Rocky Mountain Pies has spent the past 15 years filling up its production facility and is now ready to take on new initiatives that will allow it to go on offense again.
“I always say grow by pressure and build your building by pressure instead of having a big building that you have to fill up,” said Par Grandinetti, president of the Salt Lake City-based pie company.
Well, the pressure is on.
Salt Lake City, Utah-based Rocky Mountain Pies’ bakery consists of two production lines: one for cream and meringue pies and one for fruit pies. There are also two utility stations for smaller restaurant accounts. During peak pie season, the bakery runs three shifts seven days a week. In the off-season, the bakery runs those shifts five days a week, and the third shift is often used for sanitation, baking off pie shells or serving as overflow for added production.
Ingredients are stored in the building next door and brought over and staged each day, according to the production schedule. That schedule is determined by customer orders plus forecasting and optimizing the sanitation schedule.
“Sometimes we can’t optimize the schedule because someone calls at the last minute and wants to add another 500 cases of berry that wasn’t scheduled, but we do it anyway,” said said Par Grandinetti, president of Rocky Mountain Pies.
Sanitation changeovers take about 30 minutes, depending on the products and whether tanks need to be cleaned.
Ingredients are delivered by truck daily and allergens are segregated in the staging area and marked with bright stickers. Production starts 12 hours ahead for both pre-baked pie shells and cooked fillings. Pie shell dough is mixed in two double sigma mixers: one from Colborne Foodbotics and another from Artofex. A Colborne dough divider portions the dough into bricks, then a Colborne Series 90 Inline pie machine sheets the dough into pie tins and finishes assembly. They are baked upside down on the third shift. This orientation prevents shrinkage with the high-shortening content.
Fillings are cooked in two 900-gallon Lee kettles. A liquifier adds water to starch and spices to create a slurry that is added into the kettle while the filling cooks and mixes. A control panel ensures that fillings are cooked and held at the correct temperature for the right amount of time for proper starch gelatinization.
“If we get a complaint — and they all come directly to me — we can trace the issue all the way through the building through the chart recording and lot tracking within minutes, and we know exactly what happened,” Mr. Grandinetti said.
Once cooked, fillings are pumped into troughs and tempered in a cooler. This manual method of storage preserves fruit integrity. When the fillings are cooled, the troughs are wheeled to the appropriate production line to be pumped into hoppers or an E.T. Oakes continuous mixer, in the case of creams and meringues. On the cream and meringue line, the continuous mixer ensures the exact specific gravity is reached so that the meringue doesn’t collapse.
Meringue and filling are pumped into two different tanks, then deposited into those pre-baked pie shells on a custom automated pie line. Once deposited, the pies are hand-peaked — another handmade touch — and then travel through a roaster. Infrared heat ensures a golden-brown hue.
For fruit pies, filling is deposited into the pie shells on a Colborne pie line.
The line operates with the three-head depositor and can turn out 65 pies per minute. Laying lattice by hand requires slowing down the line, however, so the production team uses a foot pedal depositor to bring things down to 35 pies per minute.
Lattice is hand cut from sheeted pie dough and five employees lay the lattice in assembly line fashion. Fruit pies are then sprayed with a sugar water solution to provide browning before a photo sensor system loads the pies into the tunnel oven automatically. Mr. Grandinetti estimated that this system saved the company $270,000 in labor annually when it was installed in 2006.
The rebuilt tunnel oven can turn out 1,500 to 3,000 pies per hour depending on product type. Its 10 zones can be adjusted to each pie’s needs. Each type of pie comes with a “traveler,” a document that informs operators of all the settings necessary to bake that pie perfectly from size and ingredients to oven settings and packaging.
After baking, the pies are automatically unloaded onto a conveyor, then racked manually to cool in ambient temperature for two to three hours before being frozen in one of two blast freezers. Mr. Grandinetti said their next major capital investment will be a spiral freezer. The bakery has one that is used exclusively for holiday pies.
“You have to freeze pumpkin pies very fast or else the tops will crack,” he said.
Once frozen, pies are packaged and driven to the offsite frozen warehouse storage. Two Lantech box erectors feed both packaging lines, which are largely manual processes. Pies are packaged in crust saver shells on one line and in cardboard boxes on the other, both by hand. Loma metal detection ensures no foreign material slipped into the product, and when necessary, a top and bottom labeler will add a customer’s label to the package. After product is palletized, Lantech wrappers wrap the products, and they are loaded onto trucks from three dock doors. Rocky Mountain Pies has 300,000 square feet of freezer warehouse space in Salt Lake City and more in Belvidere, Ill., to supply the eastern half of the United States. About 10 trucks leave for Illinois every week loaded with frozen pies.
For the few upscale restaurant accounts Rocky Mountain Pies has, it creates pie kits on two utility lines that mimic the back-of-house restaurant operations from Mr. Grandinetti’s Marie Callendar’s days. At one utility station, two Hobart mixers create the fillings that are added by hand to pre-baked shells. These basic pies can then be customized in the restaurant kitchen. The other station features five Lucks deck ovens to bake off pies for other restaurant and specialty accounts.
“With these two utility stations, we’re slowing things down to duplicate what they would do in the back of their own restaurants,” Mr. Grandinetti said. “We just do it for them.”
The company also has a quality assurance lab onsite. Product is weighed and temperatures are checked at every stage of the pie-making process. At the lab, samples are tested for microbials daily and results will come back the next day. The executive team scores product quality every morning before pies are released to customers.
Next door to this production facility, in the same building where ingredients are received and stored, is a space for more production that Mr. Grandinetti plans to expand into once the economy and labor market stabilize. During the Western Country Pie days, that production facility was fully operational. Though currently emptied of equipment, the infrastructure is in place for two new pie lines whenever Rocky Mountain Pies is ready. With that facility operational to take on holiday pie production, the company will be ready to take on new business again.
“We’re going to enhance our existing capabilities with that extra building,” he said. “If our current production line could focus on just fruit pies and we could put all of our holiday pies in another building, we could have a consistent run. It would make both buildings better, and we could double our sales.”
This article is an excerpt from the November 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Rocky Mountain Pies, click here.