Mile Hi Specialty Foods Inc.: Living the American Dream

Mile Hi Specialty Foods Inc. (Mile Hi) began from the seat of Michael Taddonio’s peddlers cart in the early 1900s. Today, Mile Hi serves some of largest restaurant franchises in the world, as the Denver-based distributor works with big names like McDonald’s Corporation, Starbucks, Famous Dave’s, Chipotle and Boston Market, while maintaining family-owned and -operated values.

Mile Hi’s story embodies the American dream. In 1901 Michael immigrated to the United States from Italy. He initially sold fruits and vegetables door-to-door to local restaurants. Michael’s sons – Anthony, Sam and Roxie – later took the reins in 1945, operating out of just one truck selling potatoes. The brothers then assumed the name Mile Hi Fruit and Vegetable.

When the first McDonald’s opened in Denver, the company asked the Taddonios to supply the potatoes for its famous hand-cut french fries. As McDonald’s grew, so did the family business. The company moved from servicing smaller mom-and-pop restaurants to being the sole supplier to McDonald’s.

By 1968 the Taddonios had added TMT Trucking, a contract carrier with a 48-state authority for interstate transportation, as well as Mile Hi Bakery. In 1985 Mile Hi Bakery began producing all the hamburger buns for the Rocky Mountain region’s McDonald’s. McDonald’s wanted to ensure growth for the Taddonios; therefore, the company became known as its current inception by also servicing McDonald’s partner brands: Boston Market and Chipotle.

Expansion While Grounded in Family Values

Sisters Kristy Taddonio-Mullins and Toni Taddonio, fourth-generation co-owners of Mile Hi, now carry on the Taddonio tradition. “People always ask me why I don’t sell,” reveals Mullins. “My response is no way; this is my family legacy. I have to continue this dream.”

With such loyalty, comes sustained growth. Mile Hi has grown to employ 700 people while remaining privately owned. The company services an impressive 18 states with four distribution companies located in Dallas, Salt Lake City, Denver and New Mexico.

The company has experienced tremendous success over the past decade, adding a new distribution center for Starbucks in Dallas in 2012. According to Mullins, 2013 will bring the expansion of the bakery with a new 128,000-square-foot site in Colorado. The project is fully LEED Gold-certified with an on-site generator that takes power off the grid and runs the plant more efficiently.

The $22 million expansion will triple Mile Hi’s operation abilities, featuring a high-speed assembly line that will pump out about 8,000-dozen white, whole wheat and gluten-free hamburger buns per hour. The buns will be shipped to McDonald’s, Red Robin and potentially Wendy’s locations all over the West Coast.

Despite the rapid growth, the company’s values remain the same. “It’s not always about the bottom line,” says Mullins. “There’s no sell, sell, sell mentality here. It’s about the people and the continuing of the history.”

Adapting and Giving Back

Despite recent economic turmoil, Mile Hi has survived thanks to successful business partnerships. “McDonald’s and Starbucks are smart companies,” explains Mullins. “They’re weathering the storm pretty well.” Therefore, Mile Hi will join the trend of smart, successful progress.

Mile Hi’s biggest expenses are commodities like fuel, tractor trailer equipment and supplies like flour. The company works with its supply chain to be more cost-effective. McDonald’s has commodity teams that Mile Hi collectively works and meets with on a regular basis. “We work with them to purchase common items like fuel and flour,” shares Mullins. “We have a larger buying power as a group. It’s the best supply chain network in the industry.”

The company also works to build sustainable LEED-certified manufacturing plants and invests in fuel hedging to cut costs and maintain efficiency. Mile Hi also uses electrical trailer plug-ins, fuel-efficient tires, compressed natural gas tractors and an ammonia-free refrigeration system, as well as an oil waste, cardboard and plastic recycling program. Bakery waste is ground down and used for animal feed. Overall, Mile Hi does what it can as a company to make a positive difference, environmentally speaking.

Not only does the company seek out eco-friendly practices, it also makes a point to give back to the surrounding community. The Taddonio Family Foundation was founded over 20 years ago and partners with local charities to raise money for children’s organizations. The foundation’s biggest partner is fitting: the Ronald McDonald House.

Toni is the foundation’s chairperson; she manages all of the events, sponsorships and day-to-day operations. Toni suits her position well, as she has organized many notable events over the years. In July 2012 the foundation hosted the 20th annual Ronald McDonald House Golf Tournament. The event is the second largest fundraiser for the Denver area Ronald McDonald House organization. “With the amount of money the company generates, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t give back,” details Mullins. “It’s just how we were raised.”

This family-oriented, community-focused approach has propelled Mile Hi through a century of successful business. Although the company continues to expand and prosper, Mile Hi Specialty Foods Inc. remains rooted in humble beginnings.