Always a Better Bagel
by Laurie Gorton
There’s no maybe about it. From the shiny, chewy crust to the fragrant, tangy crumb, every bagel made at Always Bagels’ new bakery is always authentic. Batched as straight doughs, retarded for 16 hours and boiled before baking, these bagels are a fully traditional New York-style product, but their production is anything but conventional. The automated systems and expandable plant that the family-owned-and-operated business chose for its new Lebanon, PA, site have set the stage for the company’s future in supplying supermarket and food service customers.
“We wanted to build a bagel manufacturing facility like no other,” said Tony Pariti, chairman and partner, Always Bagels, Bohemia, NY. “We’ve accomplished that, and the feedback from customers and equipment vendors has been, ‘This is the top of the line.’”
The new plant came on-stream in March 2010 to handle rising demand for Always Bagels’ products. At 70,000 sq ft on an 11.8-acre site, the greenfield facility represents a $20 million investment, of which equipment accounts for $7.5 million. In addition to its leading-edge automated bagel makeup system, the bakery operates the nation’s largest automated retarder and the first laser-based sorting and counting system of its kind in the US.
Today, nearly a year after startup, the bakery employs 150 people and distributes its products nationally. It operates around the clock, five days a week, with two shifts of production and one for sanitation. The facility ships more than 2 million cases of bagels annually. Always Bagels’ first wholesale location at Bohemia, NY, continues to serve the New York, New Jersey and New England markets with fresh products. The company’s business is 75% supermarkets, 20% food service and 5% club stores. While the Bohemia bakery’s products generally travel fresh, those from the Lebanon facility go out frozen, most shipped in bulk for thaw-and-serve or thaw-and-reheat at in-store bakeries. Brokers handle sales.
HUNGRY FOR MORE.
Supermarket customers are hungry for a better bagel, according to Anthony Pariti, vice-president and partner of Always Bagels. But it wasn’t always so, he added. “Consumers’ growing taste for artisan breads is lifting demand for authentic bagels, too,” he said. “And that puts the focus on improving bagel quality.”
Quality for Always Bagels means true New York style.
“Years ago, people did not have the education on quality that they have today,” Anthony Pariti said. “This also applies in food service, and actually, it’s true in all food distribution channels. Part of our New York business is fresh supply to schools and delis. Schools typically buy on bid and low cost, but they keep rolling us over — renewing our contract — because their students don’t like the competitive products. In some parts of the food service business, the quality has not been there, but today, everybody is focused on it. Quality is in high demand today. That’s what makes Always Bagels.”
Originally, retail baking supported the Pariti family, in a business founded by Tony Pariti. When Tony’s son Anthony finished college, he went to work for Empire Equipment. Those years selling equipment proved pivotal, taking place right at the height of the bagel boom, and Anthony Pariti set up countless bagel shops around the country. Soon, he and his father decided the family business should join the ranks of bagel entrepreneurs, but they wanted to do an authentic New York-style bagel, which is boiled not steamed. When a nearby supermarket chain asked them to supply their bagels to its in-store bakeries, Always Bagels was born in 1996.
The switch to wholesale baking was a natural choice. “In wholesale, the opportunity is endless. In retail, it’s local,” Tony Pariti observed. “We needed to move to another level.”
Several family members work in the business. “Tara Pariti, my daughter, handles production scheduling and logistics,” Tony Pariti said. “My sons Jamie and Jason are plant managers for the two facilities. Carol Pariti, my wife, runs the New York office. Gina Pariti, my daughter-in-law, is in accounting. Joe Pariti, my brother, is a supervisor at the Lebanon plant, and my son Anthony is my partner.” It was Carol Pariti who named the business, observing that talk around the table at home was “always bagels.”
For several years, the Paritis supplied bagels out of the family’s retail shop, and one account led to another. “Eventually, one of the big supermarket chains asked us to freeze our bagels for them to send to a sister company in Pennsylvania,” Tony Pariti said. Business escalated, but production was totally manual: hand-loading the ovens, hand-packing the cases, hand-pushing the products into the freezer. Demand overloaded the original 5,000-sq-ft bakery, so the company moved into an 8,000-sq-ft site and later into a 22,000-sq-ft location, the current bakery at Bohemia.
THE BIG JUMP.
Within two years, the Bohemia location had maxed out, even when running 24/7. “That happened a lot faster than we thought,” Tony Pariti said. Although the company owned the lot next to the bakery, even that space would not be sufficient for needed expansion. Also, the realities of distribution in the New York metropolitan area worked against Always Bagels. “It should be a 5-hour drive from the New York bakery to our Pennsylvania customers, but traffic in the region makes it an 8-hour drive,” he observed.
Father and son started exploring the idea of a second bakery. “We hit a plateau and started researching another facility,” Anthony Pariti said.
Recognizing that this big a project would be more than they could manage, the partners turned to The Austin Co., an architectural engineering firm based in Cleveland, OH, to manage the site selection and building design and construction. The A/E company studied in-depth the family’s business and where it might best open another plant. The ideal spot was central Pennsylvania. “Once here, we chose Lebanon because of its favorable transportation and its economic operating costs,” Tony Pariti reported.
The Paritis adopted Austin’s recommendation of a design-build approach. “Austin’s services were provided under a stepped approach of preliminary design, followed by preliminary engineering and a guaranteed cost estimate,” said Gregory J. Carr, project planner, baking and snack, The Austin Co. After site selection, Austin was assigned full engineering and construction responsibilities. Tony and Anthony Pariti selected the equipment, and the A/E firm’s engineers worked closely with the OEM equipment vendors to carefully integrate the building and production equipment. Building construction began just prior to Thanksgiving in 2008 and was completed approximately 10 months later. Installation of production equipment began just four months after breaking ground for the new facility.
“Due to the start of construction just before winter, site grading operations briefly worked around the clock to complete the building pad before the ground froze,” Mr. Carr said. “The project was completed on schedule, and equipment installation began as planned.”
“Lebanon was a big jump for us,” Anthony Pariti said, “and the decision to hire The Austin Co. was one of the best things we did. They took care of every aspect of the building. We could not have done that ourselves.”
The Lebanon facility was designed and laid out to enhance its bakery functions. It features a long corridor that separates offices and support stations from the main production area. Located along this hallway are the electrical room, mechanical room, maintenance shop, locker rooms and quality assurance lab. Separate rooms house plant utilities (boilers, HVAC compressors, and ammonia units for freezer and cooling systems) and forklift recharging operations. Raw materials enter the east end of the building, while a freezer on the west side holds finished goods. Temperature and humidity are optimized in all production areas to maintain year-round consistency for products.
The Austin Co. worked with an environmental consultant to obtain the oven emissions permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Sustainable design aspects such as a white roof, energy-efficient motors and recycleable building materials were also followed.
Always Bagels’ hometown bank, Suffolk County National Bank, provided financing. “Our local bank in New York was great,” Tony Pariti said. “They went out of their way and beyond their local area to assist us.” The company also received a state grant, a cash grant and a large infrastructure grant, supported by the Small Business Administration and the state’s Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund.
To staff the new plant, Always Bagels moved 16 of its Bohemia-based employees to Lebanon, paying relocation costs to ease the transfer. “They know our system and are very familiar with our products,” Anthony Pariti explained. The rest of the staff was hired locally, including several from the construction crew who put up the building.
When planning the new facility, the Paritis committed to new equipment, a business decision made years ago. “We prefer buying new equipment,” Tony Pariti explained. The partners want the promise of improvement and are willing to take the risk because they believe this gives the company a leg up on future technologies.
“We did much of our shopping at the International Baking Industry Exposition held at Orlando in 2007,” he noted. “We sat down with our current equipment suppliers. We told them we wanted to do a fully automated version of our existing plant, and that included a 16-hour retard. And, yes, we achieved that.”
The new technology, Tony Pariti explained, is in the automation of the proofing and retarding stages. “Those were the biggest changes from New York,” he said. “We do the same 16-hour retard there, but it’s a manual process. Automation puts it all together in a seamless operation.”
Having selected an ABI bagel makeup line capable of 28,000 regular-sized bagels per hour (42,000 when making mini bagels), the partners knew the bakery would require a huge retarder. The result was a 10,000-sq-ft system with nine separate lanes, built by Gemini Bakery Equipment Co., the largest such system in the country.
No changes were required in formulations or process. “We were fortunate,” Tony Pariti observed. “The way we were producing bagels at the New York bakery took well to automation. In designing the Pennsylvania bakery, we duplicated what we do in the other facility, but at an automated level.”
The partners added to the new bakery’s packaging equipment a De La Ballina laser-assisted vision counting system, also a new technology.
“Several customers have already been here to visit,” Tony Pariti said. “They walk in, and they have a ‘Wow!’ reaction.”
BAGELS, BAGELS, BAGELS.
Incoming ingredients reach the plant through bulk trucks (flour), tote bins (release oil and other liquids) and palletized bags. The ingredient warehouse also houses the KB Systems 150,000-lb indoor silo and a KB Systems inline sifter. Mixer operators portion minor ingredients in a separate scaling room. Allergenic materials such as eggs are put into separate marked containers. Bagel varieties made at Lebanon currently include plain, sesame, poppyseed, everything, onion, wheat, whole grain, cranberry, blueberry, sundried tomato, French toast, pumpernickel and marble.
Three Bundy Shaffer 1,300-lb horizontal mixers make the bagel doughs, prepared from scratch according to the straight-dough method. Flour from the silo is automatically delivered to the KB use bins above the mixers, while a Pfening Wat-a-Mat supplies temperature-controlled water. Here, as at other locations within the bakery, Allen-Bradley PanelView terminals provide control over the process.
The mixer operator positions two troughs in front of the mixer for discharge of the finished dough. Each filled trough is pushed into position at the vertical hoist that feeds the ABI divider at the head of the bagel forming line.
Several new features characterize the divider, according to Alex Kuperman, ABI Ltd., Concord, ON. The system senses the dough volume within the hopper, and the dough is powered through the process — both changes intended to improve piece-to-piece accuracy. The divider can handle both regular and mini sizes, and redesign of the knife allows quick changeover. The new knife design also eliminates stringing between dough pieces.
The divider drops cut dough slugs onto takeaway conveyors. These discharge lanes remove easily for cleaning. The dough pieces move along the conveyors and enter horizontal belt-and-mandrel moulders. As the belt moves forward and enters the forming section, the forming tube forces the belt edges to curl up and around the stationary mandrel. Carried along and pushed against the mandrel, the dough piece elongates through the action of the belt. Just after the piece’s two ends meet, it travels far enough to drop off the mandrel onto the now uncurled belt and then onto the grouping conveyor.
Compared with older lines, the moulder design was beefed up to withstand rigorous 24/7 production needs. The design of the forming tube and mandrels was altered to enable faster changeover. Because of the improved durability, precision of scale and flexibility, the new line achieves 28,000 pieces on regular bagels and 42,000 on minis — a one-sixth increase in output without changing the footprint.
The rows of bagels enter the ABI pattern former, which takes four lanes and groups them for six-by-six placement on peel boards. Some bagel styles require a six-by-seven pattern, while mini bagels are grouped in higher counts. A retracting belt deposits the grouped bagels onto plastic peel boards, which then travel into the automated proofer.
Boards are indexed as they enter the Diamond automated proofer so they don’t hang up inside. This proofer’s step-style design inserts boards onto chain-mounted support rails, and the boards travel vertically up and down as they traverse the system. Boards exit at the top in two lanes, where they are sent to the retarder, designed and built by Gemini Bakery Equipment.
An ABI rack loader assembles a full rack’s worth of boards and then pushes them all at once into a waiting retarder rack. The racks travel through the system via a powered overhead rail system. Each rack is automatically matched by product style to one of nine lanes inside the retarder. The lanes move forward according to programmed instructions, with the computer control system regulating output to continually supply fully retarded bagels to the oven. The rack emerges 16 hours after entry and is unloaded automatically, with each peel board pushed off onto the oven feed line.
“The retarder is very flexible,” Anthony Pariti said. “It can dispense any lane at any given time.”
Boards accumulate in front of the grabbler, a wing-like peel board unloader. The grabbler’s wire-mesh chain engages the individual bagels and brings them forward off the peel and across the loader’s top. Bagels feed into the boiler to travel horizontally between two chains that keep them immersed in the hot water. The chains release the bagels, allowing them to float to the top. Another wire-mesh chain engages the bagels and lifts them out of the water. Operators at the boiler’s sides separate any bagels that may be touching. Seeds are applied after the boiling step.
A gas-fired dryer set ahead of the oven evaporates any remaining surface moisture. “This step also gives the bagels their nice rounded edges and a bit of a quick, final proof,” Tony Pariti explained.
A Diamond direct-fired tunnel oven bakes the bagels, and operators at the oven’s discharge conveyor remove any doubles or misshapen items.
COUNT AND CARTON.
From the oven, bagels travel to a set of G&F spiral conveying systems. The first one cools the bagels, and the second freezes them. It takes about 35 minutes for the 200°F bagels to cool to 60°F. Although most bagels are sold unsliced, Always Bagels installed a bypass conveyor to handle customer requests for sliced bagels. The system sends these bagels through a Key Technology ISO-Flo vibratory laning system and into a LeMatic web slicer. The sliced bagels pass into another laning system to reach the penny stackers that feed the Fuji Formost baggers.
Exiting from the freezer, bagels for bulk packs enter a De La Ballina laser vision system that counts the bagels according to case size. The grouped bagels drop into shipping cases lined with poly bags. The filled boxes are automatically taped closed, and an operator stacks the cases on shipping pallets. To manage packaging of mini bagels, a bridge comes down and separates the frozen bagels into two streams, each counted separately and packaged into bags and then into cartons.
All bagels are shipped on pallets, which are wrapped for stability and transferred by forklift into the 4-tier, racked storage freezer. To assemble an order, forklift operators pull full pallets from the freezer and transport them to the 5-door dock where reefer trailers wait.
The Lebanon site allows plenty of room for expansion when the time comes. Two more production lines could be accommodated. Mr. Carr noted that growth plans include all of the required support such as additional refrigeration equipment, an expanded holding freezer, truck access and additional employee parking.
BUILT ON QUALITY.
While it is the 16-hour retarding process that separates Always Bagels from nearly every other bagel baker, the Paritis said the real difference is in quality and service. “This is a family business,” Tony Pariti said. “This difference is reflected in how we treat our customers and our staff and how we strive for quality.”
“For us, it’s the quality and service — the partnership between supplier and customer that we bring and that helps increase the customers’ sales,” Tony Pariti added. “We offer customized formulations, and we assist with financial support through advertising and marketing. We’re in it for the long haul, not just for the next truckload of bagels. We want to make our customers happy, and that makes us all happy.”
He paused and then summed up the company’s philosophy. “A lot of what we do is driven by our heart,” he said. “The feeling of picking up a major customer is for us worth more than the money we make on that account.” And that’s always the best attitude for continued business growth.