Sweetwater buys Aunt Millie’s downtown properties
By Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette
Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack is buying Fort Wayne's downtown bread factory. But don't look for Sweetwater-branded sweet rolls any time soon.
Surack "has no immediate plans" for what he'll do with the sprawling eight-acre Aunt Millie's Bakeries complex at 350 Pearl St., said Heather Herron, Sweetwater spokeswoman.
The only thing that's definite about the baker purchase is that "it's not corporate," she said.
"Nothing (associated with) Sweetwater is moving there," Herron said Monday. "He's not tearing anything down."
That includes the "iconic" animated Sunbeam bread-slice sign on the roof of the main building. And the strings of colored lights that decorate the exterior at Christmastime? They'll be back in a few weeks, she added.
Also staying: the approximately 125 employees of Aunt Millie's management who have remained since April, when production ceased, said Melissa Dunning, Aunt Millie's spokeswoman.
John Popp, president of Perfection Bakeries Inc. which does businesses under the Aunt Millie's name, isn't retiring, she said.
Popp announced the sale Monday because of a signed purchase agreement, although the transaction has yet to close, Dunning said.
No purchase price was disclosed by either party.
Dunning said Aunt Millie's employees remain, mostly on the first floor of the main building, through a lease-back arrangement.
Sweetwater recently announced a $76.4 expansion with a distribution center building project and projected hiring of about 1,000 employees at its location along U.S. 30 at Kroemer Road.
In a statement, Surack said he's interested in the purchase because it provides him an additional avenue of involvement in the future of downtown Fort Wayne.
The site is close to the Sweetwater Stage in Riverfront Park and the Landing, the statement points out.
It's also close to the soon-to be developed Fox on Main boutique-style hotel and the Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center of the University of Saint Francis.
Surack already has a vested interest in the university, having provided support of the university's music technology degree program and promising help with an up-to-date teaching facility.
"We are excited to be part of downtown revitalization and plan to continue to invest in and help support further growth in our city,” Surack said in the statement.
In the statement, Popp said the company, founded in 1901, is "very pleased to partner with Chuck Surack and the Sweetwater group and are glad to be a part of their future vision which we are certain will have a positive impact to Fort Wayne."
Popp's statement says Aunt Millie's "simply had more space than we needed and (we) feel the extra space will serve a new and better purpose to continue to serve the community.”
Dunning said the company in recent years suffered a downturn in business with the closing of some of its supermarket customers, including Marsh.
Baking is now being done at six other bakeries in Coldwater, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Plymouth in Michigan and Lowell in Indiana and Sidney in Ohio.
The sale involves about 120,000 square feet in the main office building plus a truck garage, the former Office Solutions Building on West Main Street and a grouping of buildings that includes the Peerless dry cleaning shop, Dunning said.
The logistics of the production and distribution of the product line are being handled largely through the use of technology, as has been the case for some time, she said.