Lone Star Bakery is now making three million items daily between its two Texas facilities – dozens and dozens of items, from its hallmark biscuits to pies, cakes and brownies. Lorie Greenspan profiles this family-owned company and how it keeps up with food trends through state-of-the-art processes and old-fashioned know how.
Mac Morris Sr. was unquestionably an entrepreneur and did not flinch at opportunity, even with no experience in a certain business – in this case, a bakery that he bought in 1957 from the family of a German immigrant who started the company in 1889. But with plenty of spirit, he and his wife, Wilma started building what is slowly becoming a family legacy.
In the early days, the husband and wife team kept things simple, supplying local businesses. By 1965, their son Mac Morris Jr. was ready to get involved. With the addition of their son to the business they were able to expand their reach into other nearby regions, military bases and bigger restaurant chains.
But spanning the state of Texas with breads, brownies and pies was not sufficient by the time the year 1987 rolled around. By that point, Mac Jr. had recruited his wife, Debbie Morris to the team. The family members decided if they were going to grow they needed to grow and the four of them exercised their negotiating muscle to influence a bank into lending them $1 million for a new facility, which is now called plant number one, measuring 170,000 square feet, giving Lone Star the ability to make literally thousands of different items. As time passed, Mac and Debbie encouraged each of their daughters Tracy and Mandy Morris to get involved and starting from the bottom was the only way they were allowed to work. The thinking was simple: All employees are like family and that without them Lone Star wouldn’t be where it is today.
Four- and a- half years ago another milestone was achieved when a USDA-certified plant was built. Measuring 232,000 square feet, it is considered one of the largest contract manufacturing USDA bakeries in the United States. It provides Lone Star the opportunity to provide meat and baked products, such as pot pies and pocket foods, soups and entrees and has spurred talks with Heinz on developing a line of pot pies, Kellogg’s an extension of their health wise Kashi line as well as Sara Lee with hand-held breakfast items. The company is also searching for a chef to lead a research and development effort into new entrée recipes and products.
By this point, the face of Lone Star changed with the passing of Mac Morris Sr. in 2005 at the age of 91, at the time still heartily involved in his company. Mac Morris Jr. remains at the helm, and Mandy, 29 and Tracy (whose married name is Fletcher), 34, have climbed up the ranks to become operating directors (a younger sister, Megan, is also involved). They admit that their age is sometimes perceived as an impediment to doing business but with nearly 30 years in the industry between them, one can hardly shrug them off as newcomers.
FAMILY OF BAKERS
“We were told growing up that you’re not anyone special – you need to work like everyone else,” recalls Mandy Morris. “We got up at 4 a.m. to work the lines. As we got older our parents and grandfather instilled the philosophy that you do whatever it takes to make the customer happy. You don’t tell them no; you give them options.”
“We worked summers, holidays, vacations – they wanted us to learn from the bottom up,” Fletcher adds. “Now we have a really good understanding of the business.”
“It makes it easier for people to listen to us,” Morris says.
“Even with a college education and a business management degree,” Fletcher says, “I learned more valuable information working here. We’ll take experience over education any day.”
In the last decade or so Lone Star has gone international, into Canada and Mexico particularly, but as far flung as Korea, supplying a Popeye’s franchisee there. In fact, Lone Star has been the sole manufacturer of Popeye’s biscuits for the last 10 years.
“For the longest time our biggest milestone was in 1987, when we moved from an old muffin plant – a very small facility – to our 170,000 square foot facility, which helped us grow the business.” The expansion also helped to gain the business of Shoney’s family restaurants and helped Lone Star to further finesse its biscuit-making processes. Today, Lone Star makes two million pre-baked biscuits and one million frozen puck biscuits, for a total of three million biscuits daily, selling these to companies like Performance Food Group, SYSCO and Whataburger. The company also co-packs for companies including Sara Lee and Bama, which is 40 percent of its business; national accounts like Popeye’s and Dunkin’ Brands account for another 40 percent and 20 percent is split evenly between retail and food service. Lone Star does not have its own brand but packages products under its customers’ brand names.
The company’s state-of-the-art facilities covering production, warehousing and freezer space in China Grove, just outside of San Antonio, offer freshness, quality assurance, prompt response to orders and on-time delivery. The company’s central location makes possible nationwide distribution at the lowest possible cost. Specially designed equipment easily handles large volumes as well as small, customized orders. The roster of equipment includes five high output band ovens (220-, 240-, 260- and two 265-foot); three traveling tray ovens and 13 spirals: two ambient, two proofing, three cooling and six blast freezers. Lone Star’s storage freezers have a combined inventory capacity of 100 truckloads.
“We receive ingredients in one area, either a warehouse, cooler or freezer, where they then move to a climate controlled processing room where we do all of the mixing, cooking and sheeting,” Fletcher says.
To handle the processing of food items in the millions, Lone Star has in place an extensive quality assurance program that includes annual, voluntary AIB inspections, which consistently ranks the company with superior ratings. It also has a food safety program that incorporates the company’s allergen program into the HACCP plan and provides ongoing training and education for its Quality Assurance management and production supervisors.
BAKED IN FRESHNESS
And the company is very tuned in to trends in the industry as far as trans fat free products and unsaturated fats, even a trend towards hand-held, convenience foods. With its USDA facility Lone Star can be truly innovative in how it approaches the manufacture of new food products.
“When we contracted with Popeye’s to be their exclusive supplier they wanted us to build a secondary facility. We originally were going to build a very small bakery but then started talking and it grew from this tiny idea into a gigantic USDA facility,” Morris explains.
Having state-of-the-art facilities that can bake millions of products daily isn’t the only measure by which the family gauges its success in a competitive market. The company has also learned that capabilities must go beyond machines.
“We’re extremely flexible and versatile,” Morris says. For example, having its own sheet metal shop and machine fabrication shop allows the company to design and build most of its own equipment, or buy used equipment and rebuild it.
“Most of our equipment is on wheels,” Fletcher adds, “so many of the lines are not dedicated – we can run several food items on one line.”
Today a $75 million company, the sisters hope for an exceptional year that will increase revenues to the $100 million mark – a goal that is certain to materialize as Lone Star continues to bake and to grow, making sure that Mac Morris’ aim as entrepreneur remains as strong today as it was 50 years ago.