November 13, 1987
After today, Taystee bakes no more
By Mike Hughlett, News-Tribune staff writer
Today will be the last time Earl Sellards helps you make a sandwich.
Sellards will preside over the mixer at the Taystee bakery that blends 700 pounds of water, flour, yeast and shortening into a blob of dough big enough to make 25,000 loves of bread a day.
But that isn’t nearly enough to beat the plant’s competitors. The machines in the 66-year-old bakery at 2326 W. Superior St. don’t have the muscle to move any faster. So when Taystee bakers bag their last loaf today, another Duluth industry – large-scale commercial baking – will disappear.
Heileman Baking Co. bought the Taystee plant from American Baking Co. last summer and decided to end its baking operations today. The plant will continue to receive bread from Heileman’s St. Paul bakery and ship it throughout the Northland. But 33 of the approximately 65 jobs in the plant will vanish.
“It looks like I’ll close it up,” Sellards said.
Sellards said about 500 people worked in Duluth’s commercial baking industry when he started at Taystee 31 years ago. Most worked at the Taystee plant and at Zinsmaster Baking Co. in the West End.
In his younger days, Sellards had to pour 100-pound sacks of flour and bulging bags of raisins and sugar into the dough mixer. Now, the raw materials are pumped into the mixer by machine.
But otherwise, the job hasn’t changed much.
Sellards will spend today tending an elastic ooze that will become white, rye, wheat and raisin bread by the time the plant closes. After the bread rises for 4 1/2 hours, he’ll give it a solid punch to let air escape. Then He’ll throw the glop back into a mixer.
Beads of perspiration will coat his temples and forehead. His white T-shirt and white pants – a standard baker’s uniform – will be mottled with light stains. Flour will encrust the joints of his fingers and dust his forearms.
Sellards and his co-workers make enough bread every minute to keep a family in a host of toast for three months. But Heileman’s competitors, as well as its own plants in other cities, can bake four times as much bread per minute, Sellards said. The other plants have newer machines, some run by computers.
“You just punch buttons, that’s all you do,” he said.
Sellards and others said they saw the end coming at Taystee long ago. The plants longtime owner, American Baking Co., did nothing to prevent the plant from becoming a relic.
“This place was so outdated. It was just a matter of time,” said Tim Sullivan, the plant’s shipping foreman, who has worked at Taystee for 10 years. “If I walked in here and saw what this place had, I’d shut it down.”
Heileman decided to do exactly that a month after it bought four American Bakery plants in June. The company offered 33 break makers in Duluth the chance to take jobs at Taystee bakeries in St. Paul or Madison, Wis.
Jerry Rudolph said he and five other workers accepted Heileman’s offer. He’s got an apartment ready to rent in Shoreview, Minn.
“They say it’s a lot nicer down there,” he said as he snatched a pan of bread from the oven. “They say it’s gonna be a real nice job.”
Cal Jasper works aside Rudolph flipping fresh-baked loves onto carts bound for the slicing machine. The air around the oven is filled with the pleasant smell of fresh bread. It also is hot, but not as sweltering as in July, when the temperature near the oven soars well over 100 degrees.
A stocky man with a full beard, Jasper was hired at the bakery almost 10 years ago when he was 21. At $9 an hour, the job paid him well enough to raise a family.
His family will keep him in Duluth, even though he could work in Taystee’s St. Paul bakery.
“I’ve lived in a lot of smaller communities and I didn’t want to raise a family in a big city,” he said. “I grew up on the St. Louis River. To go down and have my family grow up on the pavement – I just couldn’t see it.”
Jasper, like other workers, may be eligible for job retraining money through the Jobs Training and Partnership Act. The city of Duluth and Clyde Iron plan to give Taystee workers some excess money from a $72,500 state grant awarded to Clyde. The state, however, must agree to the city’s proposal.
Because Jasper didn’t quite work 10 years at Taystee, he is ineligible for even a minimum pension, unlike Sellards and Ron Nichols, who has worked at the plant since the 1950s.
Nichols cleaned flour and scrap dough from the bread assembly line for most of his years at the plant. Today. he’ll work on the stretch of the line where bread dough plops into pans.
But even a 34-year veteran like Nichols won’t receive much more than $500 a month in pension money after the baking operation folds. Saturday, he’ll be looking for a new line of work at age 53.
– end –
The Taystee bakery still stands today; it’s the home of Northern Business Products at the corner of Superior Street and 24th Avenue West.
Here are a few more News-Tribune / Herald file photos of the Taystee bakery while it was still in operation:
As noted in the story, there was another large bakery nearby – the Zinsmaster Bread Co., later Metz Baking Co., at 2831 W. Superior St. That bakery closed in 1980; the building burned in late 2010. Its last tenant was Peerless Auto Body.
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