February 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Awrey's Bakery celebrating its survival year after near liquidation

Mary Baczewski and Joe Garfield tend to warm brownies just rolling out of the oven on March 11, 2013. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Livonia — Once minutes away from the auction block, Awrey’s Bakery — and its century-old recipes for cakes, cookies and other sweets — is growing its brand, bringing back old customers and adding new products.

CEO Jim McColgan and Chairman Ron Beebe — two out-of-towners who teamed up to purchase the closed bakery last year in an 11th hour deal before its assets went to a liquidation auction — said they’re committed to growing the company Wednesday at a one-year anniversary press conference.

They also announced Awrey’s would add a line of gluten-free products, everything from brownie mix and dinner rolls to rigatoni and flour. In addition, the bakery will add a line of meat pies and meat and deli trays.

“I grew up on Awrey’s cakes and pastries, so to be able to revive this brand and achieve the success we have in only one year is a great feeling,” McColgan said in a statement. “The efforts of the entire organization, from our front office to the factory, have been nothing short of phenomenal. Be it through traditional favorites like our chocolate ripple cakes, Date Nut cookies, Long John Coffee Cake or our new gluten-free products, we look forward to keeping Awrey’s a household name for many years to come.”

In November 2012, then-Awrey’s President and CEO Robert Wallace issued a layoff notice to the state, saying the employment of 157 bargaining unit employees and 46 non-bargaining unit employees would end by Feb. 9, 2013. A liquidation auction was to take place on Feb. 20, 2013, to sell off all of Awrey’s assets, but McColgan and Beebe were able to reach a deal late the night before.

The company has rebuilt its workforce almost from nothing.

When McColgan and Beebe took over, they had 11 employees. Today, they have 94, and expect to more than double that number in year two. A majority of the workforce — about 98 percent, McColgan says — are all former employees.

They’ve been able to re-sign customers, everything from small independent retailers to national names such as Kroger Inc. And McColgan said they’re close to signing a deal with Grand Rapids-based Meijer to be able to carry Awrey’s products in all their stores.

“The plant is operating 16 hours a day, five days a week,” McColgan said. “We have a lot of people at this company whose dad worked here and whose grandpa worked here.”

The company was also able to retain John Awrey, a fourth-generation member of the founding family, as director of sales.

The decision to diversify Awrey’s baking portfolio and add gluten-free items comes after reviewing national studies showing the popularity of such items.

“We intend to produce very healthy food at this plant,” Beebe said.

The owners don’t believe the new products will hurt production of Awrey’s original lineup of baked goods.

“We are not a bakery,” McColgan said. “We are a production facility.”

Detroit-based Sanders Chocolates has used Awrey’s to produce its signature bumpy cakes and other sweets for years, and would have had to hop to another baker had the company closed. But Diane Lynch, Sanders’ sales and marketing manager, said they’re producing more product than ever before.

“We gave them their first purchase order as a new company and we’re working with them on projects every week,” she said. For a company to have lost everything and be right down to the wire, to be turning around and getting new customers...the future looks very bright.”

Lynch said Awrey’s now produces both chocolate and vanilla bumpy cakes, three types of brownies and a new caramel bumpy cake. Other new products should be released later this year, she said.

“Having the Awrey‘s brand is huge,” she said. “It’s just like Sanders. We’re kind of like Coke and Pepsi.”

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