Just Bakery equips the formerly incarcerated with commercial baking skills, and it’s seen plenty of success setting participants up for employment. But it comes at a literal cost: it takes several thousand dollars to train each student.
Since she started the job four years ago, Program Coordinator Carmella Glenn’s goal has been to open a storefront, bringing in more business to eventually make the program less reliant on gifts from funders.
Boosted by help from Short Stack Eatery, Glenn’s goal is being realized this week as Just Bakery opens a retail store in partnership with Porchlight, Inc. on the east side of the city.
The shop, known as Storefront for Success, will have a soft open at 1704 Thierer Road on Monday, March 5, followed by a grand opening on Saturday, March 10. It will sell Just Bakery products along with Porchlight Products, sauces, jams and mixes made by the formerly homeless.
Getting a job after prison is no easy feat. Nationally, 90 percent of people who have been incarcerated struggle to find employment in the first year after release, according to Prison Fellowship.
The 12-week Just Bakery training course, started by Madison-area Urban Ministry in 2013, takes in students who have been incarcerated or face other barriers to employment like homelessness or lack of a GED. It includes classroom learning on topics like baking math and food science, then gives students get a chance to practice in a commercial kitchen.
The partnership between Porchlight and Just Bakery began last year, when Just Bakery moved its training and baking operations to the new Porchlight campus on Thierer Road, which also hosts 28 units of permanent supportive housing. Just Bakery will pay “rent” by selling Porchlight products, said Melissa Guth, director of kitchen operations at Porchlight.
“(We’re) combining our forces,” Guth said. “It kind of opens up a whole new world for all of us.”
For both organizations, the storefront brings the promise of selling more product. Now, Just Bakery items like banana bread, muffins, Danish, brownies, biscotti and rolls are sold at farmers markets, at churches and through online orders. Glenn said customers were asking for a more convenient way to purchase goods during the week, and this site is ideal, as it’s “in an area that doesn’t really have tons of fresh baked goods.”
Porchlight Products, which include apple butter, strawberry rhubarb jam, sauerkraut and mixes for multigrain pancakes, can be found at stores like Willy Street Co-op, Capitol Centre Market, Hy-Vee and Metcalfe’s, but a storefront will hopefully bring more sales and the chance to employ more people, Guth said.
Along with the food, Just Bakery will be selling some of their “swag,” Glenn said, like t-shirts, reusable bags and coffee mugs.
All those sales will go back into supporting the Just Bakery program. Sales, along with help from the city, Dane County and United Way, fund the almost $4,000 training cost per student.
Linda Ketcham, executive director of MUM, said a realistic goal would be to one day fund 75 percent of the program through sales. But skills, rather than sales, are the ultimate goal, she said.
“It’s really about how do we get people on a pathway out of poverty? How do we get people job skills and help them find and retain a job that pays above a minimum wage?” she said. “That’s our real purpose and goal.”
The retail setting is meant to help expand those job skills. Originally, the program intentionally picked a profession that would allow the formerly incarcerated to work at the back of the house, where employers wouldn’t have objections to employees handling cash or interacting with customers, Glenn said.
But Just Bakery has a reputation for training quality employees, Glenn said, and if the program can testify that an employee has been successfully handling cash for months, “it’s another life-changing thing for them.”
Alex Lindenmeyer and Sinead McHugh, co-owners of Short Stack Eatery at 301 W. Johnson St., have been helping Just Bakery students pick up the customer service skills they’ll need at a storefront. Short Stack led a front-of-house training for Just Bakery, answered Glenn's questions and helped out with marketing.
“We’re proud and passionate about their vision, and super happy to get the word out about this amazing new opportunity,” said Janelle Bentley, assistant general manager at Short Stack.
Bentley said Short Stack was happy to prepare students, but also believes in the storefront as a way to battle stigma about the populations Just Bakery serves.
“I think it was really important that the public and the community see who’s behind the making of all these amazing goods,” she said.
The grand opening on Mar. 10 will be held at the storefront from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, short presentations and free samples.
Storefront for Success hours:
- Mondays and Wednesdays: 7:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
- Saturdays: 8:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.