The Madison bakery whose bread and buns can be smelled by passing motorists on East Washington Avenue is closing early next year, a move that will cost more than 150 local jobs.
Bimbo Bakeries USA announced Tuesday that it will end production at its bakery at 3401 E. Washington Ave. by Jan. 2. The company will shift production to other facilities in the region, it said in a statement.
The Madison bakery employs 158 people, the company said.
DeMarkus Chambers, 27, who works third shift as a relief operator, meaning he can work all the equipment in his bun-making department, said it was the best job he’s ever had.
He’s worked for Bimbo for almost three years and has two children, ages 3 and 2, who stay with him on weekends.
The pay was great, everyone was friendly and the company was family oriented, with workers covering for each other when necessary, he said. “We were as one.”
When a posting went up about a meeting off-site with company executives at the DoubleTree hotel Downtown, most of his co-workers knew the news wasn’t going to be good, he said.
At the Tuesday morning meeting, company representatives offered employees the opportunity to transfer to bakeries in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and other places, Chambers said. “There’s like a Bimbo in every state.”
He said he’s unlikely to work at a different Bimbo location. “There are a lot of jobs here in Madison, you know,” he said.
Nicole Lasorda, who does public relations for the company, confirmed by email that a few employees will continue to work for Bimbo Bakeries USA in other capacities.
Lasorda wouldn’t comment about whether those jobs are management positions. She also wouldn’t say what will become of the physical plant.
“Making the decision to close a facility is never an easy one,” said David Tormena, a regional vice president for Bimbo Bakeries USA, which bought Sara Lee Corp.’s North American fresh bakery unit, including the East Washington bakery, in 2011.
“After careful analysis and consideration, we determined moving production to other bakeries in our system is a more efficient and cost-effective option,” he said.
Consumers will see no change in availability or quality of products as a result of the change, the company’s statement said.
In the statement, the company said that human resources representatives will meet with affected workers and union representatives to discuss severance and other benefits.
“We truly value and respect our dedicated associates at the Madison bakery and will assist them throughout the transition,” Tormena said.
Bimbo Bakeries USA is a baking giant that employs about 20,000 workers in the United States at 50 manufacturing locations. Its brands include Brownberry, Entenmann’s, Sara Lee, Thomas’ and Stroehmann.
When it purchased the Madison Sara Lee facility, Bimbo became the fifth owner of the Madison location, founded in 1926 as Gardner Bakery.
Chambers said his union job pays almost $21 an hour and that he and his co-workers will meet with a union representative soon. Employees are represented by Teamsters Local 695; union official Larry Wedan didn’t return phone messages Tuesday.
State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, released a statement Tuesday saying Bimbo Bakeries has been an “integral member of the community for years, supplying jobs to hundreds of Madisonians.”
That the company gave little notice to its employees or local officials came as a shock, Sargent said.
“I can only imagine how upsetting of a time this must be for (workers). Not only did Bimbo’s employees fill their block of East Washington with delicious, sweet smells, but they are truly the heart and soul of our community,” she said.
Chambers said that people always tell him about how strong the smell of baking bread is when they go by, but he’s immune to it.
“Once you get used to it, you don’t smell it,” he said. “It’s like the cologne you use every day. You get used to it and you don’t smell it anymore.”