Bridge Bread in Your City

I am happy to help you find your way for a social enterprise that provides supportive employment to people experiencing homelessness. This might be as little as the advice in this message or as much as a 'Bridge Bread' in your community. We'll have to figure that out.

Let me start with a few questions and options for you to consider.

  • Do you have funding for the program? If so, is it one-time or ongoing? My wife and I started Bridge Bread with very, very little funding and grew it as we found our way and as donors came forth to help. But you could dramatically accelerate things with up-front funding. The big question for the long term is whether you will have paid staff beyond the Bakers (people experiencing homelessness). We do not. Everyone, including me, is a volunteer except our Bakers. It is a large time commitment for a volunteer.
  • You may have access to an unused commercial kitchen. We found that it was really difficult and often unpleasant to share a kitchen, even with a like-minded organization. For long-term success, you will want a facility dedicated to your Bakery.
  • There is natural conflict between the priorities of a charity like a church and a social enterprise. The person who runs a social enterprise needs to be an entrepreneur - willing to take risks and focused on seizing opportunity. It's well documented that the boards of non-profit charities and the governing bodies of churches are primarily focused on reducing or eliminating risks and on protecting assets. In a relatively short time, a successful social enterprise will want to be independent or affiliated with other entrepreneurial organizations.
  • Churches are a wonderful channel for sales of Bridge Bread and still account for the majority of our sales. They provide a natural venue for discussion of issues of poverty, homelessness, and social justice. But building relationships with churches is hard and time-consuming. A retail outlet will gain instant visibility in the community and open doors to secular organizations as well as churches. A wholesale supply relationship with a retailer is steady and predictable and pretty low overhead - at the cost of giving up some margin or limiting sales by selling products at elevated prices. Restaurants are another avenue that requires low prices and consistent high quality. Bridge Bread does all of the above with varying degrees of success. I suggest that you look at the alternatives and focus on one channel to start. We started with selling through churches.
  • I could go on for hours (and I have been known to do so) about supportive employment and what it takes to be successful with it. But first you need to decide what you're trying to do. If it's to provide training, you might get funding and could create a Bakery with modern, automated equipment. We didn't do that. We do everything by hand and there really isn't that much of a call for the skills our Bakers learn beyond solid workplace skills in a commercial kitchen. They would be more likely to move on to a job in a restaurant than in a commercial bakery.

To do what we've done you will need people with most of the following:

  • Someone who can handle the very delicate job of working with people that have suffered the emotional trauma of homelessness. My background in Stephen Ministry was invaluable
  • An entrepreneur. What this means is pretty well documented. Grit. Salesmanship. Never Say Die. Line up the obstacles and overcome them one by one. If it didn't work, let's try another way until we figure what does.
  • A lawyer. You will need to become an LLC or corporation or L3C or some other self-contained organization.
  • A project manager. Launching a program like this likely comes in phases, each of which needs planning and organization.
  • Someone spiritual that can make sure the entire program is Christ-centered
  • A social worker that can identify candidates that are truly homeless, could not otherwise become employed, but have the potential to succeed. Later on, a social worker will be needed to overcome many obstacles beyond housing and employment. You'll be surprised. It's a long way back to mainstream society.
  • Someone good with social media
  • A public speaker
  • A photographer and videographer
  • A graphics design person and/or a marketing specialist
  • A bookkeeper and services of an accountant
  • You will only need someone with baking skills for a little while - and it needs to be someone with commercial baking, not a home baker. Home baking is way too labor-intensive and costly to be commercially viable

Your kitchen will likely need to comply with local regulations for commercial kitchens, but it may not. Curiously in Missouri bread and bread products are classed as "non-potentially harmful" and do not need to be make in a licensed commercial kitchen. We did it anyway. You will need a convection open, a proofer (heated and humidified holding cabinet), a cooler and a commercial mixer. Although not necessary for product that will be sold right away, a commercial freezer really provides a lot of flexibility. You will not need a range or cooktop. In St. Louis, the fire code does not require fire suppression if there's no open flame.

That's probably enough for now.

If you want to explore being affiliated and using the Bridge Bread brand, we can talk about that as well and possible 'consulting' by me and the Bakers. I do not choose to receive any compensation, so please understand that consulting would be for your benefit and only if you want it. Payment, if any, would go to the program.