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Mason Bros expands Abby’s Bakery

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Mason Brothers is adding jobs in Wadena as it more than doubles its bakery operation on the northeast side of town.

Since Abby’s Bakery launched in 1995, the company’s geographical footprint has increased throughout the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Iowa and the upper peninsula of Michigan. With more stores, there’s more demand for the fresh-baked goods - breads, fried and baked items primarily made from scratch - which are shipped daily to stores throughout Mason Brothers’ network. The bakery has already expanded three times, but the ongoing addition is by far the largest.

“The production area we have available we’ve basically outgrown,” said Jeff Harrison, co-owner of the 94-year-old, fifth-generation family business that employs about 200 people locally.

The addition will add 20,000 square feet to Abby’s Bakery - 10,000 on the main floor, 5,000 on a second floor and 5,000 in the basement. It’s expected to open in August.

“We’re fast tracking it,” Harrison said.

Abby’s Bakery is one way Mason Brothers has remained successful in the competitive grocery business, Harrison said. “It’s been a niche for us to survive in this industry.”

Most of the addition’s main level, he said, will be devoted to bakery production, while the second floor will be used for storage and offices. The basement will house lockers and provide a safe place for employees if severe weather strikes.

To continue operations throughout construction, Mason Brothers added a north door for shipping and receiving. Once construction wraps up, it will be used for receiving raw materials, while the finished product is shipped from a new loading dock.

In a request to the city for a property tax subsidy through tax increment financing (TIF), the company estimated the expansion would directly lead to roughly 10 to 15 new jobs.

“We can’t hire fast enough. We’re constantly running ads.” Harrison said, adding ”The opportunity for employment is going along with our growth.”

Construction started soon after the city council approved the TIF agreement at its January meeting. The agreement grants no more than about $140,000 in property tax subsidy to the company. The actual amount will be determined after the county assesses the finished project.

Dean Uselman, who handles TIF requests for Wadena as development authority director, said the tax breaks are a great investment.

“It is in our best interest to allow development to occur,” he said. “Once development is there, it’s there for the next 100 years.”

There have been 14 successful TIF requests in Wadena history, Uselman said, and interest has been increasing. In the past year and a half, TIF agreements have also spurred projects at Kern Technologies and the Minnesota Eyecare Network, as well as a new Merickel office suite and the Green Gables Townhomes.

For a short-term tax break, Uselman said, the community adds to the long-term property tax base, .

In 2013, Mason Brothers paid nearly $112,000 in state, county, city and school district property taxes, according to county records.