Being a one-stop shop has been its key to Aladdin Bakers’ success ever since the early days, when Joseph Ayoub started his own bakery in the 1970s as a 17-year-old making pitas by hand and delivering them locally throughout his neighborhood.
Eventually, the young baker acquired Aladdin, another baking company, which allowed him to build up the business that led to automate production. He later changed the name of the company to Aladdin Bakers, which currently operates a 100,000-square-foot bakery in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“What separates us is that we make a wide variety of products, so our customers don’t have to deal with multiple vendors,” Mr. Ayoub said. “They can get everything they need from one place. With each of these products, we have a variety of flavors and packaging sizes. The combinations are endless.
Overall, the operation houses 18 lines, ranging from semi-automated bagel production with rack ovens to a fully automated panini line that turns out up to 16,000 pieces an hour.
The bakery makes everything from Old World artisan breads to crackers and baked snacks sold under its Baked in Brooklyn brand and for a variety of private label accounts on a national basis.
“Joe started the bakery making everything by hand,” said Theresa Watkinson, chief operating officer. “Before we automate anything, we make sure the integrity of the product is not compromised.”
In many ways, Aladdin Bakers is a classic Brooklyn bakery occupying 17 buildings on three city blocks. And if Mr. Ayoub ever found a genie in a bottle, he knows what his first request would be.
“I wish we had more straight space to put in more automated lines because we are limited by the length of the buildings,” he observed.
As the saying goes, wishes are granted only in fairy tales — or by moving the major facility outside the city — but Aladdin Bakers, which is committed to its Brooklyn roots, had to play with the hand it was dealt.
The bakery has L-shaped and U-shaped lines and conveyors that are located next to the oven that’s pumping out baked snacks on the first floor and taking wraps or tortillas to the mezzanine-level packaging department.
“The efficient use of space is the heart of our operation,” Ms. Watkinson said. “All of our equipment is strategically placed. Almost every time we made an equipment purchase, we had to make sure it could be moved when we needed to make a specific product on a daily or weekly basis.”
More than 200 people work in the bakery that runs 24/7, although shifts vary depending on production demand and customer orders. While many lines are running, others receive routine sanitation and preventive maintenance.
In addition to Mr. Ayoub and Ms. Watkinson, key management personnel include Donald Guzzi, chief finance officer; Luis Esquivel, chief engineer; Esperanza Tapia, sanitation manager; Guillermo Flores, director of production; Barbara Adams, human resources manager; and Wendy Perez, customer service manager.
Inside the bakery, Ms. Watkinson noted that Aladdin Bakers upgraded the cracker and baked snack line with a 48-inch (1,200-mm) wide Rademaker makeup line to match the width and bolster the capacity of the Lanly 80-foot, direct-fired tunnel oven.
“We knew if we maximized the oven, we could put out the products that our customers need and meet the demands for new business,” Ms. Watkinson explained. “Although we haven’t been able to run it 24/7 because of the pandemic, we’re really glad we made this investment. We’re going to need it, especially as everything hopefully opens up in the second half of this year.”
A Peerless 1,000-lb horizontal mixer and two smaller ones feed the new line. An automatic trough lift carries the dough to the hopper of the Rademaker line, which extrudes the dough onto the sheeting and makeup table.
Here, the low-moisture dough initially travels through a series of reduction stations with heavy-duty rollers to create thinner sheets for the flexible makeup table, which consists of a docking station, roller cutters and guillotine.
“We can make products that are as thin as a piece of paper to much thicker ones,” Ms. Watkinson said. “The thicker the product, the more poundage we can get through the line.”
Mr. Ayoub noted multiple roller cutters create flavored crackers and baked snacks ranging from diamonds and squares to triangles, hexagons, and custom shapes for specific accounts.
“We can do an endless number of shapes and sizes,” he said.
The line also comes with topping units that disperse a variety of other toppings for crackers. The open-designed line allows for easy cleaning and maintenance by eliminating recesses, cavities and dead corners throughout the system.
After baking in the tunnel oven, the snacks briefly cool before heading to one of three Heat and Control/Spray Dynamic seasoning tumblers. Afterward, the products flow to the packaging department, which includes three Ishida vertical form/fill/seal (VFFS) machines creating bags ranging from 0.75-oz single-serve to 25-oz family packs.
Other systems include five Doboy horizontal flow wrappers and an automatic Kodiak Products cartoner for bag-in-box products. The bakery also has several baggers, Kwik Lok closing systems and metal detection on all lines.
To enhance efficiencies, Aladdin Bakers invested in BluePrint Automation robotics, which pick-and-place flatbreads on the panini line.
While the tortilla and wrap line has automatic counter-stackers, space restrictions kept the bakery from automating packaging, but it remains on the bakery’s growing to-do list for automation going forward.
The bakery is kosher and SQF-certified for HACCP and food safety. Since March, the operation stepped up its employee safety and sanitation programs even more.
In addition to ongoing sanitation during production hours, all employees now practice social distancing wherever possible and wear masks and gloves.
They’re even given “handwashing” breaks at sanitizing stations throughout the plant to ensure that GMPs and personnel safety are reinforced.
“We have dedicated sanitation employees who come in and use Clorox wipes to sanitize every often-touched surface,” Ms. Watkinson said. “If employees touch a button on a machine, they must wash their hands immediately afterward before doing any other work. We’re hyper-vigilant about handwashing and sanitizing. It helps keep everyone safe.”
During this pandemic, Mr. Ayoub said, Aladdin Bakers’ employees “really proved their loyalty” and dedication to the company. That’s something that makes him proud.
“They are an amazing group of people, and we recognize that,” he said. “One thing we did to make them comfortable is that we all worked side-by-side to show them that we’re not asking them to do anything that we’re not willing to do ourselves, and we have a specific duty to provide bread on the table. They really understood that, and everyone showed up and worked together to follow the new rules to protect each other.”
Ms. Watkinson observed that many employees have been experiencing extreme adversity in every aspect of their lives.
“Their dedication to serving the local community and the public at large drives them every day, not only to show up, but to put their hearts into their work, and they’re really adapting to uncertain circumstances every day,” she said. “We found out what our employees are made of, and our ability to make a lot of different products in a lot of different ways is really going to bring this company through this unprecedented period of time.”
And heading into the future, Mr. Ayoub has just one more wish for Aladdin Bakers.
“I wish that we can continue to innovate and find success in each area of the market,” he said. “We are very successful in the foodservice sector and have built the foundation for success in both the artisan market and retail market with our artisan line and recent increased automation to support our snack division and retail lines.”
By investing in the bakery, he hopes to make that wish come true.
This article is an excerpt from the February 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Aladdin Bakers, click here.