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Pot pies turned into gold for frozen food giant

Amy's Kitchen can thank Alvarado Street Bakery for the push into food manufacturing that led Amy's to become one of the nation's leading producers of frozen and packaged organic foods.

"I never dreamed we'd be doing the stuff we do today," said Andy Berliner, owner of Santa Rosa-based Amy's Kitchen.

Nine years ago, Andy and Rachel Berliner were launching the business and needed a food manufacturer to make their first product, vegetable pot pies. They turned to Alvarado because the baker had made frozen pizzas for Andy's brother Bill Berliner, who owns Old Chicago Pizza in Petaluma.

Marketing, not making food, was what Andy Berliner knew. He had been president of Magic Mountain Herb Tea company, the first herbal tea widely distributed in supermarkets.

"I just had no interest in manufacturing," he said.

Alvarado agreed to become a co-packer, making pot pies under the Amy's Kitchen label. It set up the pot pie machine, freezer and other operations inside a building next door to the bakery.

The pot pies sold well. The bakery, though, struggled to keep pace as the work for Amy's Kitchen stretched Alvarado's work force.

"We couldn't manage it," said Joseph Tuck, Alvarado's chief executive officer.

"It was more successful than we thought it would be," Berliner said. "It was just too complicated, and they didn't want to do it. And they realized their core competency, which was making bread."

Alvarado was putting out 2,400 pot pies a day three months into its contract with Amy's Kitchen when it gave the Berliners two weeks notice to find another co-packer. The Berliners couldn't and were forced into the manufacturing side of the food business.


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