TAYLOR, MI — Things move pretty fast at Michigan Bread.

The company went from three employees with no bakery training to nearly 150 on the payroll in less than a decade — and that was just the pacesetter.

While it’s true that growth skyrocketed quickly for this distributor-turned-bakery in 2010, that doesn’t mean it was easy to achieve. For Spiros Assimacopoulos, Michigan Bread’s president and CEO, success has come from a commitment to making strategic, oftentimes difficult, decisions and learning from them along the way.

“For our distribution company, the business model was all about service, relationships and then price,” Assimacopoulos recalled of the original company that was started by his father, George, and later merged with a then-competitor, Mike Sanfilippo (now Michigan Bread’s VP of sales). “At certain points — specifically in 2008 — price took precedent over relationships or service. So, the best way to create a sustainable business was to make the product the star. Our goal was to create products that were differentiated and would sell themselves.”


In just under a dozen years, Michigan Bread has expanded, evolved and survived a pandemic in one of the hardest-hit regions of the country. And it’s all been done through relentless bootstrapping, relationship building and a commitment to a craft this team might have been born for.

Assimacopoulos may insist he’s a salesman before he’s a baker, but he walks the walk of those in the whites, especially on the floor of Michigan Bread’s 72,000-sq-ft. facility located in Taylor, MI, just outside of Detroit.

“We will never stray from prefermentation,” he said of the bakery’s artisan process that has recently taken big steps toward automation. “The types of products we’re proud to make — and that will be successful in the market — require biga, poolish or sourdough. I don’t know how to make good bread without it.”

Michigan Bread’s starters, including the sourdough’s 7-year-old mother dough “Christine” (named after a QA specialist from the bakery’s early days) are refreshed daily, and they ferment for up to 24 hours before they’re used the following day on Koenig stress-free sheeting lines and roll makeup lines. These create a variety of products that are sold as nearly 300 SKUs to customers in 18 states throughout the Midwest, Florida and Georgia, and as far west as Colorado and the Dakotas.

“At certain points — specifically in 2008 — price took precedent over relationships or service. So, the best way to create a sustainable business was to make the product the star. Our goal was to create products that were differentiated and would sell themselves.” —Spiros Assimacopoulos | president and CEO | Michigan Bread


With about 80% of the business going to foodservice customers through broadline distribution channels, Michigan Bread has ramped up production. The bakery projected a 50% sales increase over 2019, and by mid-year had nearly reached that goal at 40%. To keep up, it installed an 80-ft. remanufactured WP Bakery Systems cyclothermic tunnel oven.

After years of baking with 17 Koenig gas-fired rack ovens, seven Miwe ­thermal-oil wagon ovens and two ­thermal-oil deck ovens — a signature process for Michigan Bread — this tunnel oven will change the game for efficiency upstream and downstream and unlock potential on the makeup line, too. In many ways, it will serve as “the great equalizer,” as Assimacopoulos put it, to harmonize the flow of production.

“We had certain constraints in the process that kept us from fully utilizing the makeup line as it was intended,” he said. For example, the changeovers that came with moving racks and baking wagons in and out of the ovens significantly limited throughput for products such as sub sandwich rolls.

“The tunnel oven will double output by removing bottlenecks — allowing for longer runs of SKUs — while eliminating several steps of manual handling,” he added. “We are saving more than six hours of downtime a week by eliminating changeovers alone, just on one line.”


Before the tunnel oven, the plant had been producing about 50,000 lbs. of bread a day on one shift running five days a week. Today, although a second shift may be added to keep the bread running through the oven, throughput has increased without requiring the bakery to work on the weekend.

Despite the bounty of benefits, not every product was meant to run through the tunnel. The thermal oil technology is still a critical part of the process.

“Thermal oil bakes with radiant heat,” Assimacopoulos said. “The absence of turbulence leads to a gentler heat transmission, so we’re able to use less yeast and achieve improved oven spring, ­resulting in a deck-oven quality bake from a rack oven, which creates a point of difference in our products.”

To further improve efficiency without sacrificing that trademark bake, Michigan Bread took the plunge and purchased a second tunnel oven designed with thermal oil heat technology.

“We’ll do extensive testing to make sure we can get the same quality on the WP tunnel oven for the hearth products,” Sanfilippo said. “If we can’t get it, we’ll keep making artisan bread in the deck ovens until the second tunnel oven is commissioned.”

Waiting on the second installation, signature 3-lb. artisan loaves will remain in the deck ovens, which will also be used for specialty orders and product testing.

But adding the ovens was just the beginning. Automation is coming for oven loading on both tunnels as well as racetrack coolers to quickly send product downstream toward packaging in the 12,000 square feet the bakery added to the operation after taking over the neighboring space last year.

Even after the finished product leaves the bakery, the “more with less” model is improving life for the distribution leg of the company, as well.

“We don’t look at growth just in terms of volume; we focus on customers that match our value proposition so we can be as efficient as possible,” said Andy Assimacopoulos, Michigan Bread VP. “We’ve changed the kinds of products we deliver and focus on value-added items. This efficiency benefits not only the bakery, but the warehouse and drivers as well.”

Read more about Michigan Bread in the October | Q4 issue of Commercial Baking. Photos by Liz Goodwin.