Learn how Dennis and John Rossetti
transformed “the largest bakery
in Ontario that nobody knew” into a
wholesale artisan bakery of distinction.
Traditional, old-school bakers would have considered Dennis and John Rossetti tremendous risk takers in the mid 90s when they purchased Italian Home Bakery (IHB) with the intention of expanding the business. Instead, the Rossetti brothers had faith in one another's expertise to take the business and turn it into a real operating artisan bakery. Dennis had 29 years of experience in manufacturing and product and process development with Canada Bread, Pizza Hut and Kellogg Co., and John's expertise was in finance and restructuring.
When the Rossetti brothers bought into the company in 1997, it was a small artisan bakery run by five partners who “really didn't know what to do with the potential success they had built,” says John, vice president and C.F.O. Back then, business was conducted on a day-to-day basis without any planning for the future. Sales were basically pulled along by grocers.
The Rossettis changed the whole premise of the company, so it could move forward in a more modern world. Much of their forward progress can be attributed to the technology and knowledge of operations that Dennis, president and C.O.O., brought with him from his past experiences. Today, IHB produces a wide variety of fresh, authentic, artisan breads and is on the verge of expanding into the frozen finished product business, so it can broaden its distribution into Eastern and Western Canada, and perhaps into the United States.
IHB started in two row houses in 1955 at a time when the Italian population in Toronto was growing. Initially, the owners established themselves with door-to-door sales, which grew to more than 4,000 homes. Eventually, grocers enticed the bakery to sell its bread to them, so they could sell it directly to consumers. IHB managed to get good footing in the ethnic bread division of supermarket sales until the insurgence of artisan breads expanded into mainstream markets.
John was a financial consultant for the original owners in the early 90s, when he learned that one of the partners was retiring. Knowing the skills his brother had and sensing the potential opportunity that lay before him, John broached Dennis with the idea of buying into IHB.
“Dennis was 45 years old when he was introduced to the idea of buying the company,” John says. “In retrospect, one of the things we looked at was that the company was one year old, 45 times. These guys were working really hard and not getting anywhere. They were salt of the earth guys, but they were so provincial in what they knew. The people were crowding in and trying to get a piece of what they were making, but they didn't know how to make any more volume. They were afraid of expanding.”
After Dennis and John bought into the company, there was some reorganization of the partners. Eventually, all chose to retire. “They never would have considered purchasing the equipment that we've bought over the years because they wouldn't have had confidence to move out of the realm of traditional dividers and other equipment like that,” Dennis explains. “That sort of limited them because you can only make certain product because your equipment isn't capable of making a wider variety of product.”
But Dennis had seen that type of equipment operate. He was well equipped to bring IHB into the 21st century, having worked at Kellogg in product and process development where he met with senior level equipment suppliers and dealt with what John calls “massive capital expenditures.”
Significant growth has taken place since the Rossettis became the sole owners of IHB. There was no technology before. After making radical changes, 99 percent of what IHB is today is new, John notes.
Scaling up capacity so the plant could not only increase throughput, but its product portfolio as well, involved a complete redesign of the production floor — an undertaking that Dennis was able to accomplish when the company moved into a new facility in 2003. Dennis' knowledge made setting up a 70,000-sq.-ft. plant simple for him, according to John, although it's not a simple process.
“A lot of people think that your plant is not making artisan breads because you're using machines,” Dennis says. “That's not really true. When I think of artisan breads, I think that the process has to be true to ‘artisan,’ and the process involves getting flour and water and yeast and salt mixed together to get an end product. Now, if I have a piece of equipment that will handle the dough the same way human hands will handle it, why bother having human hands do it? The process of long/cool fermentation has to be maintained. This is where product development comes into play. Process development is how you take an operation like artisan bread and scale it up.”
In spite of the high level of automation found throughout the plant, IHB stays true to time honored traditions that go into making artisan bread, including long-floor fermentations, cool fermentations after forming and proper proofing. However, there's still some handling of the product, such as hand scoring. “We still make the same round, Italian breads that we made 55 years ago,” Dennis says. “It comes down to the artistic application of engineering to a product.”
Processing is divided into two zones — wet and dry. Mixing, dividing and sheeting are done in the wet area, and retarding, proofing, baking, cooling and packaging are done in the dry area. Doughs are mixed in a 2,000-lb. horizontal mixer. Although spiral mixers were used originally, they weren't able to keep up with the volume of production. Aeration is better in a spiral, which has better cutting action. But horizontal mixers do a better job with stiffer dough folding action, Dennis notes.
Breads are formed in one of three lines, depending on the type — a variety bread line, the Rheon line or the Adamatic roll line. The Rheon line is best suited for making ciabatta breads because of its stress-free application of machining, Dennis notes. Ciabatta dough has high water absorption and is too soft for traditional equipment. “The alignment coming out of the extruder on the Rheon line doesn't do damage to the cell structure,” Dennis adds. Round breads are made on an offshoot of the Rheon line. The dough balls are pressed down to give more of a boule shape.
Products are retarded at 38°F to 40°F (4°C to 5°C) anywhere from four to 20 hours. The retarder can hold up to 30,000 loaves, which is 75 percent of a day's production. Racks of product are pushed into small, climate controlled proofers that allow production to pull and bake product as needed. “It would be difficult to automate the proofing process,” Dennis says. Smaller proofers give the bakery more flexibility to run a larger variety of products.
Although IHB has a tunnel oven with a metal deck, it recently purchased a state-of-the-art hybrid oven from Brantford, Ontario-based LC Bakery Equipment Services after the oven had been through two years of development and design. “Everything that a product goes through as it travels through an oven was taken into consideration during the design phase,” Dennis says. “Some people will say, ‘if you want a direct burn for a hearth oven, the best belt is a mesh belt.’ Well, not in my opinion,” Dennis adds. “I don't think it's an adequate type of material. What you want is a stone surface. What the mesh belt tends to do is rapidly bake the bread. It doesn't really develop an adequate crust. You're browning it very quickly and baking it per se, but you're not developing that heavy crust that you would with a stone oven.”
IHB evaluated granite, a man-made composite and lava, before selecting lava stone from Pompeii. Lava stone gave the best heat retention and release. It's more porous. The oven cools fairly quickly, but still holds more heat than a traditional metal oven.
Dennis and John are very pleased with the results of their new oven. “LC Bakery did what they said they were going to do, which was extremely refreshing,” John says. “It was part of their growth as well as ours, because they've never undertaken a project of this size and magnitude.”
Occasionally, the Rossettis find that consumers are unfamiliar with truly authentic artisan breads. People will buy ciabatta bread and complain because it has holes in it, which makes it difficult to make a sandwich. Dennis and John have to explain that what they're seeing is actually the real version of the bread.
IHB's artisan breads are more characteristic of European breads, which tend to be heavier. Their crusts are thicker and darker. The company's Kaiser bun, which at 140 g is quite large, was voted “best in city” by Toronto Life magazine.
IHB has come a long way since the Rossettis bought into the company. Now, the owners are gearing up for the next step. They're in the process of installing a blast freezer that will serve as their entry into the fully finished frozen market. Selling solely in the fresh market is difficult, particularly in light of today's high cost of ingredients and labor. “We want to make sure that product is going to sell with minimal returns,” John says. “One of the best ways to do that is through frozen distribution. For us to grow our business we have to get into a wider point of distribution.”
Fully finished frozen product can be used at the store level either thawed or refreshed and placed on the shelf. The refreshing process takes anywhere from four to eight minutes.
The Rossettis would like to find a retailer in the United States that is willing to test the product to assess consumer acceptance. They feel their product is different from the artisan breads normally found throughout the States, which are not generally subject to long fermentation times and thus tend to be more doughy and gummy.
IHB has undergone numerous and significant changes during the past decade to prepare for future growth. Included among those changes is the implementation of quality and safety programs. The plant is HACCP and ISO 22000 certified. The company launched its new logo last fall to increase brand awareness. In addition, several of its products are health check approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. IHB also is kosher certified. “People thought we were bonkers when we did that,” Dennis says. After all, how many Italian bakeries become kosher?
Dennis and John Rossetti have been together forever, being only 14 months apart in age. When they were children, they would talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up. “Unfortunately, we haven't grown up yet,” John says. “We've tried to align ourselves with people that want to be with us when we grow up. We have this vision of where we want to be. We don't want to sell our souls to be someone we're not. For people that know the bread business and all the games that were played before, we don't play those games. We don't understand them, and we don't want to play. The people we align ourselves with are people that see what we want to do. We build our business on honesty, integrity and going forward.”
“People like the Turanos [Turano Baking Co.] are people that we want to grow up and be like,” John adds. “It sounds like a fun journey.” The Rossetti brothers seem to be well on their way to doing just that.
When their father first immigrated to Canada from Italy, he said, “If they don't have good bread here, I'm turning back.” He obviously found good bread, but would have been even more impressed with the artisan quality of the bread that his sons produce on a large scale today.
Ownership: Limited partnership — Dennis and John Rossetti
Web site: www.italianhomebakery.com
Management: Dennis Rossetti, co-owner, president, C.O.O.; John Rossetti, co-owner, vice president, C.F.O.; Sherry Harripersad, controller; Brian Harrison, manager, sales and distribution, fresh division; Pat Moncada, regional sales, eastern Ontario; Marco Ferrantone, regional sales, central Ontario; Vince Contino, regional sales, western Ontario; Peter Blueler, maintenance engineering; Operations supervisors: Rick Mazza, Jaskanwal Nijjar, Ken Ross and Joseph Rossetti
Product line: 40 different doughs generating about 80 SKUs, including nine-grain baguettes, rolls and round; Calabrese baguette, buns, ring and round; cheese buns; ciabatta bread and buns; French; Italian French; white and whole wheat Kaiser buns; onion buns; pizza dough; plain, poppy seed, whole wheat and sesame bagels; Portuguese buns; rye bread; sesame buns; Spaccatelle; sub buns; Vienna baguette; white and whole wheat dinner rolls; and bread crumbs
Packaging: Paper bag or polyethylene wrapped
Marketing territory: 150 mile radius from Toronto
Plant size: 70,000 sq. ft.
Production lines: Variety bread line (string breads, loaf breads and baguettes); Rheon bread line (ciabatta bread and round buns); Adamatic roll line (Kaiser rolls and long hoagie buns)
Plant throughput: 180,000 kg of flour per week; 40,000 loaves per day
Distribution: 35 routes using independent contractors
Number of employees: 125