What Really Goes On at La Tour Bakehouse

The bakery on Nimitz Highway isn’t just making French bread and macarons.


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Executive pastry chef Rodney Weddle stands in front of La Tour’s popular Furikake Puffs, all made in the wholesale bakery on Nimitz Highway.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox

 

Sitting at La Tour Café on Nimitz Highway, enjoying a chicken pesto panini on sourdough bread that’s baked in-house, it’s hard to imagine right above me is one of the largest wholesale bakeries in Hawai‘i, churning out pizza dough, colorful macarons, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and buttery croissants.

 

This juggernaut is La Tour Bakehouse, the parent company of the more familiar La Tour Café and Ba-Le Sandwich shops. The bakery sprawls over 80,000 square feet in the old Weyerhaeuser warehouse, with around 130 employees. There’s always someone working upstairs, whipping up more than 700 different items for restaurants, hotels and other retailers all over the state.

 

“Most people don’t realize what goes on here,” says executive pastry chef Rodney Weddle, who’s been with the company for 16 years. “We even do something for every airline that stops here.”

 

The crusty artisanal bread La Tour is known for.

 

When owner Thanh Lam opened the first Ba-Le shop in 1984, he wanted to serve authentic banh mi sandwiches on freshly baked, crusty French bread. But he couldn’t find any locally, so he decided to make his own. That’s how the bakery started.

 

Today, La Tour Bakehouse produces breads, chocolate confections and other baked goods for various hotels and restaurants, including Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The bakery also makes the pizza dough—a couple of thousand of pounds a day—for all 15 Papa John’s on O‘ahu.

 

And it’s the first and only certified organic bakery in Hawai‘i, according to the company.

 

The room where workers make the pizza dough for all of the Papa John’s locations on O‘ahu.

 

SEE ALSO: Tranh Lam’s New Plan

 

Weddle walks me through different rooms in the bakehouse. There’s an area for pan breads, another for lavosh. There’s an entire room of huge double-rack ovens for baking crusty artisanal breads, a laminating area for croissants and kouign amann, a section for La Tour’s popular French macarons. (It produces about 4,000 of them a day, in 21 flavors.) There’s a temperature-controlled room for chocolate products, a machine that creates La Tour’s popular whole-grain Furikake Puffs, and an $80,000 slicer from Denmark that cuts 2,400 pieces of bread in an hour.

 

It’s a lot to take in.

 

Japanese-style white bread made at La Tour Bakehouse.

 

Workers making red velvet macarons, one of La Tour’s most popular flavors. The bakery produces about 4,000 of these sweet, meringue-based confections a day.

 

Last year, the company has hired chef Chris Okuhara, formerly of Like Like Drive Inn, to take over its catering department. (Okuhara is part of the pop-up restaurant Miso & Ale that has—and I can personally attest—catered events in the strangest places, including in a barn surrounded by horses, goats and chickens.)

 

All this, going on above me, and I had no idea. In fact, not many people do, Weddle says.

 

“The best part of my job, besides working with great people from many cultures, is the creative freedom I have and being fortunate to use some of the best equipment you can buy,” Weddle says. “And I enjoy seeing new products go from recipe testing to packaging to being on the shelf.”

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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