If you drive through Lowell enough, King Milling Company might blend into the background. It’s silver silos and concrete buildings near the Hudson and Main Street intersection simply become part of the downtown landscape.
For those who pass it every day, it can be easy to forget that the company behind the buildings is anything but ordinary. Founded in 1890, King Milling Company is now on its fifth generation of the Doyle family, which has been the business’s sole owner since 1940.
Not many family businesses reach five generations, but that’s not the only thing that makes King Milling unique. It’s the 17th largest mill by size in the nation, and when an expansion is completed later this year, it will have half the milling capacity in Michigan.
All this helps make King Milling Company an important part of the landscape here in Lowell – and one that will likely continue to shape the community for years to come both as an employer and as a sponsor of numerous local organizations and activities.
From the King Family to the Doyle Family
Older Lowell residents may remember King Doyle who served as president of King Milling for 50 years before transitioning to the role of company chairman from 1995 until his passing in 2010.
Given his long tenure with the company, it can be easy to assume that the business was named for him. But in fact, King Doyle’s name was actually an homage to an earlier owner of the mill.
The original owners of King Milling Company were Francis King, his son Frank T. King and business partners Charles McCarty and Rueben Quick. In 1890, the four men bought the Superior Mill, which was located on the banks of the Flat River and had filed for bankruptcy. Then, they renamed it to King Milling.
The Doyle family joined the business in 1911 when Thomas Doyle bought out the shares of Charles McCarty. Thomas Doyle’s sons, Charles and William, were already working for the company when he bought his shares, and the Doyle and King families worked collaboratively for several decades.
“Mr. King was our grandfather’s mentor,” explains Brian Doyle, chairman of King Milling Company.
In 1934, Frank T. King died, and Charles Doyle took over the role of president, with his brother William assuming management of day-to-day operations in 1936. Under his direction, the business continued to grow and the east dam on the Flat River, which still operates today, was built.
William Doyle purchased the King family’s shares of the business in 1940, and the Doyle family has had full ownership of the company since them.
Today, Jim Doyle – Brian’s cousin – serves as president while Patrick Doyle – Brian’s son – is executive vice president. Steve Doyle is senior vice president, and Regan Doyle is vice president of operations.
In honor of the legacy of the King family, it is tradition for the Doyles to incorporate King into their names. Many have King as a middle name while Regan’s first name has Irish origins that mean king.
Processing Wheat for the Foods You Eat Everyday
While client agreements dictate that the Doyles can’t share customer names without prior approval, there is a good chance that something you eat regularly is made with King Milling flour. The company serves restaurant as well as commercial bakers who make cereals, breads and other goods sold in supermarkets.
The King Milling Company processes two types of wheat: hard wheat and soft wheat. While soft wheat is transformed into the flour that is used for cookies, cake and the like, hard wheat makes its way into pizza crust, artisan rolls and similar items.
More than 1,000 trucks deliver soft wheat to King Milling Company each year, according to Jim Doyle. That predominantly comes from Michigan farms. Meanwhile, hard wheat is delivered via rail and comes from Kansas and the Dakotas. To get to the mill, trains travel on the railroad south of the Grand River and then cross the Flat River to approach the mill from the east.
“We’re 1% of the nation’s milling capacity,” Brian Doyle says.
The current main mill is what is known as a swing mill, which means that is can alternate between processing soft wheat and hard wheat. A $42 million expansion that is currently underway will add a new mill that will be devoted to hard wheat.
Right now, King Milling Company processes about 1.3 million pounds of flour every day, seven days a week. The addition will add about 750,000 pounds of flour to that total although the building has been designed for an eventual capacity of 1 million pounds. “With the new mill, we’ll (have) half the capacity in Michigan,” Brian Doyle says.
Innovating in a Timeless Field
Milling wheat into flour is an ancient practice, and King Milling is, by Lowell standards, a very old company. However, there is nothing old-fashioned about its approach to business.
“We were one of the first ones to be automated,” Brian Doyle notes. They took that step in the 1980s, adding pneumatic conveyors to transport flour, among other things.
Then, when news surfaced that someone was tampering with Tylenol bottles in the early ‘80s, King Milling took the step of adding safety seals on all their trailers and doors. It was a proactive move to prevent someone from accessing and contaminating their flour. As a result, when the government more recently started requiring this of all mills, it was already standard practice in Lowell.
“We had been doing it for 20 years,” Jim Doyle says.
Likewise, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, King Milling Co. was ready. “We had a pandemic preparedness plan in place 10 years before it hit,” Brian Doyle says. “We never missed a beat.”
It was good for both Lowell and Michigan residents that they didn’t either. When shelves at local supermarkets cleared of flour, King Milling sent bags to Red Barn Market for local customers and to a food pantry in the thumb region of Michigan.
“We’re fortunate that we’re close to most of our customers,” Patrick Doyle says.
During the pandemic, it wasn’t a problem to continue milling wheat and shipping it nearby, but more far-flung destinations proved problematic. “We had customers out in New Jersey who wanted flour, and we couldn’t find trucks to take it,” Brian Doyle remembers.
Proud of Employees, Lowell Legacy
In speaking to the Doyles, pride in their business is evident.
“There aren’t a lot of five-generation companies around,” Jim Doyle says. Part of the company’s success can also be attributed to its dedicated workforce. “I can’t say enough about our employees,” he adds.
While the company prefers to operate under the radar, it has been a strong supporter of various community initiatives such as Pink Arrow, the Showboat Sizzlin’ Summer Concert Series, LowellArts and other community non-profits.
“We are proud of our hometown,” Brian Doyle says, “proud to be building our business here in Lowell.”
Patrick Doyle sums up the family’s philosophy for the business in this way: “We always try to do things the right way.” While his kids are still young, he hopes that, someday, the sixth generation of Doyles will take the helm and continue the tradition of milling in Lowell.
To learn more about King Milling Co, visit their website or follow their Facebook page.
when I was young my dad was the official pancake maker and it was always with King Pancake mix, never anything else. haven’t seen it in stores in years it made the best pancakes there ever was