- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

SHANNON, Miss. (AP) - Most of the Philly cheese steaks sandwiches sold in America aren’t made in its namesake city.

Instead, they’re made in a 140,000-square-foot facility in tiny Shannon, with its population of 1,800.

Raybern Foods makes some 35 million sandwiches a year, and most of them are the Philly cheese steak - a combination of beef, peppers and onions with cheese.

Last January, Raybern announced it was moving its production from California to Mississippi, investing $10 million in a former Sara Lee plant.

By July, it had moved to the facility and began production, getting its sandwiches to customers like Walmart, Sam’s and Costco.

Now with 200 employees and growing demand, the company needs more workers.

“We’re doing some hiring, looking for people with strong work ethic,” said Matt Amigh, the company’s chief operating officer. “It could be a great career for them; we’ve got several success stories in the company now, with folks who came here to become sandwich makers and have worked their way up to line leads and team leads. We think it’s a good opportunity for a lot of folks.”

But the work isn’t necessarily for everybody.

Inside the plant are three separate and distinct zones. One is the bakery, where three super-sized industrial ovens bake up to 700,000 bread rolls a week. The other is the deep freezer, kept at a bone-chilling 10 below zero. The sandwich-making and wrapping area is right in the middle, at 38 degrees.

“Folks who stick it out for a week or two usually stick around,” Amigh said.

Raybern’s sandwich-making operation is mostly done by hand, complemented by state-of-the-art equipment

For example, Raybern uses proprietary technology to slice and place the cheese on its sandwiches. Even the way it wraps them is proprietary, all in the name of efficiency.

With 35 million sandwiches to make yearly, there’s almost an art - along with a science - that Raybern understandably keeps close to the vest. After all, the privately held company isn’t the only sandwich-maker in the business.

The company bakes its own bread in the Shannon factory.

But a competitive advantage Raybern says it has is that its sandwich-making process is all done under one roof.

The company mixes its own dough, bakes it, makes the sandwiches, packages the sandwiches and sends them out, all in the same place.

“We’re making it fresh here. We’re buying all the components to make our bread, we’re mixing it, proofing it, baking it on site,” he said. “We’re bringing fresh meat in, we season it and mix it, cook it up and slice it ourselves. It’s all done here.”

Raybern also makes its own sauces for the sandwiches, and they, too, are made at the Shannon plant.

While the Philly is the most popular-selling sandwich Raybern sells to its customers, next is roast beef cheddar, followed by roast beef bacon cheddar, chicken bacon ranch and pastrami.

Raybern Foods was founded in 1978 in Hayward, California. The company invented the frozen deli sandwich, and it’s managed to find its way onto the shelves of some of America’s largest retailers.

And Raybern is also growing its market share with their help.

“They’re expanding the number of distribution points they’ve given us, expanding the spots on the shelves they’re giving us,” Amigh said. “Also, we’re gaining new accounts. We’re taking existing items and getting it to retailers we haven’t had before. It’s phenomenal.”

Amigh also said the company has more new products that will be rolled out this year.

“It’s more than just a different flavor of a sandwich - it’s other forms of hand-held meals,” he hinted.

Raybern moved to Mississippi because it needed room to meet its growing needs. The company’s California operations were spread over three campuses and it had no room left to grow.

With plans to get more sandwiches in more stores across the country, Raybern needed the flexibility.

Raybern hasn’t filled the 146,000-square-foot building that used to crank out Bryan cocktail sausages up until four years ago.

There is room to expand, and Raybern can add at least double its three production lines it’s currently running.

“This was bigger than what we needed, but we knew with our aggressive growth plan and our strategic direction, we would need this space,” Amigh said. “We can easily double production here.

“We set this facility to drive the business forward in the years to come. We’re sitting on close to 50 acres, we have room to expand. . it’s all about bringing more products to more locations in the U.S.”

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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