Every bakery trying to expand in 2020 had to wrestle with the restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Sugar Bowl Bakery, Hayward, Calif., had the benefit that much of the company’s planning for its new facility in Tucker, Ga., was underway when the pandemic reached the United States. Critical engineering conversations had already happened, so the team knew what it needed to execute starting up a new facility. For execution, Sugar Bowl relied heavily on its long-standing relationships with equipment suppliers who understood what the company is already doing in its two Hayward facilities. 

“Having to go through a lot of the engineering remotely without being able to travel was the biggest challenge,” said Garrett Pounds, senior director of maintenance and engineering at Sugar Bowl’s Tucker facility. “Pulling all of these designs together and not being able to travel to put your hands on it is a major challenge.”

Mr. Pounds credits those strong partnerships with suppliers who understood the Hayward facilities’ processes with overcoming that challenge. With that knowledge and those relationships, Sugar Bowl was able to replicate Hayward’s processes in Tucker.

Hiring was also trickier with COVID-19 precautions keeping Sugar Bowl leaders from traveling to Georgia for interviews.

“We got better at recruiting and interviewing over the internet,” said Joel Feldman, president and chief operating officer, Sugar Bowl Bakery. “As much as we would have preferred to interview in person, we had to rely on that. But we got key leaders in place right away who we relied on to build out the tools and the teams.”

And then there was production itself. Like every wholesale bakery in the United States, Sugar Bowl was faced with protecting its employees as they continued their work in person on the production room floor. Sugar Bowl put together a COVID-19 task force of key leaders in the business. The task force met every day from March through the end of August and continues to meet three times per week to this day to evaluate employee safety. Sugar Bowl put in place common safety measures such as temperature checks, PPE and plexiglass partitions, but it also offered options for employees who were at high-risk for a severe case of COVID-19.

“I’m proud of how the leaders on the task force stepped up and put employee safety first, and I’m certainly proud of all our employees for taking it seriously in protecting themselves and their coworkers,” Mr. Feldman said.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sugar Bowl Bakery, click here.