In April, the owners of sydney’s revered Bourke street Bakery banded together with friends and embarked on a brave new endeavour; a social enterprise designed to create employment pathways for refugees and asylum seekers.
In a new bakery kitchen in marrickville, sydney, an enthusiastic group of bakers are hand-crafting bread made from the highest quality ingredients. While the rustic range of sourdough, rye and panini loaves are notable in their own right, the real success story lies in the bakers themselves.
Founded by Bourke street Bakery owners Paul Allam and david mcGuinness, The Bread and Butter Project is a wholesale, artisan bakery that provides training and employment pathways for refugees and asylum seekers. As a social enterprise, 100 per cent of the bakery’s profits are reinvested back into the business as well as into community training initiatives to ensure the project is sustainable and has a long-lasting impact.
The project employs a team of three professional bakers to oversee the year-long TAFe accredited traineeship, which provides participants with both immediate paid employment, as well as pathways to future employment in the baking and hospitality industries. currently, the kitchen is housing four refugees – both male and female – who have left their homes in Burma, Thailand and Afghanistan to start anew in sydney.
Paul founded the project after he and his wife travelled to mae sot, a town in western Thailand with a large population of Burmese migrants and refugees.
“my wife Jessica and I went over at the invitation my uncle who, knowing I could turn on an oven, asked if I would assist an entrepreneurial group of nuns to teach refugee karen women to bake and to run a small business. The aim was that this business would sell bread into the town’s cafés and ultimately sustain both its employees and a local orphanage,” Paul says.
With a growing business portfolio in Australia however, Paul and Jessica knew they didn’t have time to work as aid-abroad volunteers or possess the skills to run a social enterprise from the other side of the world. however, Paul did know how to bake bread and with Bourke street Bakery, Wilbur’s Place and Bourke street Bakery After hours already under his belt, both he and david had a strong handle on setting up a successful business.
“The vision became that Bourke street Bakery would gift its time and its baking and hospitality expertise to establish a totally separate and independent wholesale bakery where 100 per cent of profits would go towards training and future opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers,” Paul says.
It’s taken a lot of work to get the project off the ground since it was conceived more than two years ago. While momentum gained quickly, in terms of enthusiasm for the project and support from local community groups, the team did have to overcome a number of challenges.
“The biggest issue was probably finding a suitable site that was easily accessible by public transport from the western suburbs, where many of sydney’s refugees live,” Paul says.
“Unfortunately some landlords incorrectly mistook us for a charity, which we are not, and a real challenge was explaining the social enterprise business model and getting our message across.”
Then, of course, there was the issue of generating seed funding: a form of securities offering needed to support the business until it could generate cash of its own.
“receiving deductible gift recipient (dGr) status was also difficult at first, however we were been lucky enough to receive pro bono legal support from Ashurst Australia. Becoming dGr-approved was huge for us because it allows foundations and businesses to receive a tax benefit from donations,” Paul says.
“From there, we received very generous donations from a number of companies, including the macquarie Group and the Goodman Group and went on to be awarded the largest social enterprise grant ever given from the Federal Government. This support was and continues to be invaluable.
“We raised a significant amount of capital, which allowed us to move on with the bakery’s establishment – to find a site, get equipment and set up the physical side of the business.”
uring the first two years of operation, the project will train and find employment for at least 12 asylum seekers and refugees. And by collaborating with the community of refugee and asylum seeker support agencies, The Bread and Butter Project has worked hard to ensure graduates have ongoing career opportunities.
“soon, at about the six-month mark, we will be placing trainees in work placements at external bakeries, to experience Australian workplace standards and culture,” Paul says.
“You have to remember, our trainees have little to no work experience. one of our current trainees has never had a job before in her life and it’s difficult for people who don’t have this experience to fully understand the intricacies of a workplace.”
The 500sq m kitchen is already selling bread to retailers across sydney, including david Jones, carriageworks market and the Pyrmont Growers’ market, as well as to a number of cafés and delis.
With Bourke street Bakery gifting all the recipes, the bread is, needless to say, sourced from the highest quality ingredients and baked in a stone heart oven. The broad range of artisan products includes white, multigrain and wholemeal sourdough and semi-sourdough loaves packed with beer, barley, sultanas and currents, sweet figs, cranberries and seeds. “We bake 365 days a year, in all shapes – oval, batard, boule, baguette, panini and sandwich loaves,” Paul says.
“The Bourke street Bakery team has carried across something we did every Friday; the Whey and rye Loaf that is beautiful and healthy and carries the slight tartness of the yoghurt whey. The Beer and Barley sourdough, an earthy loaf made with an organic dark ale and enriched with cooked barley grain is also proving very popular.”
The White sourdough, made with organic flour, filtered water, river salt and malt flour, is also among the best sellers.
In addition to a full-time team – which includes head baker Alexandra Alewood, refugee and asylum seeker trainee support manager suzanne kuntz, production manager and head of training kim de Laive, and office manager Lara Alford – the project boasts a five-person board.
There are also a number of pro bono supporters who have “dared to dream with the project”, as Paul says, including oven specialist vanrooy machinery, food wholesalers nicholson & saville, legal company Ashurst Australia, public relations specialists The cru media and many others.
“v anrooy machinery has graciously given a lot of time and many, many discounts to the project. They are great supporters of the project, david vanrooy especially,” Paul says.
“They’ve also supplied us with a salva TAv steam Tube deck oven, which is just a breeze to use, as well as a removable bowl mixer, among other products.”
vanrooy machinery, along with several of the project’s other supporters, have been collaborating with Paul since the project’s inception, with general manager duncan Black saying the company quickly saw the potential of a strong, baker training initiative.
“our business is bakery production equipment and we can only survive with a strong and growing baking industry. We are all about supporting organisations that provide an opportunity to improve and to grow the pool of highly qualified and motivated bakers in Australia,” duncan says.
“The Bread and Butter Project bakery divides and shapes the dough by hand and not machine and as such, we wanted to provide a full range of equipment that replicates the skilled hands of artisan bakers’ dough shaping.”
At the end of the day, every person involved with this enterprise has the same aspirations as any other dedicated businessperson – passionate staff, outstanding product and a strong reputation. What’s remarkable about The Bread and Butter Project however, is that it has all these attributes and more; it is giving vulnerable and marginalised people a chance at long-term employment, breaking down language barriers, smoothing cultural shocks, providing support networks and paving the way for generations of future Australians to live in social and economic stability.
“once production grows, we can employ more trainees and more bakers to train them and then we make more money to reinvest back into the business. It’s a nice cycle,” Paul says.
“We have a very different work culture here. everyone knows they are doing this for each other and for something larger than a normal business model, where you are making money for a director.
“don’t get me wrong, we are capitalists. We want to make money with this project, but we are driven by the knowledge that the more bread we sell, the more people we help. This is a very powerful driving force.”
If you’re interested in hosting a trainee work placement or hiring a graduate from The Bread and Butter Project, please contact email@example.com.