Livonia / MG. (ab) When Canadian farming foundered in the early 1900s, Fletcher Awrey immigrated to Michigan with hopes of finding work in the auto industry. Times here were also tough. To help the family get by, his wife, Elizabeth, began baking breads and pies to sell. They were good, really good, and word spread. The family eventually opened a little store. The rest is history – 100 years Awrey Bakeries LLC.
The Awrey´s name is among Detroit´s homegrown favorites such as Faygo, Sanders, Stroh´s, Vernor´s, Motown, Ford, Winkelman´s, Kowalski Sausage and Himelhoch´s. Some of those brands are still around, others fond memories. Awrey´s has survived and is adjusting as it prepares for its first expansion into the Canadian market this year. Awrey´s has sold more than 2,5 billion USD worth of breads, cakes, pies, brownies and, yep, its famous Long John Coffee Cake through the years as it has built its reputation as one of the largest privately owned baked-goods makers in the country.
Awrey was sold to Hilco Equity Management and Monomoy Capital Partners five years ago and is run by Bob Wallace, who took over 14 months ago. «They carried the company through 95 years and four generations», Wallace said of the Awrey family. Wallace took time during February´s celebration with invited business and political leaders to laud the contributions of Bob Awrey, who turned 85 in March. He is the grandson of the founder. He ran the business for 56 years and, with his wife, Betty Jean, helped the business expand, before they left when the company sold. A few Awrey relatives remain, though none in executive positions.
Awrey´s has been in Livonia since the 1970s and has a plant with 300 employees who make baked goods for restaurants, hotels, retailers and the military. An outlet store open to the public rang up 1,5 million USD in sales last year. The company had 600 Teamsters-represented employees during the 1950s. Tom Awrey, who was Fletcher´s son and Bob´s father, ran the company when it negotiated with Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa. «They did it on a handshake», said Betty Jean Awrey, who worked at the firm for 40 years. «I told people to call me Betty Jean so no one knew I was the boss´ wife», she said about working behind the store counter.
Wallace came to Awrey´s after a successful career in the bakery industry in Canada and the United States. He is a past chairman of the Canadian National Flour Millers Association and the Minnesota-Canada Business Council. Awrey´s is again growing and last summer acquired Atkins Elegant Desserts of Noblesville, Indiana – see also «Monomoy buys Atkins in partnership With Hilco» (2009-05-30).