Old-Fashioned Buns Keep Dough Rising for Nashville Company

Things are looking up for one Nashville baking company, all thanks to an innovative CEO and trays of warm biscuits. Like so many companies across the nation, The Tennessee Bun Company's sales started to plummet in 2008. The outlook was grim; CEO Cordia Harrington was getting ready to cut hours and cut employees.

“There were so many sleepless nights; we were scared to death. You think, I’ve invested everything in my life into this -- everybody in the company felt that way,” Harrington said. “We were hearing horror stories about their spouses losing jobs. People by no fault of their own, they lost their income.”

For years the company has made warm, fresh buns and rolls for restaurants and fast-food chains like McDonald's, KFC and O’Charley's. If you’ve enjoyed an English muffin or a breakfast sandwich at a restaurant in the Southeast, you may have been enjoying a baked bun fresh from Nashville at one of Harrington’s three factories that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But when people cut back on eating out, the demand decreased.

“Along with the recession, we started seeing a decline in some of our customer’s sales,” she said.” We saw the potential that our business could decline 20% or more.”

In a final desperate attempt to save the company, she started soliciting ideas from employees. Every staff member -- from those in the front office and those on the plant floor -- was brainstorming new ideas, new products and reaching out to new customers. Harrington even went knocking on doors asking potential clients what she could do to get their business. One unlikely client responded.

“[Odom’s Tennessee Pride] needed us to produce biscuits, which required capital investment, packaging equipment and growing with them as a partner,” she said. “So it landed us into the biscuit business.”

And the rest is history. Harrington’s team gave biscuit baking a try and, it turns out, they are really good at it! Tennessee Pride makes small frozen breakfast sandwiches you can get at grocery stores across the country.

“The thing about this company,” said Larry Odom, the CEO of Odom’s Tennessee Pride, “when they tell you they’re going to do something, they do it. We’ve been able to achieve, over the last year or so, double-digit growth.”

Harrington is currently hiring at least 100 new employees and the company keeps expanding. She’s now supplying bread products for local schools and looking into new products such as wheat biscuits, buns and lower sodium breads. Sales have increased more than 44%.

“I am so grateful,” she said. “I feel like we are very blessed.”