It’s National Small Business Week — a time to celebrate all the independent sellers that make up the backbone of the American economy. Every day this week, we’ll be featuring Square sellers who have not only built thriving businesses from the ground up, but are also working every day to make their communities better.
Today, we’re shining the spotlight on Hayes Valley Bakeworks in San Francisco.
Hayes Valley Bakeworks knows how to make a damn good cup of coffee—but it’s what goes on behind the scenes that makes the place so special. The cafe and bakery — sleekly designed and situated in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood — operates as a nonprofit that offers training and employment to people at risk for homelessness. Working alongside the nonprofit employment agency Toolworks, Bakeworks hires people who would typically have deep struggles securing jobs — many of them previously incarcerated and suffering from mental illnesses or disabilities. One hundred percent of Bakeworks’ profits go towards operating their business this way.
Bakeworks helps employees learn the nuts and bolts of running a small restaurant — things like prepping ingredients, washing dishes, or grinding coffee beans. All employees go through a customized training program and are coached through skills that could help prepare them for future jobs.
But to general manager Mark Bailey, the program is more about having empathy for employees than focusing on new skills. “Most of these people have no other options — nowhere to go and no other means to support themselves,” he says. “This gives them a piece of pride, of self-reliance.”
George, an ex-convict who suffers from bipolar disorder and was one of Bakeworks’ first hires, credits the program with restoring his sense of purpose after being released from prison. “I stood in a line around the block for a job at McDonald’s and couldn’t get one,” he says. “I felt like I was going to have nothing to show for my life.”
Bakeworks hired him as a dishwasher in 2012, and he hasn’t missed a day of work since. “It feels good when someone hires you,” he says. “I’m financially responsible and don’t look down on myself. It’s all made me think — maybe I’m not such a bad guy.”