The sweet aroma of snack cakes should once again be permeating the air around the Dolly Madison plant in Columbus as Hostess Brands LLC prepares to relaunch production next month.
“We’ll be in production as we originally said by July,” said Hostess Brands LLC spokesman Michael Cramer, confirming workers are now getting the facility at 1969 Victory Drive ready to bake goods again, including testing equipment that has been idle since November.
“You’ve got to run and test product and train (workers) and all of that stuff,” Cramer said. “That would be the normal and natural thing to do is test your product and make sure the lines are running. We’ve been engaged in that process for a couple of months.”
The bakery had been quiet since its former owner, Dallas-based Hostess Brands Inc. closed its entire U.S. operation in November — factories, distribution centers and retail stores. In Columbus, that suddenly left 426 workers without a job and no severance pay.
Hostess Brands LLC, owned by investment firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co., purchased the local plant out of U.S. Bankrupty Court in April. The price tag was $410 million.
Hostess Brands Inc. — once known as Interstate Brands Corp. — sold the Columbus property to the acquiring companies for $4.4 million, according to city of Columbus real-estate transaction records.
Cramer declined to give few additional details about the Dolly Madison Bakery’s revival, including the number of employees now on site. The plant’s parking lot on Thursday was roughly half full with workers’ vehicles.
“We don’t give out employee counts as this is ever changing as we staff up,” he said. “We have given the city and state numbers that we believe we’ll get to over a couple years.”
That would be employing 200 people initially, then adding more to the payroll as business demand increases. Cramer in April said the local workforce could reach 300 eventually.
He also would not say what products the Columbus facility will be making. In the past, it has baked the popular Twinkies, Zingers and Ding Dongs snacks, along with Dolly Madison fruit pies, doughnuts and other cake products.
As for the retail stores that were shuttered several months ago, including the one fronting the bakery on Victory Drive, Cramer said they will “probably” be reopened at some point, although no timeline is yet available.
“We are very focused on getting these plants ready and able to produce quality products efficiently,” Cramer said. “Creating many jobs in the community is a thrilling and heartening byproduct of getting these plants up and running.”
Hostess Brands Inc., which suffered through two bankruptcy attempts to reorganize its finances, repeatedly waged a war of words with worker unions through the years. The labor union demanded protection for pay and benefits.
In particular, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) is scrutinizing the overall hiring process now. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits discrimination of potential hires against workers affiliated with a union.
“Our members provide immense value to the new ownership with decades of experience, expertise and training,” David Durkee, the union’s president, said in a recent statement. “Not only have our members produced these quality products for consumers for generations, they know these bakeries inside and out.”
Aside from the Hostess and Twinkies brands, Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers Foods purchased the bankrupt company’s bread line, including the popular Wonder Bread brand, for $360 million.