lobel, a veteran baker who emigrated to New York City from Zimbabwe, opened an artisan bakery in the now-chic downtown Manhattan area, from which the bakery takes its name.
Serving local restaurants with fresh artisan breads, the bakery thrived and rising demand dictated an expansion, so Lobel moved the operation to Brooklyn and, eventually, to its
current location in Carlstadt, N.J., just outside New York City.
A new direction
By 2004, however, Tribeca’s fresh bread business had peaked. Lobel brought in Marc Essenfeld, chief executive officer, and George Erasmus, vice president, production, to take the business in a new direction: par-bake. Essenfeld and Erasmus, both of whom have extensive experience in producing artisan bread, formed a trategy that would turn the bakery into a powerhouse producer without sacrificing the quality associated with the Tribeca Oven name.
While retaining its fresh bread business, the two new leaders entered the par-bake arena by strategically employing automation throughout their small-batch operation, thereby expanding the bakery’s potential client base to national, and even international customers.
The bakery produced its first 1,000 cases of frozen, par-baked bread in April, 2005. Last month, the
business sold 50,000 cases. Since launching the par-bake side of the company, year-on-year sales have climbed about 45 percent, and Essenfeld expects the same level of growth for at least the next two years.
“Basically, we have two programs,” Erasmus says. “One is a fresh daily program, and our national program, which is par-bake frozen. The only difference between the two in terms of process is in the actual baking.” Par-baked bread is removed from the oven when it is 80 percent to 85 percent baked. It is cooled, flash-frozen, boxed and held at -10°F until the customer uses it, Erasmus says. The product is ideal for in-store bakeries and foodservice providers that want the quality of a European-style artisan bread with the convenience of quick thawing and baking.
“The primary venues for us are in foodservice, but we do have some retail and in-store bakery customers as well,” Essenfeld says. “We do high-end gourmet stores throughout the country and we are in some supermarkets, primarily in the Northeast,” he adds. Tribeca Oven supplies some of the bread for Wegman’s Food Markets Inc.’s artisan bread program, supplying 71 stores throughout New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.
|Once it has rested, sheeted dough is cut into squares and loaded onto racks before retarding and proofing.|
Recently, a new sheeting line was added to the 54,000-sq.-ft. facility, which currently employs a staff of 180. The bakery has three 50,000-lb. capacity flour silos and increased its oven, cooling and freezing capacity since moving into its current space.
Erasmus uses more than a dozen starters in the various dough formulations. Starters are pumped out of tanks and dumped into mixing bowls. Once mixed, the dough goes into a 70°F room for its first rest. After shaping, dough is placed manually on racks and rolled into a retarder, where it is held at 46°F for four to 12 hours, depending on the product.
Once it is removed from the retarder, dough is proofed at 80°F and 85 percent humidity. The dough is then moved by conveyor to a cloth setter, from which it is transferred as gently as possible to an oven loader and then to the oven.
Baking times for rolls range from eight to 18 minutes at 450°F to 480°F. Large bread loaves bake for up to 50 minutes at 500°F. Baked products are transferred from the oven onto an overhead conveyor and travel to a spiral cooler.
At this point, fresh and par-bake products go their separate ways. Fresh products head directly to the
packing room where they are bagged and shipped. Par-baked products head down a different conveyor to a blast freezer, where they stay for 20 to 50 minutes at -30°F.
All products go through metal detection and manual packaging. Frozen products are boxed and placed on 45-case pallets. They either are stored on site in a 5,000-case capacity holding freezer or shipped to an off-site cold-storage facility.
The time factor Erasmus says patience is one of the most important virtues when it comes to producing true artisan bread, “because it really takes a long time to bake good, Old-World bread.” As head baker, Erasmus incorporates centuries-old fermentation techniques still in use by Italian, French and German bakers. Many such methods require up to four days to produce the high-quality artisan dough.
In addition to fermentation time, the various doughs used in Tribeca Oven’s 120 varieties of baguettes, sandwich rolls, sandwich breads, flat breads, table breads and dinner rolls each require a series of resting times between mixing and baking.
“You can have a long rest time after mixing before actually forming the loaf,” Erasmus says. “Then, after you form the loaf, it can be 12 to 18 hours before you bake it.”
Resting the dough between manipulations is crucial to the bread-making process, Erasmus says. “Because we deal in small batches, we are able to take care of the dough throughout the process and allow it to relax. Each time it gets manipulated, it tenses up, so you have to let it relax or you’re just going to keep applying pressure and forcing it into a shape that it’s fighting against. You have to get it to that shape gradually. It will work with you, but on its own time,” he adds.
Working with small batches is key to the company’s success, Essenfeld says. “The biggest thing we focus on in our company is small-batch processing but we’re using some innovative techniques to help manage quality control, temperature, timing of product and process flow. We’ve made a significant investment in ensuring that we can control our creativity. What makes our company different than our competition is that we focus on small batches and high-end quality. To do that, we put quality ahead of volume. We are relentless in our efforts to control the variables that guarantee quality, as opposed to making 6,000 lbs. an hour of product and hoping to get good quality,” he adds.
“Our commitment to small-batch baking in a large production facility has been instrumental in helping Tribeca Oven establish relationships with national operators who desire a higher-quality, more consistent bread program,” says David Allen, vice president, sales and marketing.
Tribeca Oven’s top selling breads are its French baguettes and burger buns, but bakery management readily customizes any of its products to suit customer need. “It’s about relationships,” Erasmus says, echoing Allen’s comment. “One of the things that is really exciting about our business is that I get the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the
industry to create unique solutions. For example, we just developed two new products for Wegman’s. We
collaborated on a formula that would work for our manufacturing environment while giving him the characteristics he was looking for,” he adds.
Independent distributors ship the frozen cases throughout the Continental United States, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Honduras. Plans are in the works for Canadian distribution as well as a possible European distribution deal.
Fresh products are manually placed in labeled bags, which include information on product type, quantity and destination. About 2,500 bags are shipped daily on Tribeca trucks along five routes throughout New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Tribeca Oven’s growth over the last two years is a testament its leadership. The management team’s commitment to small-batch processing has led them to create systems that streamline production without sacrificing quality. The company seamlessly manages the difficult task of producing high-end artisan breads in quantities usually associated with mass-production. The proof of this operating philosophy is in the product, and the product could not be better.