The ongoing troubles of a well-known ice cream maker have seeped into Richmond.
Blue Bell Creameries last week shut down its Richmond distribution center at 5733 S. Laburnum Ave. and laid off the facility’s employees as the company works to recover from a massive recall of its products. It has also put on hold a construction project it had planned in Hanover County.
The Laburnum site was shuttered, along with a Hampton Roads satellite facility, the company said. The closings resulted in the elimination of about 35 Blue Bell employees between the two sites.
The local layoffs are part of a 37 percent reduction of Blue Bell’s 3,900-person workforce and the closing of 13 distribution centers in its response to the discovery of listeria in some of its products.
Blue Bell spokesman Joe Robertson said this marks the first layoffs in the ice cream maker’s 108-year history.
The company’s president and CEO Paul Kruse announced the cuts with a press release and video posted on the company’s website last week.
“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell’s CEO and President,” Kruse said. “We did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible. At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future.”
Blue Bell said in its release that it is in the process of cleaning and repairing its four production plants in Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma. It said it isn’t clear when production and distribution will resume, but when work starts up again, it “will be limited and phased in over time.”
Robertson said this week that there are no immediate plans to reopen the local facility. Blue Bell leases the Eastern Henrico space and began operations there in 2013.
“(Richmond) has been a very successful market for us,” Robertson said. “You just don’t know what the company is going to look like. We’re going to start out slow and try to build back.”
Last year the company purchased a plot in Hanover County that was to eventually house a new distribution center. Robertson those plans are on hold.