Pan Pepin
Mario Somoza, president and chief executive officer, Pan Pepin, shows photos of damage left by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

CHICAGO — Mario Somoza, president and chief executive officer of Pan Pepin, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, shared his company’s story of resilience at ASB BakingTech Monday, just more than six months after being slammed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Mr. Somoza detailed his company’s resolve to not only restore the operation, but also restore the island devastated by the hurricanes.

When Hurricane Irma struck Pan Pepin on Sept. 6, 2017, it was without power for more than a week and running on backup generators. Fourteen days later, Hurricane Maria shattered everything in its path, leaving the entire island without power and little access to running water.

The storm damaged much of the company’s operations. Its refrigerated warehouse took the biggest hit. Two of the walls and part of the roof were blown away, and the entire inventory was ruined.

However, luckily, Mr. Somoza said, production lines were intact. The company had a contingency plan established through years of planning for such an event. Mr. Somoza explained that nobody could have prepared for two major hurricanes in quick succession. 

Mr. Somoza detailed the stories of the company’s employees who, after losing so much themselves, showed up to the plants the day after Hurricane Maria to assess damage and get back to work. 

“It was incredible the sense of responsibility, commitment and duty that these people felt to come in and do their part to get the company back operating,” Mr. Somoza said.

Even when some of employees hadn’t been able to contact family members, or hadn’t fully addressed damage to their own homes, they were eager to help get the bakery back in operation.

Pan Pepin was also eager to help give back to the people of the island. Within a week the company sent out route trucks with bread to retailers, not knowing if they were operating yet. Over a period of two months, the company sent trucks to every corner of the island to hand out hot meals and serve the community. The company delivered more than 48,000 meals to more than 40 towns.

“Our people were not only helping the company, but helping the island recover,” Mr. Somoza said.

The gratitude and optimism Mr. Somoza spoke with about his employees aligned with the theme of this year’s BakingTech conference: “Sustainability- success through people, products and productivity.”

The bakery has more than 500 employees living throughout the island, and they all encountered different levels of loss.

“When things are at their worst, that’s when people give you their best,” Mr. Somoza said.

To help the employees, the company starting a fundraising campaign in which it raised more than $50,000 to give back to its employees to help in their personal recovery efforts. Pan Pepin matched those donations, giving back a total of more than $100,000.

Today, 25% of the island still remains without power. Pan Pepin has been able to get all of its lines running again and has even built a new high-speed bread line at one of its bakeries.

“We have no doubt that we will recover from this and we will come back even stronger,” Mr. Somoza said.

It was a message not only from his company, but from the people of Puerto Rico.