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Sale listing signals end to plant’s 50-year run

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The owner of the closed Columbus Dolly Madison plant plans to sell the property, which would end any hope that the facility could reopen as a bakery.

Flowers Foods, a Georgia-based bread and snack maker, has put the vacant plant up for sale with the condition that it can’t be purchased by a competitor as a bakery, said Jason Hester, executive director of the Columbus Economic Development Board.

A completed sale with such a contingency would end a long run for the bakery at 3060 N. National Road, where the factory operated from 1960 through 2012, and whose roots date to 1948.

The listed sale price for the 11.5-acre property is $2.75 million, Hester said.

Flowers purchased it from Hostess brands Inc. for $2,608,100 in July 2013, according to county tax records. The bakery property was assessed at $2,569,500 in 2013.

Hester said the property is listed with Agnew Commercial Properties of Columbus. Realtor Rick Agnew said he had signed a confidentiality agreement with Flowers and would not be able to comment.

Bankruptcy sale

The bakery has been closed since Nov. 16, 2012, when parent company Hostess Brands filed a motion with the bankruptcy court to close its business and sell its assets nationwide. Hostess had first filed for bankruptcy in January 2012.

The closing followed tense contract negotiations with two unions, and a judge imposed a new contract, reflecting wage and benefits cuts, on the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, including Columbus-based Local 132.

On Nov. 9, 2012, the bakeries union, including Local 132, went on strike to force the company back to the negotiating table or force a sale to a new owner that would honor the previous contract. A week later, Hostess closed its operations across the country, and more than 200 local employees lost their jobs. The plant has been vacant since then.

Flowers bought the Columbus plant along with 19 other Hostess plants across the nation in a $355 million bankruptcy court-approved deal.

In addition to the bakeries, Flowers bought 36 depots and assorted bread and snack brands, including Wonder Bread, Nature’s Pride, Merita, Home Pride and Butternut, from Hostess. The Columbus plant produced Dolly Madison snack cakes, doughnuts and sweet rolls for the Hostess brand and had an outlet store on the property.

Even with the plant closed, some employees at the time maintained a glimmer of hope that Flowers would consider reopening it.

Keith Hancock, a Flowers Foods spokesman, said in a September interview that while the company didn’t have any plans to reopen the Columbus bakery, that could change if consumer demand for Hostess bread products increased and Flowers moved those products into new sales territories.

A decision on the fate of the Dolly Madison plant took a while because Flowers Foods is considered a methodical company and moves forward carefully, said Josh Sosland, editor of Milling & Baking News, a trade publication.

Flowers wanted to take time to make sure the Hostess assets fit within the company’s plans because the acquisition transformed Flowers from a regional power in the South to the second-largest baking company in the U.S., Sosland said. The company wanted to figure out where it wanted to be geographically, he said.

Flowers announced Oct. 9, 2013, that it would reopen the former Hostess bakery in Henderson, Nev. Sosland said that plant supports Flowers’ expansion plans and has helped the company expand its footprint in California.

That plant is much newer than the Columbus one, the trade-publication editor said.

“They’ve got to be in the right place, and they pride themselves on technological advancement,” he said.

Flowers licensed Fort Wayne-based Aunt Millie’s Bakeries to produce and market Wonder and Home Pride breads in northwest Indiana, northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin rather than reopen the former Hostess plant in the Chicago suburb of Hodgkins, Ill., Sosland said.

Messages left Thursday and Friday with Flowers representatives, seeking comment on the newest developments, were not returned.

Long history

The bakery’s roots date to 1948, when Phillip “Sap” Essex and Gene Brierly took over a small bakery at Fifth and Washington streets and started Sap’s Donuts.

About a year later, Essex, with his brother Tom, moved into a production facility at 12th and Jackson streets.

Their inventory was simple, just doughnuts, but sales were brisk and led to growth.

By 1953, the bakery had an output of 22,000 doughnuts per week and ran 12 truck routes, carrying doughnuts, sweet rolls, buns and cakes up to 50 miles away.

In 1960, the Essex brothers relocated operations to National Road. The company continued to grow and at its peak had 600 workers, making it one of the biggest employers in the city.

The bakery went through significant changes in the 1970s, though.

Sap’s Donuts merged with Beatrice Foods in 1972.

In 1979, local ownership ended when Interstate Brands Inc. bought Beatrice. That acquisition led to Sap’s Donuts being renamed Dolly Madison.

Sap Essex died in 2006, a year before production of Sap’s Donuts at the Columbus plant halted. In 2009, Interstate Bakeries was renamed Hostess Brands.

News that Flowers does not plan to reopen the former Dolly Madison plant struck an emotional nerve last week with some former employees.

“It’s a shame,” Gloria Brown said.

The 60-year-old Elizabethtown resident worked at the plant for two years.

“It was a tragedy to have so many people lose so much,” she said.

Brown has not worked since losing her Dolly Madison job because she is on disability.

Cindy Reynolds worked at the plant for 17 years until it closed.

The 58-year-old Columbus resident said she kept faint hopes alive that it would someday be reused as a bakery and that she could get a job with the new owner.

“I’m depressed about it,” said Reynolds, who has been unemployed since the closing.

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