BRIDGEPORT — Founded in 1893, Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co. has evolved from its roots as a commercial bread bakery into a modern food factory, where machines and workers together churn out millions of treats for distribution across the country.
Most of the work takes place in a giant, nondescript warehouse along 35th Street, where three shifts work around the clock making items like toaster pastries and granola bars for big name brands and grocery stores.
The company, which erected its Bridgeport plant in 1939, invited its retired employees to a celebratory catered luncheon for its 90th anniversary party on Thursday.
The event drew longtime employees like Willie Bush, who spent a total of 37 years at the plant mostly as a “sweets mixer,” a role that had him dumping humongous sums of oil, flour and sugar into industrial mixing machines.
“All my days here were beautiful,” said Bush, 82. “We had fun all day. The days would go by fast.”
Robert Hill, 76, of Monee, began there in the ice department in 1956, working for $1.45 an hour before spending the next 40 years operating the machines that make pastries.
“A long time,” he said.
Thirty five of Hill’s years were spent as a steward for the unionized workforce, part of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.
Hill said there were a few beefs with management over the years, including two strikes in roughly 26 years, but nothing that couldn’t be solved.
Today, about 300 employees work at Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co., which exists as a sort of manufacturing middle man for big brand names and grocery stores. Here’s how it works:
When a big brand wants to roll out a new product, say, a granola bar, they sometimes turn to outside manufacturers to make it and put the project out to bid. And a lot of the time, Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co. wins the contract because “we can beat somebody else to market,” said James McBride, a company vice president.
For now, the company isn’t concerned about innovations in food technology or figuring out the next big thing.
It exists to function at the behest of other big companies, a critical cog in America’s vast food production systems.
After 90 years, it seems they’ve got it down.