One of the keys to Just Bakery’s success has been that the food that they make is really delicious.
“We love it. I’m pretty sure everybody here at MUM has gained weight since we started the program,” laughs Madison-area Urban Ministry (MUM) Executive Director Linda Ketcham. “We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on how good our food is and part of it is the ingredients. We try to buy the best ingredients we can to the extent we can locally. We want to support other local businesses.
“We use butter. And that’s more expensive. The chocolate chips we use for our cookies are a much higher percentage of cocoa than you’ll find in most other bakery chocolate chip cookies,” Ketcham adds. “We use very good ingredients and that’s what people like.”
MUM’s Just Bakery has continued to grow since the fall of 2013 when its first cohort started and since they launched their product line on Jan. 26, 2014. This weekend, they will achieve a new milestone as they move into their new commercial-grade kitchen on 1704 Thierer Road on Madison’s east side. The community is invited to the Just Bakery Grand Opening/Ribbon Cutting on Friday, March 10. Just Bakery will now have their very own kitchen at Porchlight’s new development. They have been raising money for it for awhile. “We’ve got about $36,000 left to raise of the $120,000 … so we’ve been doing pretty good,” Ketcham says.
MUM’s Just Bakery program is a vocational and employment training program specifically designed to prepare men and women returning to the community after incarceration to work in commercial bakeries. The program teaches life and employment skills, food safety training and math. Participants completing the Just Bakery program learn how to operate commercial kitchen equipment, obtain a certificate of completion from the Wisconsin Baker’s Association, and can enter the job market offering valuable knowledge and experience to employers.
May 9th will be the official grand opening of the entire building, but Ketcham wanted to have some special recognition for the churches, funders, and congregations that came on early that made it possible.
“We really appreciate all of the support Just Bakery has had from the community. If it wasn’t for Willy Street Co-Op giving us the first $1,000 way back in 2008/2009 for seed money … and then the City of Madison was the next to sign on when they put extra money in employment training. It grew from there,” Ketcham says. “Lakeview Lutheran gave us free classroom space for all these years, United Way came on and we started selling products and it just rolled from there.”
Madison Gas & Electric and American Family also came with huge grants to help Just Bakery along. “It really has been a true community endeavor so we wanted to have a chance to invite congregations and funders and have them be part of a special ribbon-cutting day,” Ketcham says.
At the event, people will be able to have tours of the new place and meet program staff. It’s quite a bit less chaotic than the place will be when it’s fully operational.
“On Saturday, they are going to start production there. Once the ingredients we’ve ordered have arrived. And then it will be much harder to have tours of the place,” Ketcham says. “We’re excited about the new kitchen which will hold a few more students, but mostly, for our purposes, the key was the ability to get bigger contracts. We just got a big one from UW Health Clinics to provide their cookies for them – and when you’re renting by the hour there’s only so much of them you can take on. This gives us 24/7 access. It lets us do so much more.”
With this new facility, the Just Bakery program will be able to increase its revenue, graduate more program participants, add training components, and do more catering.
“Hopefully, the plan is that there will be a small retail space that MUM and Porchlight will do collaboratively so it gives us a chance to do some training on retail management and bakery management … so adding some of the business ends to the training, too,” Ketcham says. “We would love to be able to teach some of the business aspects of bakery and food service so that our graduates can do that if they want.”
Just Bakery is exactly what MUM’s mission is all about. For over four decades in Madison, MUM has vigorously focused on fair and affordable housing, homelessness, economic justice, poverty, racism, quality education, health care reform, and criminal justice system reform. MUM works with formerly incarcerated individuals to assist them in addressing the barriers to successful reintegration. Each year, approximately 1,700 men and women return to Dane County from jail or prison. Annually 400-500 of them come to MUM to rebuild their lives.
Ketcham is excited that local employers have been hiring her Just Bakery graduates. “We’re adding more employers right now to the point where [MUM Program Director] Carmella [Glenn] has relationships with some of them who just call us when they have an opening and ask if we have a graduate who is looking for work,” Ketcham says.
Ketcham says that 60-70 people start the program each year. “Some of them will leave when they get their food service certification because they are on supervision and they are required to find employment if they can and the ServSafe Certification makes you a lot more attractive to employers because it saves them on training,” she says. “With our students who graduate right now, it’s about a 70-75 percent job placement record. And we continue to work with them even after they have a job. At any given time, we have students who have graduated who are still engaged with us three years later.”
And what has been the Just Bakers reaction to the program? Are they liking it? Have they been gaining weight, too?
“They are liking it. I don’t think they’ve been gaining as much weight as we have,” Ketcham smiles. “The feedback that we have gotten back from both employers and the bakers has been great. We have a pretty comprehensive and intensive training program, but the students like it and it’s really designed to provide a positive educational experience for people, many of whom have not had good experiences in school.”
This Friday will be a great chance to meet some of the Just Bakers, try some of their foods, and learn more about the Just Bakery Program.
“The Ribbon Cutting/Open House is a great chance to come on out and meet some of the students in the program past and present and to learn more about the great partners we have and why vocational training is so important and why holistic training is so important – looking at the whole person versus just teaching you these skills,” Ketcham says. “It’s a chance to sample the products, too, which are delicious.
“I started at MUM 11 years ago today and never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that we would be operating a bakery program someday,” Ketcham adds, laughing. “I would have said, ‘You’re insane, David.’ But that’s part of the beauty of being part of a smaller organization and having such great support from faith communities … that when we saw a need we were able to start figuring out how to address it. Employment training for people with conviction history was a huge issue … and still is.”
For more information about Just Bakery’s Open House/Ribbon Cutting, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.