Located on the east side of Manteno, Rise Baking Co. has set a new course at its Kankakee County plant.
Rise Baking, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., is currently expanding its line and has more than doubled its employment at the Manteno plant at 1340 Sycamore Road since it purchased the business from Dawn Foods in March of 2020. It employs approximately 200 at the plant.
“We’re investing over $30 million into the facility, said Eric Gasca, plant manager at Rise Baking. “We’re installing a brand new production line. We had to move an entire production line for that line as well. And then we’re looking at more expansion on our existing production lines.”
Rise Baking’s core production is making muffins, brownies and cupcakes for a number of retailers.
“We make the actual cupcake itself and sell it to [retailers], and they take it to the bakery and they decorate it,” Gasca said. “We’re basically just the ones building the cupcakes for them, and they do all the decorations in the store. They’re the ones that make it pretty.”
If you’ve ever eaten the brownies at one of your favorite chain restaurants, that’s made in the Manteno plant, too.
“We have a variety of other people we sell to, but those are our main customers,” Gasca said.
Making of the cupcakes and brownies is a three-step process — mixing of ingredients, baking and then cooling — before they’re shipped out. There’s always at least a two-hour gap between when the first and second process.
“It’s just like baking brownies at home,” Gasca said. “That’s essentially what we’re doing. You think of it that way. You get all your ingredients, you put them in a bowl and mix it all together and then you have to wait until the oven gets done. That’s what the first crew does. Then the second crew comes in and cuts it up and puts it in packaging.”
Rise Baking is trying to keep up with demand in the COVID world of ready-to-eat products. With the growing demand of its current production line and adding an additional line, Rise is looking to hire 60 production workers by June to get its plant at full capacity.
“COVID has been a blessing in disguise in a way for a lot of food industries with people not going out to restaurants as much, and doing home cooking,” Gasca said. “The stress that puts on the supply chain from everything else is the difficult part. It’s both good and it’s bad.
“My sales are going through the roof, but I don’t have enough people to make our products.”
Basca said that’s a good problem for Rise with the amount of opportunities and the amount of employment that it’s having.
“That’s just production,” he said. “We still need forklift drivers, maintenance mechanics, sanitation, quality control, so there’s a lot of opportunity out there.”
Gasca, 37, took over as plant manager in November of 2020 with about 150 employees, and he’s added close to 50 more. The growth continues, and that has presented some challenges. Dawn Foods ran two 12-hour shifts four days a week, and Rise has increased that to three shifts a day for a 24-hour operation six days a week.
“Now that we’re doing three shifts, we need so many more people to help build that out,” he said.
Gasca, who lives in Bourbonnais, said there’s a lot of competition for production workers among manufacturing plants in Kankakee County, but he said Rise Baking offers a starting wage of $14.50 per hour and is working on a pay differential for off-hour shifts. There are promotion opportunities as Rise has 10 supervisors and 10 other management personnel. Rise hires through Express Employment Professionals agency in Bradley.
Although it’s a factory job, Gasca said working for Rise Baking is a piece of cake — pun intended.
“It’s really easy work with really, really good people,” he said. “That’s kind of what sets us apart.”
Gasca said production jobs at other plants can be physically demanding, but not at Rise.
“This is a cake job,” he said. “That’s what separates us.”
Since purchasing the plant from Dawn Foods, Rise Baking has upgraded equipment, updated the locker rooms and break rooms and made sure there’s hot water.
“It may be simple things, but those are things that are necessary to run a plant every single day,” Gasca said. “From that perspective, the employee morale has been great because they’re seeing all the changes and seeing the opportunities that are coming with having a plant that can produce the way that we can.”
The future of the Rise Baking Manteno plant is also robust.
“Oh, yeah,” Gasca said. “Out of all the facilities in Rise, we’re one of the few that has green space. A lot of them are landlocked, so it gives us an advantage on that side. With the changing consumer habits of fast and convenient, that puts us in a really good position to keep growing in the future.”