Anchorage's iconic Sunrise Bakery closed on Friday, putting 90 people out of work, leaving Alaska without a large-scale, wholesale baker and putting an abrupt end to the yeasty-sweet aroma that has for decades wafted around the corner of Spenard Road and Hillcrest Drive.
The bakery's financially troubled parent company, Hostess Brands, known for Wonder Bread and Twinkies, announced it was shutting down operations and putting assets, including the Anchorage bakery, up for sale immediately.
A national labor dispute between Hostess and a union not involved in the Alaska operation struck the death blow, said Anita-Marie Laurie, a corporate spokeswoman based in Los Angeles.
ONLY BIG WHOLESALE BAKERY
The bakery, which has been located at the same spot in Spenard under various names and owners since before statehood, is known for its slogan "2,000 miles fresher" and for offering items such as cut-rate hot dog buns, Moon Pies and Wonder Bread at its on-site thrift store.
But the end of Hostess in Alaska means more than store shelves bare of Twinkies and Ding-Dongs.
Sunrise Bakery is the only large-scale wholesale bakery in the state, said Steve Fisher of Alaska Teamsters Local 959, the union that represents all non-management workers at the facility. Among the products produced at the Spenard plant: Wonder, Home Pride and Alaska Pride brand breads. The plant didn't make Hostess snacks.
For decades it has supplied grocery stores, restaurants and institutional customers including the Anchorage School District with baked-in-Alaska bread products and has donated leftovers to charities such as the Food Bank of Alaska.
Now those businesses are having to abruptly make other plans.
School District dietician LaDonna Dean said she was driving to work Friday morning when she heard on the radio that Hostess would be closing.
"I was like, hey wait, that's where we get our bread from," she said.
The district quickly bought out the bakery's remaining inventory of hamburger buns and sandwich breads.
Now the district is scrambling to find a new, preferably local, supplier. One option may be buying from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, which makes its own. For the time being students might be served sloppy joes on sandwich bread rather than less plentiful hamburger buns.
Drew Faddis, manager of an Anchorage Outback Steakhouse, said his restaurant relied on Sunrise Bakery to custom-bake the 1,200 loaves of "signature" honey-wheat bread that land on tables at the chain restaurant each week.
He found about the closure Friday from his newly laid-off delivery driver.
"It was a total surprise," he said. "The driver found out via text."
The restaurant will either find another local bakery to produce the bread or have to pay for freight from the Lower 48, Faddis said.
Jim MacKenzie of the Food Bank of Alaska said the Sunrise Bakery donates 100,000 pounds of products yearly.
"It's something were going to have to try to figure out how to cope with," he said.
Hostess Brands announced that the company had moved to close and sell its brands and facilities after operations were crippled by a labor dispute with one of its largest unions, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.
"We deeply regret the necessity of today's decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike," chief executive officer Gregory F. Rayburn said in a statement Friday. "Hostess Brands will move to promptly lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders."
Fisher, the Teamsters representative, says workers in Alaska had nothing to do with the union or the strike that led to the shutdown.
"None of the people up here went on strike. None of the people up here caused this to happen."
The Teamsters union had voted to accept terms offered by Hostess because the union "realized the concessions weren't a great deal but if you didn't accept them the company would go under," he said.
Anchorage workers were aware that Hostess had been in poor financial straits for some time, Fisher said.
The company filed for bankruptcy in January 2012.
But Friday's announcement was abrupt.
Employees -- some of whom had been with the company for decades -- were told at 6 a.m. that Friday would be their last day of work, said Fisher.
About 10 employees will stay on to wind down plant operations and close the retail discount store on-site, he said.
"(Workers) were in shock," he said. "Some are hopeful that somebody may step in and buy the bakery."
Workers at the plant ranged from bakers to shipping and receiving clerks to delivery drivers,.
Wages ranged from $12 to $23 per hour plus benefits, Fisher said.
"A lot of people had five, 10, 15 years there," he said. "They've been with the bakery through thick and thin. They've taken concessions."
STOCK WIPED OUT
At the on-site retail thrift store Friday the line for the cash register was a dozen people deep before noon.
Last batches of bread were still on the conveyor belt but shelves were quickly being picked bare. A cashier said the first three customers of the day had wiped out the entire remaining stock of Twinkies -- more than 90 packages in all. Chocolate Twinkies were still on hand and Zingers, Donettes, Sno-Balls and Iced Bear Claws were abundant.
In the parking lot, Karen Tocktoo loaded her trunk with cases of bread and cookies.
For years she's bought bread at the discount store to send to her parents in Shishmaref. A single loaf of Wonder Bread in the village can run more than $5, she said.
At the Sunrise Bakery you could buy three loaves for the same price.
"What will we do for turkey sandwiches without our white bread?" she said.
By the time she pulled out of the parking lot a locksmith had arrived to begin changing the locks.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS