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Endres Processing honored by Chamber of Commerce

Leon Endres, a 1980 graduate of Hastings High School, poses for a photograph by his firm's plant along Highway 55 between Hastings and Rosemount.

Thousands of times a day, cars on Highway 55 just outside of Hastings zip by Endres Processing. Few, though, know what the firm does.

Regardless, Endres was just named the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce business of the year. The firm was honored Tuesday in a banquet.

So, what do they do there?

Essentially, the firm picks up truck loads of expired baked goods. They bring that food to their plant along Highway 55. It leaves not long after as a food supplement for cattle, pigs and poultry.

The business is owned by Leon J. Endres, a 1980 graduate of Hastings High School. He grew up on a family farm in Hampton and it was while he was working on the farm that he came up with the business model. That model, though, wasn't exactly a masterpiece at first.

Convincing his family that he could make a living turning expired donuts into feed for animals was no easy task.

"(My dad) thought we were crazy," Leon Endres said.

His father Leon E. Endres had good reason to question his son. After all, the boy was driving into the Twin Cities in the early morning hours with a big truck that he was loading full of bread and donuts. He then watched as his son drove that truck to the farm, unwrapped the loaves of bread and started feeding them to the cattle.

How in the world that would ever evolve into a profitable business was beyond many.

Those opinions have certainly changed, and nobody thinks Leon Endres is crazy these days. In 2011, Endres Processing plans to hit $125 million in revenue. It has operations in eight states and employs 280 people.

"My dad basically taught me growing up that you don't give up," Endres said. "You work hard and you'll be rewarded. You just don't give up if something is not going right. You work your way through it."

Endres worked his way through what was, at first, a very messy process. Food wrappers were everywhere. Loaf after loaf of bread was unwrapped by hand. But once the food was unwrapped and used as a supplement, Endres saw an opportunity there.

"We thought it had to have a good nutritional value," Endres said of the waste. "We just had to refine it."

Refine it he did.

When Endres sat down with his family and did a feasibility study, he figured that by his third year in business, Endres would produce 15,000 tons of feed supplement a year.

This year, the firm will do 700,000 tons of supplement.

Every week, the Hastings/Rosemount plan turns out 5,500 tons per week, or 215 semi trucks full.

"It's a lot bigger than I ever thought it was going to be," he said. "It's a great accomplishment. I'm proud of what we've done. It's the entire company that's responsible for getting us to where we are at today. We've hired a lot of good employees. I've done every job in the plant, and I realize the guy washing the totes that go back to the bakery, his job is just as important as the guy who is going to sell to the bakeries."

All along the way, lessons from his father have helped Endres stay the course.

"I've learned a lot from him," Endres said of his father. "His work ethic. Doing the best job you could on everything you do. That was always important for him. We've really strived to do the best job we can, whether it's washing the totes or securing financing for a project."

Then and now

The first bakery Endres was able to pick up product from was Baldinger Bakery, which was making all the buns for fast food restaurants in the area at the time.

Endres asked them about their waste, and they said they had some pig farmers who picked up their waste every once in a while. Endres entered into a contract with them and began providing a service -- he would come every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to haul away their waste for them. The bakery loved it, and the arrangement got Endres started.

He'd go into the bakery with a 55-gallon barrel, he'd load it up, take it back out to the truck and empty it.

A local boy, Dirk Truax, helped Endres load the truck, then helped him unwrap the buns.

Other bakeries were signed up and Truax quickly had himself a regular job. He learned how to drive from Endres and still drives for the firm today.

Many nights, the Endres phone would ring at 2 a.m. when bakeries would have excess waste. Endres would call Truax's parents, who would wake him up and he'd hit the road.

Now, the system is a bit more refined.

Many bakeries have sophisticated waste containers that Endres has provided. The containers have sensors within them that can tell Endres when they are getting full.

The containers also have codes that are scanned when products are put into them, so that the manufacturers of the products know where their waste is coming from.

Again, providing a service to the bakeries is something Endres continues to be keenly aware of. Without them, he knows he wouldn't have a business.

Bakery products aren't the only ones coming in to Endres anymore. They get ice cream, potato chips, crackers, vegetables, cups of pudding and the like.

The products are scanned in using near infrared testing, so they know everything's nutritional value. Things are balanced out using formulas and the end result is that every bag of supplement that leaves the doors at Endres is the same.

The product

All hours of the day, trucks are delivering what would have been food waste to the facility on Highway 55.

When it leaves, it looks like cornmeal. It is shipped several times a week on barges to New Orleans, where it is dug out and exported to Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Egypt.

Domestically, food giants like Gold N'Plump, Jennie-O and Farmland use the supplement.

What Endres produces is a nutritious and balanced supplement that is relatively inexpensive for the growers.

They take the supplement from Endres, mix it with other products, vitamins, minerals and the like and form a pellet that they feed to their animals.

Waste? What waste?

Endres takes pride in the fact that he's found a creative reuse for what would have otherwise been landfill waste.

"It's amazing how much waste is out there," he said.

In many cases, Endres pays the bakeries for their waste.

Some times, though, it's the other way around, where the producers pay Endres to haul the waste away. Let's say a pudding manufacturer makes an error in production and ends up with four semi trucks full of bad pudding. They'll pay Endres to haul it away, since that's a product containing mostly water and there's a lot of packaging to sort through. Still, the companies pay Endres less than they'd have to pay to put it in a landfill.

Many companies these days have zero landfill initiatives, including Kellogg. Not long ago, some eight vice presidents at Kellogg's toured the Endres plant in Michigan to see what happens to their food waste. What Endres Processing was doing with the food waste was impressive to them. It didn't stop there, however.

The Michigan plant was fueling its plant with the paper and plastic packaging that the Kellogg's waste came in, burning it as a coal replacement.

"Everything we were bringing in was being recycled," Endres said.

The corporate office for Endres Processing is located in Hastings above Premier Bank in Schoolhouse Square.

The firm has operations in eight other cities: Rosemount; Helenville, Wis.; Anamosa, Iowa; Upper Sandusky, Ohio; Battle Creek, Mich.; Byron Center, Mich.; Kansas City; and Memphis.

The acquisitions have made Endres a major player in the field.

"We've acquired some of our competitors that weren't running efficient operations," Endres said. "We've taken advantage of some of those situations. That's where I think we've done a good job - getting in, seeing these operations and basically correcting what they weren't doing right."

Leon Endres is the son of Leon E. and Pat Endres of Hampton.