This premier artisan bread maker expands into a 175,000-sq.-ft.
facility, as it anticipates sales growth of more than 60 percent in
the next five years.
What bakery could have possibly predicted a delay in its contingency plans for expansion due to a volcano? Yet, when engineers, programmers and other experts responsible for the installation of the bakery’s new threedeck tunnel oven were stranded in Europe following Iceland’s volcano eruption on May 11, that’s exactly what Labriola Baking Co. faced.
In spite of the setback, this Alsip, Ill.- based bakery successfully made the transition from its cramped 65,000-sq.- ft. plant to a 175,000-sq.-ft. newly remodeled, streamlined facility. After running production in the old facility on the Saturday of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the bakery started up full production in its new building the following Monday. e additional space gives the bakery plenty of room to meet its expected sales growth potential of more than 60 percent in the next five years.
Labriola Baking’s sales volume is expected to reach $22.5 million by year end. Its prestigious customer base ranges from Trump hotels to famous chefs and restaurateurs, including Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck. Even so, the bakery’s owner and president, Rich Labriola, who refers to himself as chief dough boy, sees no limit to the bakery’s growth potential. Labriola’s foresight isn’t just about the bakery’s expanded production capability, but his belief in the quality of his artisan bread.
Labriola Baking was founded 17 years ago after Labriola moved from the distributor side of the business to baking. “I put a targeted plan together to open a bakery in December 1993 and began baking, selling and delivering French and Italian bread out of a 10,000-sq.-ft. bakery,” he says.
High-quality, authentic artisan bread has always been Labriola’s primary focus. “I spent several years learning how to bake, and learned how to love to bake,” he says. After noticing a void in artisan breads, he seized the opportunity and ran with it, acquiring his first major account with Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s famous restaurant. Gradually, Labriola learned how to become more efficient without sacrificing quality.
In 2008, Labriola opened Labriola Bakery Café in Oak Brook, Ill., which features his bakery’s freshly baked breads and pastries. “I opened the café for brand recognition,” he says. “Everything has worked flawlessly. The café, which brings in $4 to $5 million, was featured in the Chicago Tribune for having the best burger in the city. The burger is served on a pretzel bun. It has been good for the bakery and good for wholesaling, too,” Labriola adds.
“Currently, the company bakes hundreds of different types of products, ranging from fresh and frozen artisan pan breads to pastries,” says Terry Dempsey, vice president of finance. “About 96 percent of current revenues are from the sale of breads, with the remaining 4 percent from pastry sales. Labriola distributes its breads and pastries to more than 1,200 customers in the Chicago metro area with a fleet of 30 trucks that service an equal number of routes. The company services and delivers to customers within an 80-mile radius of its bakery, as well as routes to Milwaukee and Indianapolis.”
“In addition to the fresh market, we believe there is substantial opportunity to increase [our share] of both the regional and national frozen market,” Dempsey adds. “ e national market for frozen bread is expected to grow about 5 percent per year for the next five years … Given the market potential, we believe we can ultimately become an important participant in the national frozen bread segment.”
However, Labriola Baking’s older facility was never set up for frozen production. Product had to move across departments. Three or four years ago, management decided they had to overcome these constraints through expansion, but the idea was abandoned a year and a half ago because “the economy tanked,” Labriola says. “Thee cost of equipment was just too much, and the exchange rate made it hard to do business.”
Eventually, market conditions made acquisition of a new building possible. e company was able to secure the facility for 10 years, while keeping rent close to the same amount as for its older plant for part of that time, Dempsey notes. “Our investment in the new facility will be around $10 million when we are finished.”
A 12-month plan stretched into 18 months because of various delays, including the volcano eruption. And although not all equipment has been moved, the new facility is up and running at full production.
Part of the production floor is allotted to pastry production, complete with a cold room for croissant dough. Most of the pastry is made by hand. “People who work in the pastry department have the skill and affinity for it,” says Rick Rodrick, director of operations. “You need people with artistic ability, plus they need to pound it out.”
Labriola Baking produces a wide range of pastries, from decadent cakes and croissants to cookies, muffins and pies. Its apple pie, for instance, is made with three kinds of apples selected for optimum eating quality, Rodrick notes.
Pastries are baked in a revolving deck oven. Decks rotate around a single shaft. A deck oven will give a little more oven spring, and you don’t get as many hot spots as with a convection oven, Rodrick explains.
“All artisan bread products have been made the same way since the bakery’s inception–using starters, retarders and shaped by hand. The operation has just grown larger,” Labriola says.
Artisan bread is defined by the use of a starter, the make up process and how it is baked, Rodrick notes. The starter is kept in a separate facility and brought in for mixing. The mixing process is closely monitored. “You have to be able to add ingredients as you go, and you have to be able to see the dough so you know when to add secondary ingredients,” he adds.
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During the fermentation process, dough is held in bins at 75°F for 1 hour to 5½ hours. Some dough may sit on racks for up to 24 hours before entering the proofer. Fermentation time is dictated by the type of artisan bread. “Everything has its guidelines,” Roderick says. “It might take 2 hours today, 2½ hours tomorrow, depending on the temperature and humidity. By controlling the environment, including water temperature and ingredients, which are stored inside or in insulated silos, spikes are minimized. You have to smell the dough, touch it and feel it to know when it’s right.”
Bread dough is deposited into a hopper, where it passes through a divider and relaxer/shaper. More delicate products, such as ciabatta, require gentler handling and are thus sheeted on one of three stress-free Rheon lines. Two smaller lines are capable of producing 1 ton per hour and a larger Rheon stress-free line can produce 2 tons per hour.
After the dough is divided and relaxed, it is hand formed. “The most important tool in the bakery is the right hand. The second most important tool is the left,” Roderick says. “The third most important tool is the bench where the breads are shaped.” Bread is then retarded and proofed or vice versa. All fermentation steps deliver flavor. Some breads don’t require extra fermentation time. The bakery recently acquired 90 proofer racks and will bring 130 proofer racks from the old bakery, bringing its capacity to 220.
Canvas is placed on each rack to help the bread keep its shape. And every type of artisan bread will be placed on flour or cornmeal.
“Since the oven is the most difficult piece of equipment to move, it was the perfect time to purchase a new one,” Labriola says. “And what we always wanted was a thermal oil oven to replace standard deck ovens. Although you spend 30 percent to 50 percent more for thermal oil versus other sources of energy, you pay yourself back over the course of 10 to 12 years. Also, Daub, Hamburg GmbH, made the oven more affordable. A three-deck thermal oil tunnel oven provides evenness of bake and flexibility, having the ability to bake two products at a time. It also has a smaller footprint at 45 feet, which is a more compact use of space. Europeans will go as high as 12 decks.”
Labriola Baking’s three-deck thermal oil tunnel oven is the only one like it in the United States, Rodrick notes. The oven is equipped with lasers that ensure three full boards are staged with a fourth immediately behind it. The top two decks of the oven operate at the same temperature zone, while the bottom deck is fully independent and is used for baking pretzel bread.
The ovens’ conveyors exit to one of two spiral cooling towers–the first of which is dedicated to the top two decks of the oven and the second to the bottom deck. A third spiral cooler was purchased for an existing conventional tunnel oven. Three deck ovens will be salvaged from the old bakery, with a fourth being scrapped. A semi-automatic loader will be installed to expedite smaller quantity production runs.
Eight thermal oil convection rack ovens produce croissants and a few types of pastries. These types of ovens are best suited for product that needs to stay in a pan and hold its shape, Rodrick notes. The thermal oil rack ovens and the tunnel ovens are linked 24/7 to the manufacturer for instantaneous feedback if and when problems arise.
Although conveyors exiting the spiral coolers are not completed, they will eventually link to a bread or bun slicer. Bread also may be sold whole or be redirected to a nitrogen tunnel for freezing. A 200-pallet freezer allows bread to be frozen quickly for optimum quality. “The objective of the conveyor system is to get bread into packing without having to manually take it there,” Rodrick says.
Labriola holds fast to his bakery’s history of producing artisan bread with a long fermentation process. “It’s very important for us to keep the quality of our bread,” he says. “We’re not about mass producing.”
Lucky for Chicagoans and regional Midwesterners, the quality of Labriola’s product shows. Labriola Baking Co. is now equipped for more widespread distribution as it makes its move nationwide.
About Labriola: Artisan-style breads account for about 96 percent of current revenues, with the remaining 4 percent in pastries. The bakery’s fresh product is sold regionally and its frozen distributed nationwide. Labriola Bakery Café, Oak Brook, Ill., a European-style bakery where Labriola’s fresh bread is sold, opened in 2008. Further expansion is planned.
Headquarters: Alsip, Ill.
Management: Rich Labriola, chief dough boy–owner, president; Robert Burch, C.O.O.; Terry Dempsey, V.P., finance; Rick Rodrick, director of operations; Tony Nardini, director of sales; Catherine Manning, director of H.R.; and Herb Fingerhut, plant manager.
Product lines: Country Italian, pretzel rolls, focaccia with tomato and herbs, ciabatta, raisin loaves, French baguettes, sour baguettes, semolina baguettes, multigrain rye, onion ficelle, biscotti, cookies, Danish, rugelach and tea biscuits, among others.
Plant size: 175,000 sq. ft.
Production lines: Most pastry preparation is done by hand and the product is baked in a revolving deck oven; one production line for hamburger buns, cylindrical sticktype rolls; a second production line for 0.5-lb. to 0.75-lb. round loaves; two smaller stress-free lines and one larger stress-free line. Sales volume: $22.5 million estimated for 2010