ST. LOUIS — The staff at Companion Baking, known for their artisan breads and specialty sweet goods, don’t like saying no.

When Josh Allen, the company’s founder, or Josh Galliano, innovation leader and QA manager, are faced with logistical challenges or customer requests, they get it done through determination, semi-automation and of course, using the magic word ‘yes.’

Galliano said that he and his team use that mentality as a tool for bringing customer needs to life. These days, that might mean simply getting any available bread delivered so restaurant and retail customers can keep their heads above water amid pandemic-related stresses.


“That’s really important because when we can send out a life raft to help our customers just tread water, they know we can keep going with them,” Galliano said. “Then, when those customers are ready to innovate, they know we can help. That’s how we make small, incremental changes that result in big impacts.”

Companion Baking most effectively innovates through collaboration with its own supplier network. With AB Mauri located just 20 minutes down the road, the team can troubleshoot anything from formulating problems such as product performance and shelf life, to optimal mix times for dough development.

“Their technicians and engineers have great institutional knowledge,” Galliano said. “They’ve helped us streamline our processes, and that ensures our bakers are using their time wisely.”

With a semi-automated operation that produces about 60 batches a day, five days a week, Companion Baking can make around 150 different SKUs, including a variety of custom bread products and a few specialty sweet goods like brownies, gooey butter cake and frozen cookie pucks. And it all happens in view of its adjoining café’s guests on the other side of windowed walls.


“With semi-automation, the process is interesting to watch because even though we have machines at every stage, guests still get to see our personal interaction with the bread,” Allen said.

When Companion moved into its current facility in 2015, the company emphasized safety when considering capital investments, and that still holds true today. In a time when worker retention is critical, this bakery keeps its Companions (the bakery’s term for its workforce) always top of mind.

The team invested in MIWE deck and rack oven technology in part for benefits beyond the bake. The deck ovens have robotic infeeds and outfeeds for ease of use, and the rack ovens are equipped with a venting system to extract moisture and heat at the end of the bake cycle, contributing to overall climate control in the bakery.


“Before, we would open the oven door and all that steam would come pouring out,” Allen recalled. “Now when Companions open the door, they’re not exposed to that.”

The case packing and palletizing room is also a place that has made life easier for the Companions. A collaborative robot assists in palletizing so one person can easily manage it, and labor can be dispersed to other areas of that bakery that are short-handed.

“This robot is used to working around people, so it doesn’t need the fence around it,” Allen said. “It alleviates a lot of the lifting people were having to endure, and now someone can work by themselves in this area, and we can spread the shift out.”

A focus on safety puts the Companions first, and efficiency becomes a natural byproduct.