BROOKLYN — In a world shadowed in so many hues of gray, it’s good to know that some things are simply black and white. Take Beigel’s Bakery, which found its home in Brooklyn in the 1940s and never left. The kosher-parve bakery operates by clearly defined rules and with the strictest of discipline that’s earned the trust of its loyal customers — many who have been “house accounts” for decades.
During the last few years, however, Beigel’s (pronounced “BUY-guls”) found itself branching throughout New York and the Northeast as local residents who moved away from the city nostalgically yearned for a taste of the old neighborhood. Those baked goods include its classic challah and Jewish rye bread, checkerboard cake, bowtie cookies and, yes, its signature Black and Whites — cake-like cookies dipped in elegant white vanilla and dark chocolate icing.
“The further you go away from New York, the more you want our cookies because they bring back the memories of New York,” noted Joseph Folger, president. “They are part of growing up and sought-after by anybody from New York.”
Recently, Mr. Folger has headed a sales initiative into regional supermarket chains, club stores, mass merchandisers and other big-box stores. “Our name is getting around,” Mr. Folger said. “We’re getting noticed out there.”
Moreover, Beigel’s ventured into the in-store bakery channel with a line of par-baked and unbaked breads, rolls, rugelach and other items sold under private label or the company’s brand Pas Yisroel — Hebrew for “Bread of an Israelite.”
“The bakers just need to pop them into the oven for five to 10 minutes,” noted Martin Atlas, president, Pas Yisroel. “It smells good in the store because it’s fresh out of the oven, and bakers can control their waste because they can bake it as they need it.”
Together, these initiatives prompted Beigel’s in 2015 to move from its 35,000-sq-ft facility to a 55,000-sq-ft brownfield bakery located on the other side of Brooklyn. “We simply didn’t have enough room at the old bakery,” recalled Martin Gordon, vice-president of operations. “We had more orders than our production capability.”
While the old plant had a single elevator shuttling production among the two floors and basement, the new facility houses two bread and roll lines and two semi-automated sweet goods lines on a single level.
In an adjacent temperature-controlled room, set at 70°F because of the delicate nature of the products, bakers mass-assemble a combination of sweet goods and indulgent desserts ranging from petit fours to cakes for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other special occasions. This department also houses multiple packaging systems for individually wrapping cookies, pastries and slices of pound cake that are then manually cartoned into family packs or in larger displays for club stores and mass merchandisers.
All dairy-based items such as butter croissants, Danish and cheesecakes are produced in yet another enclosed department with a separate locked entrance and no access from the main production area. That’s because the facility is strict kosher; only dedicated employees work exclusively in that department, which includes its own set of mixers, sheeters, proofer and ovens complete with washdown capabilities so that no pans leave the secured area.
“We definitely go the extra mile to make sure that kosher is really kosher,” Mr. Folger said.
For instance, all whole eggs — used in about 90% of Beigel’s baked goods — are cracked and separated in-house. To keep up with demand, an automatic system breaks about 100 eggs per minute that are then individually inspected and even separated before they flow into 40-lb pails. “One person is there to make sure that there is no blood in the egg, which is very important to keeping kosher,” Mr. Gordon pointed out. “That’s what we mean by ultra-kosher. It’s what we mean by offering authenticity to our customers.”
Overall, however, the bakery’s complete portfolio consists of nearly 1,000 items that are as culturally diverse as the patchwork of residential neighborhoods that surround the plant, which makes everything from its top-selling challah bread and hamburger and hotdog buns to traditional boiled bagels and even crusty French baguettes. A couple dozen distributors working exclusively for Beigel’s supply fresh products to corner grocers, supermarkets, restaurants, schools, nursing homes, universities, hotels, caterers, airlines, sports stadiums, vending and other institutions.
“We like to maintain the quality of a mom-and-pop shop that has just grown up,” Mr. Folger explained. “We have the plusses of an old bakery around the corner. We do so many items, and there is quite a bit of handwork like we used to do in the old bakery. We like to consider ourselves a one-stop shop for our customers.”
While production flows in a relatively straight line from ingredient handling through packaging to maximize efficiencies, the facility’s biggest asset is its freezer capacity. Beigel’s added 5,000 sq ft to the building and built a 100-pallet freezer to provide ample storage capacity to supply large retail chains and other new customers, which now account for 60% of the company’s sales volume.
Beigel’s also installed a 90- by 20-ft cake and a 25- by 60-ft bread freezer. Those two systems help streamline production by supporting longer production runs of niche products. They also hold unfinished products that allow the company to bake off bread or rolls in case of a surge in demand or hand-decorate a cake for a last-minute special order.
The contrast between the old and new operations still amazes Bill Lehault, senior bakery consultant, WBL Consulting, who collaborated with Beigel’s to transform the warehouse — a former beer distribution center — into a food-grade operation.
“When I came here two years ago, it was kind of mind-boggling as to what they produce,” said Mr. Lehault, who continues to advise the bakery on operations, food safety certification and new product development. “Because of the number of products it makes, it has to be a semi-automated operation. Even so, the hardest thing is scheduling because Beigel’s distributes a lot of fresh product every day. It doesn’t carry a lot of inventory, so it needs to use the freezers to streamline production throughout the week. Few people operate at a level that this kosher bakery does.”