Rotella’s Italian Bakery, La Vista, Neb., has seen continued growth and demand for bread, buns and rolls over a 100-year history. The Rotellas attribute their success to two things: quality product and excellent customer service.
“Quality and service is everything; if you skimp on that, you’re losing,” said Lou Rotella Jr., president and chief executive officer. “Customers can get bad service and bad quality anywhere.”
Though Lou Rotella Sr. passed away in 2009, he instilled these values in his children and grandchildren. They remember a man who cared deeply that things in the bakery were done correctly.
“He always said little things mean a lot,” added Jim Rotella, vice president of sales.
When it comes to customer service, the Rotellas pride themselves on putting the customer above all else.
“You do what you have to do, and you stay with it until the end no matter what,” said Dean Jacobsen Sr., comptroller.
A pandemic hiccup in the company’s frozen business, however, threatened the company’s incredible fulfillment track record and inspired one of the bakery’s latest investments. For the first 100 years of the company’s history, Lou Rotella III, chief operating officer, said the bakery has experienced a 99% service fill rate. Much of that is due to the redundancy the bakery has built into its operations. In the event of downtime or overflow production, other lines can take on the business so that no order goes unfulfilled.
“If something goes down, we can make the product somewhere else because we’ve always cared about our 99.9% fill rate,” Lou Rotella Jr. said.
Another aspect of the customer service Rotella’s provides is its Culinary Innovation Center, a commercial test kitchen where customers can work with the company’s onsite research chefs and developers to create new products with Rotella’s breads, buns and rolls.
“People like to taste the bread as a part of the whole sandwich because it tastes differently when it’s with the other ingredients,” explained John Rotella general manager.
Product quality starts, first and foremost, with the ingredients coming into the bakery.
“We never compromise on our ingredients,” John Rotella said definitively.
On each production line quality is assured by a team lead and assistant team lead. With the automation on the production room floor, employees can monitor the product quality in real time from the mixing bowl through packaging.
“And every time we’ve automated, we haven’t laid people off,” Lou Rotella III said. “We’ve been able to repurpose those employees to jobs that focus more on quality.”
As the company has grown, however, Lou Rotella Jr. noted that quality does get harder to control because of the expansion of the team. The bakery has grown from less than a dozen employees when it was in its first generation to more than 500 today.
“They have to care as much as the family does, so they have to feel like a part of the business and the family,” he said. “They can’t feel like an outsider because an outsider won’t care.”
Not only does the company pay its employees competitive wages and offer competitive benefits packages compared to the Omaha labor market, but it also disseminates a family culture by honoring and calling out hard work. As Lou Rotella Jr. and his sons walk the production room floor, they take time to talk to all the employees regardless of job function to make them feel welcome.
“It’s just like in sports,” Lou Rotella Jr. explained. “If a team doesn’t play together, they aren’t going to win. It’s as simple as that. If people are fighting on the field or on the production line, they can’t win. We have to work together.”
It’s a mantra the Rotellas have lived by example.
This article is an excerpt from the February 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Rotella's Italian Bakery, click here.