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REGIONALREPORT Western

Baking his way to the top as fast as he can

Annie’s Bakery Inc. is expanding faster than a loaf of semolina sesame bread — one of its specialties — left to rise in a warm spot. Giuseppe “Joe” Ritota incorporated the company in 2001, when he and his wife, Annie McKenzie, opened a 3,500-square-foot cafe and bakery in Sylva. “I was baking for friends and whatnot,” the fourth-generation baker says. Today, the company is a growing wholesaler providing organic bread to about 150 clients in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia. It supplies restaurants, including the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Asheville, and grocery stores, such as Black Mountain-based Ingles Markets Inc. and Matthews-based Harris Teeter Inc., a new account as of this month.

The rapid growth began in 2005, when Ritota got the Ingles in Sylva to carry Annie’s Naturally, his company’s wholesale brand. Adding that store increased sales only 2%, but it gave Annie’s a presence at a large retailer. Soon, it was supplying 17 Ingles. But its small bakery in Sylva, which produces 600 loaves a day, stymied growth. That changed in April with the opening of a 21,000-square-foot bakery in Asheville in the former Square D Co. manufacturing plant. Annie’s, which is leasing the building, spent more than $500,000 on renovations. A West Virginia investment fund contributed $250,000, Mountain BizWorks Inc., an Asheville community-development lender, provided $280,000, and private investors and family also chipped in. Annie’s now makes about 4,000 loaves a day and supplies 10 more Ingles.

In the next few months, the bakery will add $250,000 of equipment, allowing it to begin “par baking,” making partially baked bread, which is frozen, baked when needed and served or sold fresh. That could improve sales 20% to 30% a year, Ritota says, because it can be sold over a wider area since it won’t go stale. The new bakery will also improve distribution, as Annie’s four 16-foot delivery trucks will be about an hour closer to the company’s biggest clients, including the three Harris Teeter stores in Asheville it entered this month.

Revenue has increased about 30% annually over the last five years, reaching about $2 million in 2011. He anticipates hiring more employees this year, going from 32 to about 50 by fall. But expansion has meant sacrifice: It shuttered its Sylva cafe in November, which means locals can no longer buy Annie’s sandwiches or wedding cakes. “It’s part of letting go,” Ritota says. “What we’re really growing toward is the wholesale business.”

 

$62 million

Consumer spending on locally grown food in 2010 in Buncombe, Madison, Henderson, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, a fourfold increase from 2007.
Source: Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

 

“This isn’t Charlotte. We’re not Winnipeg. We’re Asheville.”

— Mark Bloom criticizing the City Council’s decision to change the name of Asheville Civic Center to U.S. Cellular Center (in exchange for $810,000 over five years) because it erases the city’s name from one of its landmarks. The sponsorship will allow Asheville to renovate the building.
Source: Mountain Xpress

 

 

MARION— Baldor Electric, which designs and makes industrial motors, transmission parts and other products, plans to add 41 jobs at its plant here during the next three years. The Fort Smith, Ark.-based company has more than 750 employees at its factories in Weaverville, Kings Mountain and here. The jobs will pay $35,322, higher than McDowell County’s average of $29,224.

WAYNESVILLE— Sonoco Plastics is investing $11.7 million to expand its manufacturing operation here in the next three years. It will create 35 jobs that pay $35,264 annually, more than the Haywood County average of $29,276. The Hartsville, S.C.-based company produces packaging and paper products

ASHEVILLE— Clinton, Mass.-based Nypro plans to add 26 employees to its factory here this year, increasing its local workforce to more than 300. It is also investing $7.2 million in new machinery and equipment for the plant. The company produces products for the medical, electronics and packaging industries.

MARION— McDowell County commissioners voted to buy the former Universal Bedroom Furniture factory for $2.6 million. The 400,000-square-foot plant and 315 acres of surrounding land will allow McDowell Technical Community College to expand and provide space for small businesses once the purchase is finalized early this year.