Thursday, August 23, 2012

Awrey gone awry

Awrey Bakery
Livonia, Michigan

The Awrey Bakery and outlet store in Livonia, Michigan are still operating, but this landmark sign has been sadly neglected. Much of the neon is out and the windmill vanes no longer turn.

Awrey Bakeries got its start in 1910 when Fletcher and Elizabeth Awrey left Canada and moved to Detroit looking for work in the auto industry.

To help make ends meet, Elizabeth Awrey began baking breads and pies in her wood-fired oven and selling them to neighbors, which her three sons — Elton, Wilbur and Thomas — would deliver. As business boomed, the Awreys opened a retail outlet in 1914 on Tireman and Epworth near West Grand Blvd. in Detroit, where the firm's first "volume baking" began.

The next four decades saw Awrey expand from a home-based business into a large enterprise with commercial bakery facilities, home delivery, and 91 stores by 1940. After WW II Awrey's growth resumed aided by the increasing popularity of supermarkets. By 1950 the company had 120 locations, including both individual stores and supermarket concessions, and its home delivery service. Increased success required increased capacity, and a new bakery and headquarters was built in Livonia in 1967. In 1969 the entire operation was moved there and the Tireman plant was closed.

By 1990 Awrey's food service business accounted for 70% of total revenues, with retail sales contributing one-quarter and contract baking making up the remainder. The company had 700 food service distributors and a national network of brokers that distributed its products to institutional accounts such as hospitals, schools, and restaurants. The retail line was distributed in southeastern Michigan to stores that ranged from major supermarket chains to small independent grocers.

Unfortunate changes in management and strategies led to a decline in business which resulted in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005. The sale out of bankruptcy in 2008, enabled Awrey to repay its creditors at 98 cents on the dollar from proceeds.

Awrey survived the turmoil and continued operations. The brand celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010.

UPDATE:  Financial trouble again threatened Awrey's existence in late 2012, but a last-minute purchase by Minnie Marie Bakers saved the 103-year-old brand from oblivion in February, 2013. Read more here.

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