Community Makes These Bakeries, Coffee Shops, and Students Thrive
Last summer, we celebrated America’s Good Eggs—the people and businesses who stepped up with extraordinary acts of goodwill as COVID-19 shook the restaurant industry to its core. As the effects of the pandemic continue, the efforts of those who are finding innovative ways to help their communities matter more than ever. Read on for more projects to cheer on and support this fall.
The Good Neighbors
In the Midwest, Neighbor Loaves helps bakeries stay in business while tackling local food insecurity, one loaf of bread at a time.
In a span of two days, Hewn, a bakery in Evanston, Illinois, went from having 70 wholesale customers, who made up about 40% of their business (including restaurants, coffee shops, and co-ops), to just four. Struggling to survive, Hewn pivoted to an online-only retail model within 24 hours while also opening a new second space. “Our [retail] customers were saying, ‘How can we help you?’” said co-owner Julie Matthei.
Around this time, Matthei was approached by Alyssa Hartman, executive director of Artisan Grain Collaborative, a network of farmers, millers, and bakers who work across the upper Midwest. Hartman was starting a program called Neighbor Loaves that would bring in revenue for struggling bakeries while providing bread for people facing food insecurity. Here’s how it works: A customer purchases a Neighbor Loaf from a participating bakery for an average price of $6.50, and the bakery donates that loaf to a local food pantry. To be part of Neighbor Loaves, bakers must source their grain from local, sustainable farms, and every Neighbor Loaf must contain at least 50% locally grown and milled flour. The concept took off: Between late March and the end of August, nearly 15,000 loaves were purchased for donation by community members throughout the upper Midwest; today, Neighbor Loaves has participating bakeries in five states.
“I think this initiative was clear and simple enough that people were like, ‘Oh yeah, that is a concrete thing I can do,’” Hartman says. “Especially because people can’t be out volunteering in their communities.” Neighbor Loaves has allowed some bakeries, like Bird Dog Baking in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to stay in business. “With Neighbor Loaves, we didn’t have to take a huge hit,” says co-owner Jennifer Haglund. “Community members are donating these loaves, and we are the vehicle.”
By this fall, the bakeries are committed to achieving a goal of donating 25,000 Neighbor Loaves. “I give great kudos to our customers for rising to the occasion,” Matthei says. “It shows what a strong community can do in a time of crisis.”
Find participating Neighbor Loaves bakeries here.
The Small-Biz Supporters
Shared Roasting gives cafés and newbie roasters a fighting chance at keeping Americans caffeinated when they need it most.
When Howard Chang and Jeff Wong opened a 6,000-square-foot, two-story coffee production facility in Brooklyn in December 2019, little did they know that their operation would give small roasters and cafés a chance to painlessly pivot when COVID-19 hit New York City. As Americans pressed pause on their morning ritual of a quick cortado at their local coffee shop, the duo’s new project, Shared Roasting, offered businesses the training, space, and equipment to quickly scale their coffee operations.
“When the pandemic happened, a lot of our clients lost their wholesale business in Manhattan,” says Chang. “But folks didn’t just stop drinking specialty coffee. So we’ve been working with a lot of businesses to help them roast in-house for a more affordable price: providing the education [through training courses on roasting techniques, machinery, and more], helping them with production, and just getting them comfortable with the ropes.”
Shared Roasting’s clients include Bwè Kafe, a beloved Hoboken, New Jersey, craft coffee shop, now successfully producing their own private line of beans. They decided to go into production at the facility after their previous wholesaler increased prices dramatically. Another company, Nguyen Coffee Supply, opted to shift from a wholesale to a direct-to-consumer focus during the pandemic. “Roasting our own coffee beans rather than going to a co-packer at this stage has allowed us to control our costs with flexible arrangements,” says founder Sahra Nguyen. “We are not tied to any fixed costs like rent or storage, so as the volume fluctuates, we’re able to control our expenses, which ultimately supports our bottom line. In March, we lost most of our business-to-business revenue, so we shifted our focus entirely to direct-to-consumer, which allowed us to grow 123% that month.”
A core aspect of Shared Roasting’s success during a time of constant uncertainty is the flexibility it offers coffee businesses. “Our smallest client, for example, is just renting our smallest machine for one hour per week and producing five pounds of coffee, just to get comfortable with the different types of beans out there as they change their business model,” says Chang. “Our largest clients are easily hundreds of times bigger than that.” That flexibility also extends to responsibly sourcing coffee beans for many of their clients. “A pallet of beans could easily cost $4,000 or $5,000. Clients benefit from our scale in how we buy coffee, and we pass along those savings for them to try different coffees without having to commit to [thousands of pounds] of beans before they’re comfortable,” Chang says. “We basically try to empower them in creating their own unique businesses.”
The Savvy Students
The future of food media is filled with hope—just take it from the NYC-based high school students who are hard at work on their new magazine, Pass the Spatula.
When the world shut down, students at Food and Finance High School got to work. At this culinary-focused New York City public school, the junior class typically spends all year preparing for their Spring Showcase, an event that serves as a culmination of what they’ve learned over the past three years. But last year’s juniors, homebound because of the pandemic and with the Black Lives Matter protests as a constant backdrop, pivoted away from tradition. Instead, this group of 16- and 17-year-olds reported, wrote, illustrated, and designed a food magazine, called Pass the Spatula, that celebrated their showcase theme: trailblazing chefs of color. (The inaugural issue included profiles of Padma Lakshmi, Carla Hall, and Kwame Onwuachi.) Food & Wine convened nine students over Zoom to discuss their experience producing Pass the Spatula and how they hope to change the food industry for the better.
Kaelyn Alexander Staff Writer
Jade Atkins Editor In Chief
Maria Gonzalez Staff Writer
Chayil Hyland Co-Creative Director
Tarick Rogers Staff Writer
Hasanah Sabree Co-Creative Director
Michael Stanton Distribution Director
Anthony Trabasas Head of PR, Marketing, and Social Media
Paola Zevallos Staff Writer
The Biggest Challenges
GONZALEZ: “The hardest part was communication. We all live in different boroughs, and it wasn’t good enough to just text.”
ATKINS: “Trying to talk to our mentors or chefs because they’re busy with COVID, the protests, and their businesses.”
SABREE: “You always feel like you’re emailing someone too much or asking too many questions, but that’s something you have to do.”
TRABASAS: “Learning professional skills, like how to reach out to people that show interest in the magazine and how to network.”
The Biggest Rewards
TRABASAS: “I am pretty new to this country; I’ve been in New York for about a year, so the opportunity to be in The New York Times, working with some of the biggest people in the industry, is amazing.”
GONZALEZ: “Seeing the layout and our hard work.”
ROGERS: “Being able to talk to chef Lazarus Lynch. If this pandemic hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have this magazine.”
Points of Pride
SABREE: “We don’t just talk about chefs; we also represent them in illustrations. We try to make the magazine look like kids made it, with quizzes and illustrations that make it more fun for readers.”
HYLAND: “There are a lot of subtle design elements that make a statement. When we were drawing the cover, I had the idea to make it the Black Lives Matter fist with a spatula in its hand.”
ROGERS: “We put a lot of work and effort into it, from the staff writers to the people behind the scenes.”
GONZALEZ: “After speaking with [chef and wellness advocate] Sophia Roe, I felt like I could do more than just cook—like use cooking for activism.”
ROGERS: “Before the magazine, I thought the only thing I’d want to do is cook, but when we were developing recipes and food photography, I realized how much fun that was.”
ZEVALLOS: “After talking with Carla Hall, I still feel like cooking is the right path for me.”
TRABASAS: “Going into this project, I was more interested in the cooking aspect. After working on the PR side, I’m considering food media.”
How the Industry Needs to Change
HYLAND: “Last year, I had an opportunity to work at Marta in Manhattan. I had a really great time but realized that people of color weren’t in high positions. By the time I graduate from college or whenever I work in a kitchen, I want to see diversity. I want to look up to a head chef that looks like me.”
SABREE: “I want to see children think of themselves as future owners of restaurants and not just working there. I want students to know that you don’t always have to work for a big name—you can be that big name.”
STANTON: “To include everybody, no matter their background or their beliefs, and to celebrate food for food.”
What Comes Next
ALEXANDER: “I hope the magazine reaches young aspiring chefs of color so they can see a magazine full of people who made it.
STANTON: “The whole purpose of the magazine is to pass the spatula on to the next generation, to motivate anybody that has a dream.”
Order Pass the Spatula at passthespatula.com ($10 for a print copy and $5 for the digital version). Most of the proceeds will fund a school club for political activism.