Mon June 26, 2023

By Jeff Smithpeters

Touring Hope Baking Company's factory floor: Hempstead County 4-H Club members and Kids Collegians

This morning a group of about 35 Hempstead County 4-H Club members, Kids College attendees (they'd gotten to bake in one of their sessions last week) and moms came to Hope Baking Company to tour the factory.

They were first greeted in the training room upstairs by the factory’s general manager Jeff McCarroll and by their guide through the facility Veronique Wright and promised a sample bag of bread sticks at the end of the adventure. From the University of Arkansas System Cooperative Extension Service’s Hempstead County office, Betty Wingfield, Becky Hunter and Terrie James and Akili Moses Israel, director of Kids College, were on hand to offer supervision and guidance as well.

The 35 or so attendees were divided into two groups, which each were led downstairs to and through the northern and southern wings of the factory floor, where photography was not allowed but inhaling the yeasty just-baked bread smell was encouraged. The groups followed the process of a dollop of dough from a vat being separated out into lengths that would be baked and sorted into bags to become breadsticks distributed to Olive Garden restaurants throughout the region.

The groups also got to see how dough balls get pressed down into trays, baked to perfection and become hamburger buns packaged and sent to HEB grocery stores. The process of a different kind of dough becoming English muffins was also shown. Along each of the production lines workers stood at various stations to either make sure pans of baked goods stayed precisely on the conveyor, sort out the few rejects that were too small, too big or not the right color.

My own favorite stop was in the cooling room, where you could see towers of circularly moving conveyors moving buns around in a spiral in a refrigerated chamber, making slow progress. It was refreshing to stand there after passing through the rest of the factory where the spreading heat of the ovens made it feel like you might as well have been outside in the late June steambath.

At tour’s end, the groups filed by two ice chests and got cold drinks. Back in the training room, McCarroll first asked the groups, “Who wants a job?” and saw a majority of the attendees raise their hands. He then answered questions. He said about five percent of the cost of ingredients is factored in as likely waste from rejects and that the breadsticks go to a distribution hub in Dallas, whereupon indeed a few double back down I-30 to be served in the Texarkana Olive Garden.

McCarroll distributed bags of breadsticks, recommending they be heated and garlic butter be spread on their tops.  He didn’t have to ask twice whether these were wanted.