HOUSTON — When Doughnut Peddler merged with a private equity firm in 2012, opportunities for national growth suddenly seemed within reach for the family-owned bakery based in Phoenix. Current Doughnut Peddler chief executive officer Jason Duffy and his private equity partners shared that vision for the company and invested heavily in the expansion plans.

“We were growing in Arizona but staying there, just strengthening our foothold on the Arizona market,” said Jon Dairman, senior operations manager, procurement. “And the whole time we talked about expanding and going all over the country, but we never really did it until Jason and his partners gave us the opportunity. And we said, ‘If we’re going to do it, we need to do it,’ so we built all four within two years.”

With its new capital behind it, Doughnut Peddler started expanding: first to Charlotte, N.C., in May 2017 before opening facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., in October 2017; Orlando, Fla., in August 2018; and finally, Houston in February. In addition to c-stores, the company’s customer base is made up of hospitals, large manufacturing companies, institutions, car dealerships, hotels, grocery stores and any other businesses that are looking for fresh donuts delivered daily and can meet the minimum order quantity and frequency.

The bakery’s newest facility in Houston, which began production Feb. 1, produces the company’s wide range of ring donuts as well as donut bars, apple and blueberry fritters, cinnamon rolls, twists and muffins, and the operation will soon add cookies and brownies to the mix. Beyond Houston, the bakery delivers donuts to the major cities of East Texas — Dallas, San Antonio, Austin — as well as customers as far as Baton Rouge, La.

Upon entering the new bakery, two things stand out: It is brighter and quieter than one might expect. It was a priority to Doughnut Peddler to create a pleasant work environment for its employees.

“For most bakeries it’s tough to feel a warm, positive vibe when it’s dark and noisy,” Mr. Dairman said. “No one wants to be there day in and day out.”

To buck that trend, he made sure each facility was well-lit with artificial and natural light and made small changes to machines to make them quieter.

The two production lines mirror each other with only minor differences. Two Varimix planetary mixers handle brownie, muffin and cake batters; glazes; some icings; and cookie dough. Muffins — and eventually cookies and brownies — are baked in two Belshaw rack ovens.

Two Topos Mondial spiral mixers start production for most of the facility’s products, with the largest batches weighing in at 300 lbs of dry ingredients. Two automatic lifts empty the removeable mixing bowls into the hoppers of the Rademaker sheeting and makeup lines.

On both lines, dough is fed into a chunker and extruder to create a continuous dough sheet. A quick reducer and gauging station bring the dough sheet down to the desired thickness. Here’s where things diverge: On Line No. 1, the dough sheet is sent through a stamp cutter that can be changed to create ring donuts, donut bars or pull-apart products, which the Houston facility isn’t making yet. Line No. 2 can make any of the company’s offerings except the pull-apart products and features a lane cutter, sprayer, duster and torpedoes for cinnamon rolls. A guillotine cuts dough to the proper weight.

“This is where the consistency in the automated cinnamon roll production really shines,” Mr. Dairman said of the torpedoes and guillotine. “Without this, weights could vary from the roll not being tight enough, and the cutting of the individual pieces could be off.”

The torpedoes can be removed from the line and the duster and sprayer turned off when other products are being made. The entire changeover takes only a few minutes. For fritter products, a Reiser Vemag depositor can be added to Line No. 2 to deposit fritter dough onto the line.

After products are cut by either a guillotine or stamp cutter, they are auto-loaded into a Topos automatic donut proofer that features custom programming to ensure temperature and humidity levels are repeatable.

Proof times range between 55 and 110 minutes and are dictated by the speed of the fryer.

“The entire line speed is determined by how fast the product needs to move through the fryer, and we work backwards from there to have product ready to feed into it,” Mr. Dairman explained.

Once products are proofed, an aligner ensures they enter the 14-foot-long Belshaw Adamatic fryers in the proper place.

“The aligner keeps us from needing an operator to babysit the fryer,” Mr. Dairman said.

Both fryers are electric, he said, a departure from gas fryers typically found in other fresh donut bakeries. Mr. Dairman said they went with electric for a number of reasons.

“Yes, gas creates more B.T.U.s per dollar, but a lot of that heat is going out the exhaust,” he said. “With the electric heating element in the oil, we’re capturing 100% of the heat.”

The electric fryers are also quiet and easy to maintain.

Once fried, products pass through Fortress metal detectors for food safety checks. Topos glazers rain a curtain of glaze on those that need it, and finished products travel the Topos cooling conveyor before employees racks them to cool in ambient temperature.

From here, Doughnut Peddler goes back to its hands-on beginnings with employees filling, icing and packing donuts. For all Doughnut Peddler’s growth, the company still does not have the volume to justify automated filling or icing, Mr. Dairman said. With so many different icing varieties necessary and changeovers and sanitation taking about an hour each, it’s easier, faster and more cost-effective to do it by hand.

“I’d have to have an icer for every icing flavor we do, and each machine would only be used for about an hour every day,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense for our volume; it’s not worth the investment yet.”

Racks of finished product are arranged in a grid pattern in the staging area of the plant. The grid creates workstations where employees fill custom Doughnut Peddler trays and wire baskets with custom orders for each delivery. Those orders are determined and adjusted by the previous week’s order with Doughnut Peddler’s proprietary forecasting system.

“If you go to one of our customer’s stores and buy a maple bar every Wednesday, eventually we’ll start adding an extra maple bar to that customer’s order every Wednesday,” Mr. Dairman said, explaining the accuracy of the system.

Production typically begins each day between 1:30 and 2 a.m. and continues until 8 a.m. Packing starts around 7 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. Product is then loaded onto trucks to be delivered to the various markets’ distribution centers.

Priding itself on logistics expertise, Doughnut Peddler handles all its own distribution. This expertise and custom-made box trucks make it possible for the Houston bakery to reach Louisiana with fresh and quality donuts. Baked foods are delivered to distribution centers in each city Houston serves. Doughnut Peddler employees then deliver those custom orders to stores overnight to be sold in the morning.

This article is an excerpt from the June 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Doughnut Peddler, click here.