Artisanal baker Slow Dough Bread Co. has already had an eventful last 12 months between expanding into Austin and opening its first retail outpost, Slow Dough Bake Shop, as part of popular Midtown restaurant Weights + Measures, but the company is poised for even more growth in the months to come.
The company recently completed a year-long negotiation with organic grocer Whole Foods Market to purchase the company's 40,000-square-foot production kitchen and bakery. Located at the intersection of the Sam Houston Tollroad and US 59, the facility is almost three times the size of Slow Dough's current, 15,000-square-foot facility on Westpark. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
Acquiring the Whole Foods facility immediately increases Slow Dough's retail presence, which will grow to 38 grocery stores spread across Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
"We’re taking over their entire commissary and all their existing equipment," Slow Dough owner and fifth-generation baker Heath Wendell tells CultureMap. "They built it in 2007. They equipped it very nicely."
Acquiring the Whole Foods facility immediately increases Slow Dough's retail presence, which will grow to 38 grocery stores spread across Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. The increased capacity will also benefit the bakery's partnership with food service company Ben E. Keith and allow it to increase distribution in Austin and move into San Antonio.
Perhaps no one in the city is more qualified to assist Wendell with the move than Slow Dough director of operations Thomas Massey, who spent five years managing the facility for Whole Foods before moving to Slow Dough two years ago.
Wendell explains that one of the new facility's big advantages is the ability to control the temperature in each separate area of the building: dough room, ovens, packaging areas, etc.
"We like to proof things slowly. In the Houston heat, it’s challenging at times," Wendell explains. "We’ll have a much more controlled process, which improves our quality immensely."
Massey notes that another advantage to the move is that the building has a full building generator. "In the event of a hurricane or storm, we’re taken care of completely, automatically. You’ll never even know the power goes down," he says.
The expanded space and additional kitchen equipment means that some of the pastry items Slow Dough has showcased at Weights + Measures will be added to the company's wholesale lineup.
"We’re going to add an entire pastry program, which will be croissants, Danish, cookies, muffins, possibly muffins and cakes. That’s going to be exciting as well," Wendell notes.
"We’re going to add an entire pastry program, which will be croissants, Danish, cookies, muffins, possibly muffins and cakes. That’s going to be exciting as well," Wendell notes. Donuts, however, will remain a Weights + Measures exclusive due to the way fry oil can in a production facility can affect the taste of other products.
No matter what additional products Slow Dough sells or how much it expands into retail, Wendell wants to assure the restaurants who have been his customers from day one that he's still focused on them. Slow Dough will continue to use the same, all-natural ingredients and recipes that have helped it grow during its six years of existence. The new facility is also HACCP-compliant, which Wendell cites as a quality-control and documentation regimen to ensure proper procedures are followed at all times.
"Our motto is keep it real and go big. We’re keeping it real. We’re not going to allow this to change our methodology. We still recognize that we have 150 bosses on the street that we report to. That’s our chefs who are our customers," Wendell says. "We’re still at their disposal. This is something we can expand and have even more bosses. I wouldn’t mind having 1,000 bosses a day calling me up to talk about bread. I think that would be an awesome day."
Slow Dough's existing employees will move to the new facility. Wendell says he'll retain some of the existing Whole Foods employees to help grow the business, but he isn't ready to commit to a number. "We’re going to interview everybody," Wendell states. "We definitely have strong interest in their sanitation program, their maintenance team and the HACCP team. We’ll know more about that when we start going through the interview process."
Whole Foods provided its employees with the required 60-day notice on May 1. Slow Dough assumes control on July 1. From there, the sky's the limit, but Slow Dough will remain true to its principles.
"We’re going to stay true to what we started six years ago," Wendell says. "That’s not changing. If that changes, I’m out. I’m all about who we are and how we do it."