Mile Hi Bakery
Mile Hi relies on energy-efficient “super burners” in its English muffin griddle, which uses about half the gas. 

Remember when the only things associated with McDonald’s were Happy Meals and Mayor McCheese? Those were the days. But eventually consumers wised up and started asking for more than drive-thru gut fillers.

What’s more, consumers not only changed their taste preferences, but the demand for when they wanted their products evolved, too. McDonald’s was faced with a choice to put up or shut up. From the time the quick-service restaurant (Q.S.R.) giant started innovating with its coffee offerings, the game changed for foods that were traditionally limited to the hours between 6 and 10 a.m. When McDonald’s launched its all-day breakfast menu two years ago, it set a whole new standard for Q.S.R.s. 

In Denver, Mile Hi Bakery was ready. 

When Mile Hi, which has been an exclusive supplier of McDonalds’ buns for more than 30 years, opened its 128,000-square-foot facility in 2013, it already had English muffins — and growth — on its radar.

“Just prior to our start up, we had already put together the order and plans (for an English muffin line), but we had no idea McDonald’s was going to launch the all-day breakfast,” said Tony Taddonio, chief executive officer of Mile Hi Bakery. “However, we thought the line would grow at some point, so we sized it to a bigger volume.”

And grow it did. Thanks to that bit of foresight, the bakery’s new English muffin line produces more than 1,500 dozen muffins per hour for McDonald’s, and the company has plans to nearly double that volume in the future.

“We’ll be able to handle the growth,” Mr. Taddonio said. “It’s coming gradually, so we’ll be ready.”

Then again, no one — including Mile Hi — could have predicted how the all-day breakfast trend was going to explode.

“McDonald’s had been talking about it for about five years, and there was a little concern about whether the consumer would buy into it and if the execution would be there,” Mr. Taddonio recalled. “They’re already busy with all their other products, and then adding breakfast into the mix during lunch and other times, and operationally, it’s a big challenge. But they got it done, and it’s been very successful.”

The success of McDonald's all-day breakfast has prompted other restaurants to expand their breakfast offerings. 

Breakfast hits the big time
Never before has an entire daypart taken hold as a trend all its own. Thanks in part to McDonald’s, breakfast isn’t just for breakfast, anymore. Ironically, the movement took off at the same time full-service restaurants like First Watch and other Q.S.R.s such as Einstein Bros. were serving breakfast only and closing at or shortly after lunch time.

“Anybody who works a graveyard shift still wants to have breakfast; they don’t want a hamburger,” Mr. Taddonio said. “Going all day was a good decision.”

The risk McDonald’s took with its breakfast menu not only paid off but also paved the way for other Q.S.R.s to expand their offerings, including better-for-you breakfast sandwiches made with egg whites on whole wheat English muffins. 

Retail also is getting into the game with breakfast sandwiches, creating more general awareness for English muffins among consumers.

“We’ve heard that demand in grocery stores is up,” Mr. Taddonio observed, noting that Mile Hi has invested in retail-friendly packaging to expand into the retail channel in the near future. 

A similar phenomenon played out when Krispy Kreme opened outlets in the Denver area, as retailers such as King Supers saw a spike in donuts as high as 30% to 40%. It’s all about raising awareness, and it serves everyone well.

“In the fast-food business, if someone comes out with something, everyone jumps on the bandwagon,” Mr. Taddonio said. “They follow one another’s success.”