Fresh Start produces 770,000 dozen hamburger buns and 230,000 English muffins at its City of Industry, Calif. bakery. A new facility, currently under construction, will allow for an immediate 25% increase in production.
General manager Rob Crawford, left, and plant manager Bob Mitchell stand in front of the 185,000 square-foot facility in Ontario, Calif., which soon will replace Fresh Start’s City of Industry, Calif., hamburger bun and English muffin bakery.
English muffins pass through an automated inspection system after baking. Quality control, both manual and automated, is a major part of the Fresh Start production process.
Three 115,000-lb. capacity flour silos at Fresh Start’s newest bakery will help streamline the flour-delivery process.
Looking down on Fresh Start Bakeries 67,000-sq.-ft. facility in City of Industry, Calif., is like having a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling Southern California freeway system. Two major differences apply: Instead of cars and trucks, Fresh Start’s conveyor belts are loaded with hamburger buns and English muffins; and traffic moves a whole lot faster at Fresh Start than it does on the roads. You’ll never see gridlock at Fresh Start.
That view stands in stark contrast with the interior of a much larger building located 25 miles to the east. Brea, Calif.-based Fresh Start is in the process of building a new 180,000square-foot facility in Ontario, Calif. that will replace the City of Industry plant beginning this summer. The new bakery, reportedly the world’s largest of its kind in terms of output, will give Fresh Start some much-needed breathing room for a 150-employee operation that currently produces 770,000 dozen hamburger buns per week on two lines and puts out 230,000 dozen English muffins per week on a third line.
The move is coming none too soon. "Our City of Industry bakery is 36 years old and pretty well maxed out," says Mike Ward, senior vice-president and chief manufacturing officer for Fresh Start. "We needed to build a new bakery with new technology that keeps us on the leading edge, quality-wise."
Fresh Start, a primary global supplier of bakery products for McDonald’s, has been baking buns and muffins for the burger behemoth at its City of Industry location since 1971. The facility was built specifically to produce hamburger and Big Mac buns and refitted for English muffins when McDonald’s launched its hugely successful breakfast menu. Recently, the bakery took on additional bun business from Jack-in-the-Box.
Production is now at full capacity, and business is booming. Once the new bakery comes online, Fresh Start will ramp up bun production by roughly 25% to 10,000 dozen per hour. In addition to nearly tripling the footprint of its current location, the new bakery will increase the number of available loading docks from three to 10, with at least eight of those scheduled to go into immediate use, shipping product for McDonald’s and Jack-in-the-Box throughout Southern California and, in McDonald’s case, to other selected southwestern U.S. locations.
The new space will have plenty of new equipment. All of the major equipment currently in use was installed when Fresh Start built the City of Industry plant, which is a testament both to the quality of the machinery and the bakery’s rigorous maintenance schedule.
"No other bakery chain has done as well as we have in keeping a bakery in the condition City of Industry is in," Ward says. "We have a super engineering department. But we’ll be less vulnerable to breakdowns with newer equipment. Right now, there’s more maintenance on just one of our proofers than there will be on the whole new bakery."
Already installed at the new bakery are two new BakeTech spiral ovens and proofers. Still to come are spiral bun coolers from A.J. White, AMF dividers and Burford pan shakers. Two new Peerless ten-sack mixers are on order, one for each bun line.
Six new LeMatic wrapping machines also are on the way, as well as new dual Safeline inline metal detectors for pre-and post-wrapping inspection. Tray stacking, unstacking and washing will be automated at the new bakery.
Also new is an AZO vacuum flour system. The two 110,000-lb. capacity flour silos at City of Industry will be replaced by three slightly larger silos, each with a capacity of 115,000 lbs., which will streamline the flour delivery schedule a bit.
Not everything from City of Industry is being scrapped, however. The original English muffin line is being transported and reinstalled at the Ontario facility because, as Ward says, "Our muffins are superior to anybody else’s."
Plant Manager Bob Mitchell concurs. "Bakers from all over the world come here to learn about English muffins," he says. Mitchell, known around Fresh Start as "Bob the Baker," heads up operations on the bakery floor and has been a key member of the in-house team responsible for building the new bakery, along with Ward, President and CEO Craig Olson, General Manager Rob Crawford, Director of Engineering Clyde Kawamoto and others.
Mitchell began his tenure at Fresh Start more than 30 years ago as a one-day hire in the wrapping area. Like many Fresh Start senior managers, he worked his way up the ladder. Promoting from within is an integral part of the Fresh Start philosophy, along with treating all employees with dignity and respect, and producing baked goods that are remarkable both for their quality and consistency. That philosophy has certainly paid off at City of Industry, where the average employee has been with the company 15 years or more.
"I think we have an outstanding place to work," Ward says. "There’s never a slow period, we’ve never had a layoff, and we promote from within the company. And because so many of our people have risen through the ranks over time, everybody on our floor is an expert." Also, Ward notes, employees feel invested in the company because management is open to their opinions and ideas. Ward says that brand of employee relations is just sound management principles at work. "We realized a long time ago that two people are not as smart as 150, so we listen to our employee’ opinions. And they see the opportunities for advancement here."
"My chief sanitor has been here 43 years," Mitchell notes. "He started out as a one-man department. Now he has 15 people under him." Such dedication to plant hygiene pays off. City of Industry consistently receives Superior AIB certification ratings.
"We really strive for Superior ratings from AIB," Crawford adds. "But again, from senior management down, cleanliness is woven into the fabric of our culture. It’s part of who we are, and part of our customers’ expectations of us."
"Bob in particular embodies the concept of a real hands-on manager," Crawford says, referring to Mitchell. "He is sensitive to, and works with, the employees on their needs and concerns. One of the cornerstones of our company is the value of people and it is reflected in the compensation package, in benefits. But the truth is, you can say you have values or you can have corporate directions, but unless the workers on the floor really embody that, it’s just talk."
That company mindset, Crawford says, comes directly from Olson and Ward. "It’s part of their character, not just a corporate plan, and it’s mirrored throughout the location."
When your primary customer is McDonald’s, a company whose very name is synonymous with consistency, quality and volume, total commitment to those core values is essential to success.
At City of Industry, as is the case with Fresh Start’s entire global operation, there is considerable effort devoted to research and development. "We’re one of a handful of bakeries that perform R&D for McDonald’s," Crawford says. "It’s part of our supplier function and an expectation of McDonald’s."
And keeping customers satisfied is a the root of Fresh Start’s expansion and relocation to the former Hewlett Packard facility in Ontario.
"The most important thing to us is also the number one issue for our customers, which is quality," Crawford says. "So we have to ensure that they continue to get the quality that they desire. To do that, we’ve all got to be rowing the boat in the same direction at the same speed. Otherwise, we’ll just be going in circles."
Photos courtesy of Mark Savage Photography.