Morrisville, NC — Officially, it’s called the Wellspring Bakehouse. But, tucked in a corner of Morrisville off of Airport Boulevard, it’s where all the fresh breads, rolls, pastries and gluten-free products for 36 different Whole Foods supermarkets are baked.
A Tour of the Whole Foods Bakery
Last week, Hal and I donned hairnets and white robes and took a tour of the 36,000 square foot Wellspring Bakehouse in Morrisville. Hal took the photos, and I talked to Steve Cameron, the operation’s Facility Team Leader, to learn how the production line worked.
The Wellspring Bakehouse produces all the breads and baked goods that you find in your local Whole Foods supermarket. There are only four of these in the country, so the Morrisville bakehouse provides breads to Whole Foods stores as far away as Tennessee, Atlanta and Mississippi. The bakehouse has been in Morrisville for 23 years now, and Cameron told me that there are 36 supermarkets total that receive products from this Morrisville facility.
Morrisville is also home to the only gluten-free bakehouse for Whole Foods in the country, so all 400 supermarkets in the U.S. get their gluten-free baked goods from right here in Morrisville.
The gluten-free bakehouse is a 16,000 square foot building located minutes from the big bakehouse, and it was started in a local Whole Foods store by a man named Lee Tobin. After Tobin was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 1996, he began arriving at the supermarket early to clean up the kitchen and make gluten-free baked goods. He eventually had so much of a following that the region decided to open the gluten-free factory in 2004.
How It Works
When Hal and I first walked into the production area, where all the breads are made, we immediately saw a huge, ceiling-high rectangular container.
“That’s the flour silo,” Cameron told us. “It holds 100,000 pounds of flour.” He went on to explain that the unbleached, organic flour comes from a local mill in Graham, NC. A big tanker truck arrives at the bakehouse and pumps the flour into the silo through pipes.
Cameron explained that staff can punch in how many pounds of flour they want from the silo.
Then, through pipes, the flour is pumped onto a scale and emptied into a shoot before it is dropped into the large bowl you see above. In the bowl, the flour is mixed with water and yeast. The dough is dumped out into buckets and allowed to rise before it is returned to the bowl for more mixing. Cameron told me that it’s this slow-rising process that makes the bread so tasty.
We found out that each bowl holds 500 pounds of dough – about 325 loaves of bread! The bakehouse makes about 10,000 loaves of bread each day.
“These cool machines make it look high-tech,” Cameron said, “But it’s really a low-tech operation. It’s not like a factory line – everything here is hands-on.”
On that note, Cameron called the next room we visited “the heart of the operation.” After the buckets of dough are dumped out on tables, a machine divides them into equal-sized mounds. Then, each and every loaf is shaped by hand and “marked” with two quick dashes. This releases air bubbles from the loaves and gives them that recognizable appearance.
Each loaf rises one more time before it goes into the stone-hearth ovens. The large ovens have their own room, and watching a tray of bread loaves go into them is pretty fascinating. The loaves sit on canvases atop boards that are quickly rolled into one of the several layers of the oven. Just as quickly as the loaves are in the oven, the board is rolled back out, empty.
After they bake, the loaves are pulled out of the oven with big wooden peels and left to cool.
While this is the basic procedure, different kinds of breads are made other ways. Baguettes and pan loaves, for example, are shaped by machines.
The breads baked in the huge ovens come out with a crispy crust are are perfect for sandwiches. Softer breads, though, are often made in special rotating ovens that bake them slowly. The Wellspring Bakehouse makes about 30 different kinds of breads for Whole Foods.
Our last stop on the tour was the room where the cookies and pastries are made. The bakehouse makes 14 different kinds of cookie dough in addition to danishes, croissants and more. We watched as a machine rolled out sheets of dough that were cut into triangles. Staff then rolled each one into a croissant shape by hand.
The Wellspring Bakehouse makes 10,000 cookies and pastries every day.
An Excellent Morning
Between our wonderful tour from Steve Cameron, the goodie bag of tasty treats we were given to take home and the smell of freshly-baked bread we enjoyed for an hour, it was an excellent morning at the Wellspring Bakehouse. Even more wonderful, though, was the realization that such an important operation serves the whole country from right here in Morrisville.
Story by Jessica Patrick. Photos by Hal Goodtree.