The Bread Project rises to offer new opportunities to ex-offenders

Students learn baking techniques at The Bread Project’s training center in Emeryville, Calif.

As one of a growing number of social ventures employing ex-offenders springing up around the nation, the Emeryville, Calif.-based The Bread Project has created a unique program to train low-income people in culinary arts. And the organization recently hired Dale Ray, former executive chef of Napa’s famous Mustards Grill, to help take its programs to the next level.

For more than a decade The Bread Project has been training its low-income students for entry-level positions in high-volume baking facilities, cafes, restaurants and bakeries.

Trainees must be at least 18 years of age, must not make more than 80 percent of the area’s median income, have no violent felonies or sex offenses on their record in the past seven years and no outstanding arrest warrants, have at least five months of sobriety and live in stable housing. In addition, they must demonstrate basic math skills and a certain reading level, and be able to lift 25 pounds and to stand for up to eight hours.

Staff members do outreach to soon-to-be-released inmates at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif., as well as San Quentin State Pirson. About 28 percent of the students are ex-offenders.

Two programs teach different skills

The Bread Project offers two programs, each 360 hours total in length. The 12-week bakery production training program at the organization’s Emeryville headquarters teaches students basic baking techniques and how to use commercial bakery equipment, along with knowledge of weights and measures, knife and prep skills and food safety and sanitation, among other things.

The nine-week food service training program which takes place on the campus of the Berkeley Adult School in neighboring Berkeley, Calif., trains students in culinary techniques and vocabulary, barista skills, knife and prep skills, how to operate a cash register and customer service skills.

The two curriculums incorporate 45 hours of job readiness preparation that includes help with such things as writing resumes and learning how to conduct interviews. Volunteers from Chevron Corp. come in for a day and conduct mock interviews, teach proper handshake techniques and do a series of networking games with the students.

The Bread Project is in the process of putting together a mentorship program and hopes to have 30 dedicated mentors by December.

Post-graduation follow-up

After students graduate, they’re given job leads and help with their search. “We have a new relationship with Starbucks,” says Alicia Polak, The Bread Project’s executive director. “It hired 19 of the 19 people we presented to them last Friday (Sept. 21), and they will work in South San Francisco (at the La Boulange baking facility).” Starbucks bought the San Francisco Bay Area bakery chain La Boulange Café & Bakery in June.

Trainees have also found jobs at Safeway, the AgeSong retirement communities, Wal-Mart Stores, Sugar Bowl Bakery, Rubicon Programs and Donsuemor, among other places.

Seventy-five percent of the organization’s 19 full-time staff members are former trainees, and The Bread Project has further expanded its workforce by hiring Chef Dale Ray to head up training and development and revise its catering menu. Ray’s resume includes stints at the Inn at Little Washington, Lettuce Entertain You and, most recently, as executive chef at Napa’s Mustard Grill.

The Bread Project receives about two-thirds of its funding from corporations and foundations, including Chevron Corp. and the East Bay Community Foundation, and one-third from its social enterprise revenue.

The organization runs a café at the Berkeley Adult School site, sells muffins to the Berkeley Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District, sells baked goods to Johnny Appleseed Café in Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland park and other places, as well as does catering for a variety of clients.

And when word gets around that Chef Dale Ray is now onboard, the organization’s catering business is expected to grow.

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