Columbus Salame opens new plant 2 years after fire

HAYWARD, Calif. It was 2 a.m. on July 23 when flames shot from the roof of the Columbus Salame plant in South San Francisco, two years ago.

Production supervisor Maria Alfaro remembers it like it was yesterday.

"My god, I started crying; I started crying because it's like your, it's like your house, you're staying there 8-10 hours sometimes 10-12 hours," Alfaro said.

But what Alfaro didn't realize when she saw that old plant burned to the ground was that it would provide her an opportunity to weigh in on the design and layout of the new state-of-the-art plant that Columbus built to replace it.

Two years after the devastating fire, Columbus employees helped cut the ribbon at the salame plant's new home in Hayward.

"This is the state of the art facility in deli meat slicing right now," Columbus Foods CEO Timothy Fallon said.

Fallon says high-tech robotics mean the new plant employs about 20 fewer people than the old one. Of the remaining 70 jobs, just under half are new hires; the rest are returning workers from the old plant.

Some employees, like Alfaro, got to stay through the two-year transition as Columbus outsourced its salame slicing to its competitors.

"They were very gracious and they understood it and we didn't have to ask twice," Fallon said.

But now, the new plant is up and running -- slicing salami 30 percent faster than the old one.

It's a happy ending -- any way you slice it.

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