Baking Bonanza

Metropolitan Baking Co. in Hamtramck continues to expand locally while focusing on national growth. // Photographs by Josh Scott
George Kordas
Metropolitan Baking Co. President George Kordas can not only observe his operation from his office, he can open a window and grab a bun off the production line for a taste test.

Metropolitan Baking Co. in Hamtramck is a bakery that would make automotive pioneer Henry Ford proud.

After being baked hundreds at a time in huge ovens, buns, rolls, and loaves of bread travel hundreds of feet along conveyors to automated packaging areas. Employees then fill boxes and racks with wrapped finished products.

If digital mapping systems can’t provide directions to what is an almost 80-year-old, family-run enterprise, the smell of baking bread will do the trick. The company’s client roster includes sports venues, restaurants, schools, universities, hospitals, grocery stores, fast food franchises, and even 7-Eleven stores.

More specifically, Metropolitan Baking Co., led by third-generation baker George Kordas, supplies Ford Field, Comerica Park, Little Caesars Arena, Corewell Health’s Beaumont hospitals, and almost all the Coney Island restaurants in Detroit.

“You’ve got to be able to handle that chili,” Kordas says. “You don’t want the bun falling apart on you. We formulated that product to sit on the steam table. It can’t get mushy. That’s kind of been our flagship on the bun and roll line.”

The bakery also supplies the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and more than 300 school districts throughout Michigan.

“If you’re eating within a couple hundred miles of here on the food service side, restaurants, schools, or institutions, there’s a good chance at least one of our products is going to be in that location,” Kordas says. He adds the company is “busting at the seams.”

To alleviate that situation, Metropolitan Baking Co. currently is expanding. It’s adding 35,000 square feet to its current 110,000-square-foot production facility. The expansion, which started in October, is expected to cost $15 million by the time it’s completed this summer.

“It’s fully family funded,” Kordas says. “No debt.”

The company also declined to take advantage of city-offered tax abatements over the years, preferring to contribute fully to Hamtramck’s fiscal stability.

The latest expansion is the company’s fifth or sixth, according to Kordas, who notes that at one point there were more than 30 homes around the bakery that were purchased to facilitate the growing business.

bread production line
Metropolitan Baking Co.’s products start as 1,600-pound mixtures before being cut, shaped, baked, cooled, and packaged along the company’s production line.

“Believe me, that last home on the block became very expensive,” he says with a chuckle.
The latest addition will increase Metropolitan Baking’s bun and roll production by 35 to 40 percent, which will allow it to add to its customer base.

“(The addition) will have a whole new bun and roll line, with brand-new, fully automated, state-of-the-art equipment,” Kordas says. “We have a few national accounts that are waiting for us to complete the addition.”

Metropolitan Baking Co. already bakes buns for the New York Yankees, Cleveland’s Guardians and Browns, and Cincinnati’s Reds and Bengals.

To meet the needs of these and other customers, Kordas and his 110 employees produce 110 million packages of bread, rolls, and buns per year, using some 600,000 pounds of flour per week. Flour is shipped by rail from North Dakota to a Detroit terminal. From there, it’s transferred into 50,000-pound tanker trucks, which deliver flour to the Hamtramck bakery where it’s blown into one of four 140,000-pound-capacity silos two times daily.

Between 110 and 125 independent distributors sell and deliver more than 200 different finished products that range from several varieties of bread to hot dog and hamburger buns, and dinner rolls, among others.

In addition to supplying the food service industry, the company sells its products — under the Kordas label — in Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, between 400 and 500 independent grocery stores, and Michigan’s 7-Eleven stores.

“That’s a small percent of our business, maybe 10 percent,” Kordas says. “We tend to be behind the scenes.”

A key factor in Metropolitan Baking Co.’s success is maintaining quality as well as high-volume output.

“It’s critical,” Kordas explains. “It’s about the equipment we’re purchasing. We have some dividers that separate ingredients to a fraction of an ounce. It’s the individuals that we employ; their expertise is phenomenal. We have bakers who have been here for 30 to 40 years. We have quality control specialists who are renowned in the industry.”

He also says the recipes and quality control are vital.

“The formula is critical, and we follow our formulas to a T,” Kordas says. “It’s not like plastic injection molding. This is a live product. You have yeast in the product. It has to feed on the sugar in the proof box. If you don’t have the right amount of yeast, the product won’t rise. When you’re running that high of volume, you’re always going to have scrap.”

Forgotten Harvest and the Salvation Army are the beneficiaries of some of the company’s less-than-perfect products.

Metropolitan Baking Co. doesn’t stop at serving local markets, schools, and sports stadiums. It has contracts to supply Five Guys, Red Robin, and Chick-fil-A restaurants in Michigan, all of which require their bread products to look and taste a certain way.

“You have to meet certain specifications,” Kordas says. “They’ll have technicians in here before the account starts for four months, non-stop. They want to make sure that product is formulated right, and looks exactly like the product in every other location. We’ll produce tests upon tests to prove to them that we can produce that product.”

To service customers like Caesar’s Palace on the Las Vegas Strip, more than 480 Bob Evans locations, and brioche buns for Bobby Flay’s restaurants, Metropolitan Baking has adopted a blast-freezing strategy.

Hot dog buns and bread are air-cooled on a belt that goes around the bakery (above and below). Kordas breaks into a fresh loaf (below). Bread is automatically sliced and packaged (bottom).

“My team, working with other titans of the industry, has figured out how to produce product in cases, blast-freeze those products, put them on refrigerated trucks, and send them to gross distribution centers,” Kordas explains. “Now we can canvass the entire country with our products, which has given us a whole new customer base.”

At first glance, freezing bread products would seem to work against a restaurant serving the highest-quality product. Not so, Kordas says.

“If you do it right, you’re going to blast-freeze that product within an hour of its being made, and you’re going to have no idea it was frozen once that product is thawed,” he explains. “More customers than not are going that route and these are major, national restaurant chains. And that’s based on keeping the product uniform.”

Metropolitan Baking also works with other regional bakers to help expansion efforts for itself and its partners.

“We all make different products,” Kordas says. “We buy some of theirs and they buy some of ours, so we’re not stepping on anyone’s toes. In addition, when you’re courting some of these national accounts, you need to be third-party authenticated, and fully safety-certified and monitored.”

Part of that certification involves conducting regular recall drills, even though the Hamtramck operation has never had a recall.

The company’s devotion to quality goes back to its founding in 1945, when Kordas’ grandfather, originally a Ford car salesman who was very successful in the Greek community, invested in a little Hamtramck bakery that occupied two homes with a garage in back.

“It wasn’t automated,” Kordas says. “They were making product by hand, but he always wanted to sell to the wholesale market.”

Early customers were other area wholesale bakers and some smaller restaurants around town.

Kordas’ father, Jim, took over the business in the mid- to late ’60s and began to automate the processes. He also started the company’s expansion movement.

Kordas, who was a member of the DBusiness 30 in Their Thirties class of 2016, started working in the family business the summer after his sophomore year in high school and was employed every summer from that time until his graduation from the University of Colorado with a degree in economics in 2005.

“It was about a week after graduation and I was hanging out with my buddies having the time of my life and my dad said, ‘Time to get to work. You’re in the mixing room at 1:30 a.m.’ That was an aggressive transition.”

Despite that conversation, Kordas says he’s always wanted to work for the company. “I realized I had a fantastic opportunity that not many individuals have, and decided it was something I wanted to focus on — to be someone who can really grow the business and take it to whole new levels.”

Sidebar – The Rundown

  • 110 million: Packages of bread, rolls, and buns produced every year.
  • 30 Million: Pounds of flour used every year.
  • 1,600 pounds: Weight of one pre-baked batch of bread, rolls, and buns.
  • $15 million: Cost of ongoing 35,000-square-foot expansion project.

Source: Metropolitan Baking Co.