An Officer and His Breadmen

By Dan Malovany

As demand for its ‘breads of distinction’ grows, Hudson Bread turns to experts in the industry to develop the best ways to automate the art of baking.

Mariusz Kolodziej had seen it too many times before, and he was determined to make sure it didn’t happen to him.
“You have these start-up bakeries that set out with a quality product, and as time moves forward and production increases, the quality is sacrificed for volume,” he says. “I was determined never to grow without a plan for keeping quality my first priority, even if there were increasing costs to my production.”
Fourteen years ago, Kolodziej decided to fulfill his dream of opening an artisan bakery called Hudson Bread. Located near the Hudson River on the outskirts of New York City, the small operation soon developed a reputation for producing freshly baked, traditional artisan breads for many prominent restaurants and hotels in the Big Apple and New Jersey, as well as for a variety of gourmet eateries, local bistros and other foodservice venues throughout the market.
It’s not surprising that Kolodziej pursued his dream. Although an attorney by trade, his father operated several bakeries in his native Poland. The business, he likes to say, is in his blood.
However, as the bakery’s reputation grew, so did Hudson Bread. Three years ago, Kolodziej moved the operation into a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility in North Bergen, N.J. To serve its customers in Philadelphia with fresh breads and rolls, the intermediate wholesale baking company also opened a 15,000-sq.-ft. shop in Cherry Hill, N.J., called Hudson Bread South.
A graduate of the Naval Academy, Kolodziej likes to run his company like a tight ship. However, with sales flourishing, its customers’ needs expanding and the operations becoming more intricate, Kolodziej took a long hard look at the evolving landscape and developed a plan to bring aboard his team of specialists in the production of baked goods.
In 2006, he hired Wolfgang Scharinger as vice president of production. With an engineering background, Scharinger oversees the technical aspects of the bakery. A native of Austria, he grew up in a family bakery and later worked as a technician for a major European equipment supplier, specializing in the development of artisan bakery lines.
Then, last year, Hudson Bread hired Ray Million as vice president of operations and head of research & development. A culinary graduate and journeyman baker with 25 years in the industry, Million had worked for everything from local restaurants and small pastry and bread operations to a wholesale commissary serving a supermarket’s in-store bakery chain. Million’s expertise complements Scharinger’s because it involves developing artisan-style products and taking them into production with a mixture of handcrafting and automation.
With Scharinger and Million onboard, Kolodziej says he can focus on expanding the company with such projects as the Breadman Bakery & Café concept. (See “The Breadman Cometh.”)
“Without them, I couldn’t do it all,” Kolodziej says. “They take care of the day-to-day operation. Wolfgang has the technical experience, and Ray brings the organization and product development expertise. It’s the best combination.”
An Armada of Products
Each day, Hudson Bread, a division of Prestige Baking, produces more than 300 products, including 12 varieties of baguettes, eight types of ficelle and 29 different dinner rolls, as well as dozens of varieties of artisan sandwich breads, focaccia, Pullman loaves, soup sticks, boules, freeform bread, lavash, crisps and breadsticks. All the products are delivered fresh daily and not frozen.
“There are too many bakers in the frozen market,” Kolodziej notes. “Before, there were just a handful of them. Right now, every baker who has a little space is installing a freezer.”
Hudson Bread’s top-selling products are its multigrain offerings and its signature pockets, which are 6-in. pieces of soft dough filled and smothered with either onion or olives along with a smattering of Parmesan cheese.
“We generally try to target customers across the board,” he says. “With the variety of items that we offer, we try to accommodate everyone.”
For instance, the bakery serves a number of top-line chefs who were born and trained in Europe, and have come to New York to become stars on the restaurant scene by featuring specialties from their homeland.
“These chefs are introducing artisan breads to consumers,” Kolodziej explains. “Any new chef wants to have the best breads to put his name on the map. Manhattan is the capital of whatever happens in this country. Bread is the first thing you see on the table when you come to a restaurant, so the bread basket has to be better than a neighboring restaurant.”
Hudson Bread, Million adds, is concerned with maintaining the integrity of its product line as the company expands. To produce Old World-style breads the right way, bakers need to focus on the quality and tradition that made their business successful in the first place. Over the years, he says, the industry as a whole has overused the term “artisan” so that it lost a lot of its meaning. Even fast food chains are featuring sandwiches made with their own version of artisan breads and rolls.
“In the ‘70s and ‘80s, when we were rediscovering the benefits of baking with wood in the oven and using natural yeast-sour-based cultures to develop bread, we set out to do what man did a 1,000 or more years ago, and we coined it ‘artisan’ baking,” Million says. “We branded it as ‘artisan,’ meaning the way people baked before. Then we Wonder-breaded them in the ‘90s. We forced technology into production, and we made a soul-less loaf of bread again.
“Here, we want to continue to develop a prestigious product with technology that gives us an advantage, but still keeps the Old World-style of production,” he explains. “We have to be careful about what we do and how we do it so the stages of growth are more controlled at this point. Our responsibility is to increase controls and maintain quality. We don’t ever want to sacrifice what we do for mass production.”
Now, he says, is the perfect opportunity for Hudson Bread to ratchet up the quality of its products even further.
“The trend again is to develop a well-balanced product with the right crust, crumb and flavor again,” he notes. “It’s a big cycle.”
No Bread Before its Time
Automating artisan baking isn’t necessarily an oxymoron, as long as critical elements of the process are preserved. For Hudson Bread, this means making sure that time is on its side.
“The key is following proper fermentation prior to processing to ensure that the functionality of the dough matches the equipment without the internal structure being damaged,” Million says.
Fermentation may take place right after mixing, using a poolish, a whole wheat sour or other preferment. Or, if there is a shorter fermentation period during the initial stage of the process, the products may spend a longer time in the retarder. Ciabatta, for instance, is retarded for 10-12 hours, while traditional sours ferment up to 18-24 hours, and brioche is developed for up to 24 hours.
Ultimately, the goal with automating artisan bread is to use technology not only to boost capacity, but also to add consistency and provide controls, Scharinger says. Consistency, he adds, doesn’t mean producing cookie cutter products. In fact, many products require some handcrafting. For example, signature items like the bakery’s onion or olive pocket still are folded and shaped by hand.
Rather, Hudson Bread accomplished its three objectives by automating ingredient handling, which provides front-end controls to the entire process.
Bulk flour is held in two 75,000-lb. silos, and whole wheat is stored in a 10,000-lb. silo. Flour use fluctuates from 200,000 to 250,000 lb. a week. Located on a mezzanine level to maximize use of floor space, the minor ingredient-handling system consists of 16 different-sized bins for dry ingredients such as rye, malt, pumpernickel and potato flour. Eggs, yeast, milk and oil come in 850-lb. tanks. Hudson Bread makes its liquid yeast from compressed yeast. An ice machine and a glycol water chiller system provide temperature controls
Overall, two shifts of 18 employees each produce 40,000 lb. to 45,000 lb. of product six days a week using just two 550-lb. spiral mixers. On Sunday, the bakery makes about 30,000 lb. to 35,000 lb. of product.
Hudson Bread also has two 2,000-liter tanks for its poolish and a natural wheat sour. These preferments, which are made the day before they’re used, have a 12-hour maturation cycle. Million notes that they add to the flavor profile, crust development and tenderness to the crumb. A computer monitors the different stages of sour production, including when to add flour, water and other ingredients, and when to lower temperatures to create a more consistent product day after day, Scharinger says. Typically, the bakery uses about 6,000 lb. of poolish and sour daily.
Ingredient dispensing also is computer-controlled. To create a batch — which generally averages a relatively small 400-450 lb. to keep the dough fresh and consistent — operators at each mixer station select the formula. Then, the computer automatically calls for the appropriate ingredients from the various silos, bins and tanks into a holding tank that weighs each ingredient to ensure it’s accurately loaded.
The plant houses four versatile lines that range from semi- to fully automated. Line 1, for instance, is one of the most automated and can produce up to 8,000 1.5-oz. rolls an hour or 1,000 22-in. baguettes or 800 lb. of ciabatta hourly.
After mixing, the bowl is automatically elevated, and the dough is dumped onto a transfer belt prior to entering a reduction station that creates an endless 15-in. wide dough sheet. No chunking is involved. The dough then passes through a second station where it’s paddled gently like a person’s fingers to level and spread it into a sheet without degassing it. Minimizing stress during makeup is another key to producing open-cell or European-style breads and rolls. After the sheet is trimmed, dough pieces are scaled by weight rather than size, because the amount of air in the dough varies from product to product. It’s then guillotined.
Next, the strips of dough pass through a station that has up to six square forming shells or rounding cups to shape the pieces. Baguettes skip the rounder and head into a sheeter, curling chain and stretching station where the top belt runs in the opposite direction of the bottom one to elongate the pieces. After passing through a second curling chain, aligner and seeder, if needed, the pieces head over a retracting belt and onto semolina-dusted peelboards.
Just after SF&WB’s visit last fall, Hudson Bread was adding a bowl elevator to Line 2, which has a four-pocket divider that can create 8,200 pieces an hour. Line 3 is a smaller version of Line 1 and produces sheeted products at a rate of up to 6,000 pieces an hour. The line can create up to five rows of round or square products, depending on their size. Line 4 is a small no-stress line that produces 1,000 lb. of focaccia, boules and products such as the olive or onion pockets that are then hand shaped to form their unique shape.
Hurry Up and Wait
Currently, the facility has a 50-rack walk-in proofer and three retarders. Million says it’s not unusual to proof racks of baked goods such as French rolls for 30 minutes and then put them in a retarder set at 40°F for eight hours to develop the products’ full-bodied flavor. At the start the New Year, Hudson Bread is scheduled to install a 500-rack computerized combination proofer and retarder system that’s three times the size as its existing one.
About 60% of the bakery’s volume is baked on four, four-deck ovens outfitted with an automatic loading-and-unloading system. These all-natural products include sourdough baguettes, French rolls, ciabatta and freeform breads like raisin, rye, marble and country loaves. Most of Hudson Bread’s products have a shelf life of one day, although some heartier products may last longer with proper handling. In fact, items such as French or Italian rolls are baked shortly after midnight for shipping at 2 a.m. The plant also bakes products in five double-rack ovens.
Although its ingredient system can handle a 30% increase in volume, the company is evaluating its current sour and poolish systems to determine if the operation needs to add another tank to handle future demand for its products.
During the last few years, automation has resulted in labor savings, but the company’s workforce remains stable at 90 employees. The bakery’s skilled staff simply is reassigned to new projects developed in-house, Kolodziej says. The company continues to reorganize as new technology is installed and new processes are implemented. For example, the plant is in the process of developing a Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Process (HAACP) plan, which should be effective in the near future.
With its crew in shape, the focus now is on expanding sales within the tri-state area where Hudson Bread operates. Million likes the direction in which the proverbial ship is heading.
“Now is the opportunity to make a really artisan product,” he says. “That’s what our customers want. There are just so many products in the market now that some people simply just want a good loaf of bread.”
That’s why the company creates “Breads of Distinction” that are being served onboard an increasing number of fine establishments along the East Coast. SF&WB
At a Glance
Company: Hudson Bread, a division of Prestige Baking
Headquarters: North Bergen, N.J.
Facilities: Main facility is a 60,000-sq.-ft. plant in North Bergen serving New York City, New Jersey and parts of southern Connecticut. Also operates a 15,000-sq.-ft. satellite bakery in Cherry Hill, N.J., serving Philadelphia.
No. of Employees: 90
Products: Wide variety of artisan breads and rolls, traditional French and Italian offerings, and an assortment of European specialty breads.
Key Personnel
President: Mariusz Kolodziej
V.P. Production: Wolfgang Scharinger
V.P of Operations/R&D: Ray Million
The Breadman Cometh
Hudson Bread’s parent company, Prestige Baking, just opened its prototype Breadman Bakery & Café, located adjacent to its plant in North Bergen, N.J. The concept is sort of a hybrid between Panera Bread and Starbucks, but with a European flair.
The establishment offers Hudson’s artisan bread and rolls, as well as sandwiches made to order, fresh daily soups and salads, along with a sizeable dessert offering. Over the New Year, Breadman Bakery & Cafe plans to start up three franchised units in Manhattan, five in New Jersey and one in Philadelphia.
Unlike other chains, each Breadman Bakery & Café will be tailored to the neighborhood where it is located to avoid the “cookie-cutter approach,” says Hudson Bread president Mariusz Kolodziej, who developed the concept along with Ray Million, vice president of operations/R&D.
“With these stores, we can expose our products to the public,” Kolodziej says. “Right now, we’re a wholesale operation. This is a way to reach the end-user.”
It’s also a way, he adds, to get feedback on new products.
Delivery on Demand
When Marisz Kolodziej says Hudson Bread delivers, he’s not kidding. Most of his customers receive fresh-baked artisan breads and rolls two to three times a day.
For some of its upscale accounts in New York City, including several of the Big Apple’s top hotels, restaurants, caterers and gourmet shops, the bakery’s distributors make the eight-mile trek from the company’s plant in North Bergen, N.J., up to four times a day.
That means before the crack of dawn for the earliest risers, as well as before traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner times.
“When the product leaves the oven, it’s practically on the table a half-hour later,” says Kolodziej, president of the company.
To distinguish itself from the competition in one of the nation’s most competitive markets, Kolodziej knows that the most effective marketing campaign is to combine the best possible quality with the best possible service.
“You can produce gold here, but if you don’t deliver it on time, it doesn’t mean anything,” he explains.