The Atlanta baking scene made multiple headlines this week when reports that 2016 James Beard Award semifinalist Rob Alexander had abruptly returned to H&F Bread Co. The news was surprising in that Alexander’s most recent venture at Emory Point’s TGM Bread was only a few months old and off to a highly-lauded start. As it turns out, H&F’s efforts to become a marquee national baked goods manufacturer were enough to entice Alexander’s westward move.
We spoke with H&F Bread Co. general manager Roger Hodge about the company’s national push, a forthcoming branded flour product, and the possibility of a third production facility. H&F has a second facility under construction at 1500 Marietta Blvd. At full capacity, Hodge estimates the 50,000-square-foot space will produce one million baked goods per day with a staff of 150. Their Koenig line alone can handle up to 360,000 hamburger buns per day— a smart plan, should Atlanta’s go-to burger bun garner a similar following nationwide.
The news about Rob Alexander’s return to H&F Bread Co. emphasized his new role in strategic growth and product development. What will that look like?
Rob has joined our executive team, and he’ll be focusing on artisan and innovation, which is key to our regional and national strategy. We’ve noticed in our industry that companies become very small or they become large and corporate. Often, the product value diminishes as the larger companies grow. We want to avoid that. We’re fighting a business model where not a lot of people have been.
Was approaching Alexander a recent development or something in the works for a while?
This was a fresh idea. Joe Best [CEO] and I knew that we had several limitations because of the size of our current facility. The first thing was to build strong, sustainable growth. Our new facility [on Marietta Blvd.] is one aspect, and our team that defines our product is the other. Between Rob, Leo Grigorio, and Eddie Wright, our executive baking team, we now have 100 years of experience in the industry.
H&F Bread Co. sells wholesale to restaurants and retailers and direct to consumers at the bakery and online. What business developments are on the horizon?
In 2015, we had approximately 99 percent fresh business—that’s direct store delivery to restaurants, retailers, super markets, and our retail shop at bakery. Only one percent of our business was frozen. This year (keeping in mind we’re only in the second quarter), we’re at about 84 percent fresh and 16 percent frozen. So we’re building this new facility to expand our bandwidth.
We’ve also acquired a partnership in the farming industry, and we are going to have our own H&F branded flour—an organic flour and a sprouted flour. We will sell it to retailers, and we will use that flour to produce a line of products for Delta airlines, Whole Foods Market, and some of our other partners. The first crop is being milled now. We’re aiming to have it ready for fall.
How are you able to increase frozen production and maintain that local, fresh bread quality?
We are advocates of clean label products, and with that, you’re against the clock. When the bread comes out of the oven, you have a period of time to get that product to the consumer before it becomes inconsumable. With blast freezing and nitrogen-based freezing systems, you can preserve the product quality without use of chemical-based preservatives in the product. We’ve done blind testing and no one is able to say that a certain item is fresh or frozen. If our product is frozen and then restored according to label specifications, the quality stands.
Looking out five to 10 years from now, what can we expect from H&F?
Our strategy is to build and fill the forthcoming facility. Once that’s done, and depending on growth and partnerships, we’ll possibly build a third here in the Atlanta area, probably 100,000 to 200,000 square feet. That will be our flagship location for future regional business. We want to continue to have a local and fresh approach for a larger market, larger distributors, and still focus on quality, consistency, and cost. People want to get a great product, but they want it for a marketable price. Quality is a sound business strategy.