The world has certainly changed since Neri’s Bakery Products was founded by Paul Neri Sr. in 1910, but the bakery’s original recipes and traditions for creating its breads, rolls and bagels have not. 

About 375 people work on two shifts, six days a week, followed by maintenance and sanitation on the seventh. Dominick Neri, the company’s president and chief executive officer, noted that the bakery is backed by a team of experienced supervisors and long-time senior managers, including Dominick Cicatelli, director of operations; Dagoberto Santos, sanitation manager; Andy Logue, chief engineer; Donna Schwartz, controller; Sunny Luchetta, bagel division supervisor; and Joe Topolski, quality assurance manager.

“The staff here is incredible,” he noted.

To provide front-end control to production in the various bakery departments over the years, Neri’s Bakery has installed multiple Pfening bulk ingredient handling systems from silos and sifters to scales. Overall, the operation has 1.3 million lbs of storage for white flour and 135,000 lbs for whole wheat. Bulk tanks hold 12,000 gallons of cream yeast and 6,000 gallons each for liquid sugar and canola oil.

Overall production flows from mixing and makeup on the third floor down to ovens, packaging and warehousing on the various levels below. On most lines throughout the operation, the bakery relies on G&F spiral coolers, LeMatic slicing, Bettendorf bread slicers, Formost Fuji bagging, Kwik Lok closing and Mettler Toledo metal detection.

In the bread department, three Peerless mixers with glycol jacketing supply two roll lines and a string line, which can produce 17-inch dough pieces that are often cut into sandwich-sized hero rolls. Neri’s also upgraded one of the roll lines with new Gemini makeup equipment and an intermediate proofer. The bakery is also outfitted with a Winkler 8-pocket divider that was rebuilt by Erika Record.

After makeup, the dough pieces drop onto 19-inch-wide wooden peel boards and are manually racked. Here’s where certain parts of the process aren’t ever going to change, according to Anthony Frank Neri, plant manager of Neri’s Bakery. Although it requires manual loading and unloading of peel boards and pans, the bakery has stayed the course with double-rack proof boxes that the family believes provide the better flexibility of production flow and control of the entire operation.

“We stayed away from certain automation in the facility because we like to keep the Old World techniques and the hands-on feel to it,” added Anthony M. Neri, general manager of Neri’s Bakery. “We’ve embraced automation to an extent, but we want to make sure our Old World process remains a priority and don’t allow automation to come in and take it over. Products need to sit, settle and rise. They can’t just be pushed and rushed.”

After up to 1 hour in the 80-rack proof box, the products are wheeled into a 250-rack retarder set at about 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit from 5 to 15 hours, depending on the variety, prior to baking.

“It allows us to control the process and provides the flexibility to produce what we need each day,” Anthony Frank Neri noted. “If you have one hiccup with an automated proofer, the whole process goes down.”

On the new bun line, two new Peerless mixers kick out 1,100-lb doughs into troughs that are lifted via chains to the divider. The dough pieces then enter a Gemini intermediate proofer for about 10 minutes before dropping onto 24-piece pans and racked. The line is outfitted with a variety of makeup components including a stamper, sheeter, curling chains and multiple-length pressure boards for buns and rolls.

After proofing, the buns travel through a Burford water splitter and Smart seeding system before baking. A Gemini oven loader feeds hearth items into the oven while a push bar loads pans. After baking and depanning, the products travel to two G&F spiral coolers on a mezzanine level, then into the adjacent temperature-controlled packaging department. Meanwhile, a Stewart Systems pan stacker/unstacker helps keep production flowing.

In packaging, a LeMatic system provides hinge or cut-through slicing before the buns travel to Formost Fuji baggers, Kwik Lok closers and Mettler Toledo metal detection systems. All packaging departments have a “redundant” system to handle product overflow.

For one quick-service restaurant customer, Neri’s installed two specially designed Nu-Clean Conveyor systems that “brand” the burger chain’s logo onto the side of the buns. After slicing, six clusters of four buns are manually aligned and enter each system, which use 780 degrees Fahrenheit “irons” to apply the brand in 4 seconds.

“Before we automated it, the restaurants had an employee with a small iron branding each bun right before making burgers or sandwiches out of them,” Anthony M. Neri said. “It just shows you how we’ll figure out a way to make a product for a customer, if possible.”

In the bagel department, production runs nearly nonstop on the three BakTek makeup lines. Here, the company has upgraded equipment to maintain its high-volume capacity for the bagels. The department also has a Moline sheeting line for making bagel “thins.”

After proofing, the bagels travel down peel boards on a “lowervator” to a new Heat and Control waterfall kettle for boiling prior to baking and packaging. An elevator returns the boards to the makeup department on the upper level.

All packaged products are staged on the lower level and shipped locally through a network of 50 independent brokers or via trailers to its larger customers’ distribution centers. Overall, the bakery is at about 70% capacity, which means there’s ample room to expand the business even further.

This article is an excerpt from the November 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Neri's Bakery Products, click here.