Wells plant has a long and interesting history
Wells has been going through a seven-year process of recuperation from a community business investment that went awry. As a matter of fact, this business in Wells has shown a lifetime of struggle. But there is still hope for the future.
Brakebush Brothers, a chicken processing group, has just recently taken over what was called, for a short period of time in 2015-16, Wells Food Processing. And before that, from 2009-14, the poultry processing company was known as Singleteary Food Solutions.
It was Singleteary Food Solutions, or SFS, that brought a world of chaos and confusion all of its own to the city of Wells, when investor and owner Stephen Singleteary received $750,000 in 2009 from the combined efforts of the Faribault County Economic Development Authority, the Wells EDA, and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) through the Minnesota Investment Fund program to begin his project.
In March of 2010, SFS began running a single line with 20 employees for just one month, and in June, SFS purchased the factory at 115 North Broadway for $1 million. Singleteary then secured $1.7 million in USDA dollars, and another $2.7 million in loans for equipment and working capital.
Just six months after Singleteary borrowed large sums of money and the USDA, the owner of SFS decided to refinance with a $3.6 million Small Business Association (SBA) loan.
Month after month went by with no plant activity, and Singleteary’s mortgage on his factory building began stacking up. He even borrowed more money from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), $200,000 for working capital, and another $100,000 for equipment.
Months turned into years as Singleteary began requesting multiple deferments of his loan payments in 2012, with no output coming from the processing plant.
In 2013, it was much of the same; Singleteary was not producing any product, and he was not paying his mortgage on the building.
On April 15 of that year, a notice of a foreclosure sale for both May 9 and May 23 were posted for Singleteary’s accrued $4.8M in mortgages from Pioneer Bank that had yet to be paid.
In February of 2014, Pioneer Bank hired Keen Realty to market the property.
Then, in November, Pioneer Bank sued Steve Singleteary for $6M for unpaid loans.
Three months later, North Central Equity?LLC purchased the plant and all of its equipment from Pioneer Bank after foreclosure. North Central Equity decided to name the processing plant “Wells Food Processing LLC.”
Wells Food Processing was able to operate one processing line with only one shift during its time as it hired a full staff and worked diligently on trying to bring the factory back to life. Meanwhile, Singleteary filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
In 2015, Wells Food Processing silently hired employees and worked their lines, partnering with Brakebush on multiple projects. Then, earlier this year, Brakebush Brothers announced its purchase of the plant from North Central Equity LLC.
“Brakebush was so impressed by the facility when they partnered with Wells Food Processing that they decided to purchase the plant,” says Tim Clawson of the Faribault County Development Corporation (FCDC.)
“We have worked together with Wells on various projects over this past year and found the team members a pleasure to work with. We sensed right away that we had a partner in Wells. Adding the Wells facility puts us in a great position to continue to grow our existing customer base and aggressively pursue new business,” said Brakebush company president Scott Sanders.
Before the SFS?fiasco, however, the history of the site still had an interesting and tumultuous past.
The property first was home to Musser Produce beginning in the 1930s until 1950, when Musser Produce dealt with a fire on April 26, 1950 resulting in $400,000 worth of damage. In 1954, Musser Produce moved out, and F.M Stamper stepped up to the plate.
Stamper leased the plant from 1954 to 1957 and then purchased the plant in 1957 and made a complete renovation, changing the plant from a poultry and egg plant to a “further processing plant” with all final products shipped in pre-cooked, ready-to-eat, canned, boned chicken meats.
The Stamper plant then began producing quick frozen cooking bags in the 1960s, bringing family favorites such as chicken ala king and sliced turkey with giblet gravy. The plant at that time employed 300 workers and added on two major additions to the building. The group was successful for 16 years until 1970.
Banquet Foods Corporation, purchased the plant and ran the plant for 10 years before giving ownership of the Banquet Foods name to ConAgra Foods. The group marketed 10 separate chicken products and provided year-round employment to around 400 employees.
The building switched owners again four more times between 1980 and 2008.
Now, Singleteary’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy has been approved while the city of Wells has notified the $500,000 MIF loan to SFS will be written off due to foreclosure and subsequent sale of the plant and equipment to Brakebush Brothers.
City Administrator Robin Leslie reports that the city will not seek liens against SFS as it “could have been a costly venture” for the city.
Though the processing plant has been through its ups and downs, Brakebush now has the reigns of the chicken processing plant and only time will be the true indicator of the future of the plant in Wells.