When Mile Hi Bakery took on its English muffin business, it entered into a new realm of baking where it previously had little to no experience. But just as when it started up a new bun operation four years ago, Mile Hi turned to industry friends and allieds who could guide the bakery through this new territory.
“We started with visiting other plants and evaluating all the equipment that was out there,” said Tony Taddonio, chief executive officer of Mile Hi Bakery. For starters, Los Angeles-based Aryzta welcomed Mile Hi into its Ontario, Calif., plant to get a feel for its English muffin operation.
“We leaned on Aryzta the most,” he added. “They let us send some of our people out there to do training, so we got some first-hand experience. Then they came here with their experienced English muffin bakers to help with the start-up, and that was extremely helpful.”
English muffin production doesn’t come with the complexities of making a product like buns, so the learning curve was a bit quicker.
“You’re only running one item, all day and all night,” Mr. Taddonio said. “That allows people to get into a comfortable groove and adapt to it much easier.”
Now that the operations staff is inside its comfort zone with the muffin line, some workers are mostly dedicated to English muffin production, but everyone is cross-trained on both lines to fill in any necessary staffing gaps at just about any time.
And while Mile Hi did lean on baker friends — in addition to Aryzta, the team also sought guidance from East Balt, Tennessee Bun and Northeast Foods — relationships and training support were big factors in equipment selection. Mile Hi is comfortable with producing buns, so equipment selection for the plant’s original startup was fairly easy: Stick with what you know. But for muffin production, the research was a bit more labor-intensive, as leadership from the bakery reached as far as China and the United Kingdom in its vendor search.
Trips to the U.K. resulted in the selection of Sugden, which was commissioned by AMF Bakery Systems. This was Sugden’s first U.S. installation, and the supplier went to great lengths — literally — to ensure a smooth start-up. Sugden would come stateside for weeks at a time not only to ensure that Mile Hi employees were properly trained on the equipment but also to gain an understanding of the intricacies of the bakery’s process.
“High-altitude baking is different from the U.K. or other parts of the world,” Mr. Taddonio said. “It was a learning process for them, too.”