For Mark (Par) Grandinetti and Doyle Converse, it was like déjà vu all over again. Since the 1990s, the two had worked at Western Country Pies, the Salt Lake City bakery that was their base for more than a decade before it shut down in 2004.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the March 2008Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery issue. Dan Malovany isSF&WB’s editor

For Mark (Par) Grandinetti and Doyle Converse, it was like déjà vu all over again. Since the 1990s, the two had worked at Western Country Pies, the Salt Lake City bakery that was their base for more than a decade before it shut down in 2004.

Less than three years later, in 2007, their new company, Rocky Mountain Pies, fired up production in the same facility, which was a shell of a building when they took it over. Today, the plant houses two lines that crank out a variety of cream, meringue, seasonal and fruit pies. Currently, 75 production workers - many of whom worked for Western Country Pies - operate on a single shift, producing an average of 25,000 to 30,000 pies a day.

Grandinetti, president, and Converse, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, expect to add another shift during the second half of this year. This move will reunite them with dozens more of the former co-workers who have expressed interest in coming back to the baking industry.

“With the exception of about five employees, all of the rest of them have been with us at least five years, and some of them have been with us for at least 20 years,” Grandinetti says, going back to when he and others cut their teeth in the pie industry by operating Marie Callendar Restaurant and Bakery franchises in the 1980s.

In many ways, the latest startup of the plant is almost a Goldilocks story for Grandinetti, Converse and the others who returned. At 75,000 square feet, the bakery is not too big and not too small.

Instead, Grandinetti describes the operation as just about right for an upstart company that established itself as a niche player in the pie category during its first year in existence and has doubled its business in its second year of operation. At full capacity, the bakery could crank out upward of 100,000 pies over three shifts. There also is room to add a third production line.

“We built this plant to grow by pressure,” he explains. “We didn’t build this big, 700,000-square-foot mausoleum that we have to fill up. We can go up and down real quick without huge overhead to maintain.”

Pies on the line

Production runs on one shift, five days a week, except during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, when the plant ramps up to full throttle. Ingredients and packaging, Doyle notes, are stored next door in a building that once housed production lines and warehousing for Western Country Pies. Each morning, plant workers bring over ingredients and materials that are needed to fulfill the day’s production schedule.

Pastry dough is mixed in a 700-pound double-arm mixer. Shells are baked upside down and between two pie tins in a revolving tray oven for about 35 minutes to reduce shrinkage caused by the high fat content. Volumes range from about 8,000 to 10,000 shells a day.

Bases, fillings and toppings are created in 300-gallon kettles located on a mezzanine floor. Fillings are made using a combination of slurry and individually quick frozen fruit.

The cream line can produce up to 35 pies a minute, depending on how complicated the product is to assemble. The fruit pie line can make up to 100 pumpkin pies a minute.

On the cream line, coconut base is initially deposited, followed by a full layer of whipped cream rosettes, and then finished with a second layer of whipped cream rosettes in the center of the pie. All of the depositors work simultaneously as the pie tins travel single-file down the line. At the end of the line, an employee visually inspects the pies and adds extra slices of decorative coconut. This hand application provides a bit of a homemade look to the product - a Rocky Mountain signature. The cream line also produces meringue pies.

On the fruit line, the pastry dough is hand-loaded into a hopper. After traveling through a roller former that shapes the dough into a brick, the flour-dusted pieces enter a reduction station where two sets of rollers flatten the dough into a thin, round piece. Three-spout depositors then drop the fruit filling into every other pie shell. The depositor hopper is located no more than 10 feet from the line to minimize damaging the fruit.

Down the line, bakers hand-apply the lattice in a criss-cross pattern. The fruit pies then receive a sugar-water glaze for browning and some final hand-crimping before lining up, 12 across, and being automatically loaded into the 85-foot direct-fired oven.

After unloading, the pies are placed into plastic trays and stacked up to 15 high for cooling. They’re stored in a 15,000-square-foot blast freezer until the products reach 30ºF, before being packaged in plastic trays with elegant black bottoms and clear plastic tops.

Two labels are adhered to the packages. The bottom contains the Nutrition Facts panel and other production-related information. The top may include a Rocky Mountain Pies label or one from an in-store bakery’s brand. The products are casepacked, palletized and shrink-wrapped before being stored in the bakery’s 500-pallet freezer or shipped to offsite storage

Looking ahead

Over the next year or so, the bakery plans to add a spiral freezing system to streamline production efficiencies. Rocky Mountain Pies also plans to install more revolving tray ovens as demand for pastry shells increases.

In the short run, the strategy is to get the second shift on board to meet anticipated demand for capacity including a co-packing arrangement on slate for 2009, as well as for strictly practical reasons, including maximizing oven time and enhancing the utilization rates of the make-up equipment.


Company: Rocky Mountain Pies

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Products:Frozen baked cream, meringue, fruit and other dessert pies

Plant size: 75,000 square feet

Number of employees: 75

Number of lines: Two full lines and two utility lines

Vice president of manufacturing: Doyle Converse