Fireking Baking

Greg Acerra never meant to get into the baking business. A trained chef, he was getting his three restaurants off the ground and found himself lacking in the bread department. In the early 1990s, the gas station across the street from his three restaurants was for sale, and Mr. Acerra saw an opportunity.

“I thought that would be a great place to put a little bakery,” he said. “Everyone wants to own a bakery in their lifetime, so I bought the gas station and turned it into Fireking Baking Co. & Bistro.”

With two ovens, a divider, a baguette moulder, two proofers, a spiral mixer and a New York City baker named Krzysztof Ramotowski, Mr. Acerra’s bakery started up. With the added assistance of a pastry chef, the bakery made its first iteration of Fireking baked bread and pastries to serve at his restaurants, all located on the same corner in Hingham, Mass. It also sold product out of its retail storefront.

Growing ‘like a weed’

What was meant to be a simple business to supply the restaurants, however, could not be contained, and Fireking quite accidentally became a bakery wholesaler. The president of a chain of sandwich shops in Boston, Rebecca’s Cafe, called Mr. Acerra, asking for Fireking bread.

“It wasn’t our intention whatsoever to get into the wholesale baking business, but I didn’t know better. So, I bought a truck and figured we would live happily ever after,” he said. “Of course, I bought the truck and then my life turned into a 24-hour-7-day-a-week event.”

With the added wholesale business, Fireking found itself quickly outpacing its capacity. Bread was cooling in the dining room after the restaurant closed. Loaves were being sliced one at a time.

“I think the fear of failure kept me going at the time,” Mr. Acerra said. “I made a promise. I didn’t want to look like a fool.”

The requests kept coming. By word-of-mouth, other restaurants started calling for Fireking bread, and 350 square feet for production wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Mr. Acerra made the move one weekend to a space more than twice the size of the original bakery, but growth kept happening, and he had to move shortly thereafter to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Weymouth, Mass.

Mr. Acerra thought, surely, this would be the last time he transplanted the bakery.

“I moved over there into a building that, in my lifetime, I never thought I would fill,” he said.

And for almost 13 years, Fireking existed in that building, expanding from one rack to six and one deck oven to two 8-door units. By 2002, Fireking had ditched pastries and was only focusing on bread, and still the business was bursting at the seams.

In 2012, Mr. Acerra bought the current 40,000-square-foot facility in Braintree, Mass., that houses Fireking today. Again, he thought this would be the last time Fireking would move, but already, he’s purchased 26,000 square feet next door in which he plans to eventually expand some manufacturing.

“It grew like a weed, the business,” Mr. Acerra said of the bakery before moving it to Braintree. “I was trying to slow the growth down. I still didn’t have a sales person; it was all word-of-mouth. If a sales person had brought in accounts, I would have probably been upset because I couldn’t handle the load.”

Today, Fireking mostly serves food service customers, but instead of being a slave to his own distribution system, Mr. Acerra outsourced sales and delivery to distributors. He still has a small route, though, and Fireking still handles deliveries to its original wholesale customer, Rebecca’s Cafe. The company still sees double-digit growth, never lower than 20% annually. The frozen finished baked business is booming even more, at about 30% annual growth and has taken Fireking outside of New England to mid-Atlantic states, Florida, Las Vegas and California. To accommodate this ever-expanding business, Mr. Acerra needed to upgrade his equipment.

To read the full story, visit Baking Business.