Chicago Heights pita plant has major expansion
By Mike Nolan email@example.com May 16, 2013 8:40PM
Wouter De Beuckelaer, business development manager for Pita Pan, talks about the new production line during the grand opening celebration for Pita Pan's expansion in Chicago Heights, Ill., on Thursday, May 16, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 18, 2013 8:10AM
Holding a small crucifix in one hand and clutching a clump of basil dipped in holy water in the other, George Kaloudis walked Thursday alongside an array of ovens in a Chicago Heights pita bakery.
The blessing of the hulking machine with holy water by Kaloudis, presiding priest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, was part of a formal unveiling of a major expansion at Pita Pan Old World Bakery.
Once the new production line begins operation in a couple of weeks, the company, which has been in Chicago Heights for seven years, will be able to turn out about 3 million pieces of pita bread a day, according to Andre Papantoniou, co-owner of Pita Pan with his brother, Kostas.
Calling the new facility the “bakery of our dreams,” Andre Papantoniou said it’s a crucial piece of fulfilling the company’s goal of being “recognized as a leader in flat bread” and related baked goods.
Most of what Pita Pan makes is sold directly to the food service industry and fast-food restaurants. Customers include Taco Bell, which uses Pita Pan’s flat breads for its gordita and chalupa items, and Quiznos. Pita Pan also is working to get its products into retail outlets, including supermarkets.
Pita Pan distributes its products throughout the United States and Canada as well as to some European markets. It has about 45 employees, and the expansion initially will create at least 40 new jobs.
Although production capacity is being greatly increased, Papantoniou said Pita Pan took great pains to ensure that the end product doesn’t taste mass produced. Consistency in production techniques means the company is offering “flat breads with old-world taste,” he said.
What’s immediately apparent walking into the new 105,000-square-foot building is how much space is not used. There’s room for two additional production lines, but when they’re installed and what they’ll make “depends on where the demand from the market leads us,” Wouter de Beuckelaer, the company’s business development manager, said.
“It’s possible we could create a unique product for a major player in the market,” he said.
Outside the factory, two silos, each holding 130,000 tons of flour, supply production lines. In the new production line, an enormous stainless steel hopper is suspended above mixing bowls, each the size of a hot tub and able to hold 2,500 pounds of dough.
Once mixed, the dough moves along a cutting line, then the bread rolls on into the oven. Once baked, pitas take a ride on a multi-level carousel, where they cool prior to packaging.
Along with Pita Pan, the Papantonious own Olympia Foods, a distributor of gyros meat and related products, located near Midway Airport.