Sister Schubert Rolls-Marzetti
The most memorable, scrumptious holiday meal or any home-cooked comfort food for that matter, isn’t complete without freshly baked, warm, buttery dinner rolls. But for many families today, time is of the essence and there’s hardly enough of it to prepare dough, allow it to rise and bake. Luckily, Sister Schubert Rolls (Sister Schubert’s) has been baking up homemade goodness that’s as easy as reaching into the grocer’s freezer.
From a recipe in her grandmother’s handwritten cookbook, Patricia Barnes, founder and president of Sister Schubert’s, has been delivering freezer-to-table, just-like-your-grandma-made it goodness.
“It started way back in 1989, which seems like just yesterday, because the whole thing has been a whirlwind experience, but I’ve cherished every step of the way,” tells Barnes.
A God-given gift
As one of five children, Barnes found her way to help out the family in the kitchen. “From the time I could climb up on a kitchen stool I loved baking,” she recounts. “My grandmother, Leona, known to the grandkids as Gommey taught me how to make her homemade wheat rolls. Every family gathering it was my job to make the rolls. I think she knew long before I did these rolls would go on and on; from our family to other families.”
Despite her passion for baking, Barnes ended up studying interior design, following along the lines of her father’s business. “My father had a furniture business and his father before him, so I decided that was going to be my career; I would be an interior decorator for the store,” she recalls.
But Barnes, who’s also a devout Christian, says God’s plan was a little different from her vision. “I believe from the day we’re born, God has a plan for each one of us, but his plan for me was not what I thought my plan was,” she says.
Revolutionizing the dinner roll
She eventually started a small catering business on the side. “I sold my grandmother’s recipe rolls as part of the business,” tells Barnes. “We had a fair at our local Episcopal Church in Troy, Alabama, and I baked about 20 pans of rolls. People loved them, but I had always baked them fresh that day, not frozen.”
Barnes thought she would experiment so she baked about 20 more pans, froze them and was pleasantly surprised to find that the rolls came right back to life in the oven. “They tasted like I had baked them that day,” she exclaims. “That’s really where the idea for a fully-baked, frozen roll product came about; the little church fair.”
In the blink of an eye, Barnes created a new grocery store category – frozen, fully-baked bread. “At the time, there were a few other companies doing frozen garlic bread loaves, but no one was doing frozen dinner rolls,” she tells.
The next big step
In 1992, Barnes set up the first Sister Schubert’s bakery in downtown Troy. “It was a 2,000-square-foot metal building my father had built to store furniture and carpet and within six months I had taken over to start my personal bakery,” she laughs. “We realized we were really onto something and the demand for the product was growing every day. We knew we needed a state-of-the-art bakery to take the next step.”
That step was in an industrial park 20 miles down the road in Luverne. “They say Luverne is the ‘friendliest little city in the south,’ and it sure is,” shares Barnes. “It was a match made in heaven and we still have our original bakery there, still producing millions of rolls a day.”
Barnes says when this bakery went up, she never imagined Sister Schubert’s would expand again, but with every year came more demand and more growth potential.
“In about 1999, we were at another decision making point and T. Marzetti Company [Marzetti] came along and wanted to purchase stock in Sister Schubert’s,” she tells. “Marzetti has a history of purchasing family companies and wanting the families to stay involved, so when they asked me and my husband George and the rest of the team to stay on, my mind was made up because that’s pretty unusual for a large acquisition.”
Marzetti, makers of everything from popular salad dressings to dips, croutons to frozen entrees of all kinds, has the broad-base marketing team in place to help take Sister Schubert’s to the next level.
“They helped us grow faster than we could on our own,” say Barnes. “Joining Marzetti gave us the opportunity to expand with a like-minded company with the same values of quality and taking care of employees. It’s been a good match since day one.”
Sister Schubert’s now runs three bakeries from its home base in Alabama to Kentucky. The company’s homemade rolls have evolved into a range of options – classic Parker House rolls, whole wheat dinner rolls, pretzel to yeast rolls, mini loaves and even cinnamon rolls and even sweet-Hawaiian style rolls. However, Barnes says all rolls have one thing in common; an all-natural recipe.
“About 20 years ago when I started the company people weren’t talking so much about all-natural and preservative-free foods, but I always used my grandmother’s recipe; nothing unnatural,” compares Barnes. “You could say I was ahead of the curve and that’s still how we do it.”
Barnes says she’s lucky her line of work gives her so much passion and joy. “We’re blessed to have a product people enjoy eating as much as we enjoy making for them; you can’t help but be happy in this type of atmosphere,” she says. And that’s how it’s been for 25 years as Sister Schubert Rolls helps gather families around the dinner table with fast, but all-natural, home-cooked products.