You’ve probably heard about BreadHive already. You may even be a customer. But, we wanted to learn more about them, and their business model. So we asked Emily Stewart, one of the three worker-owners to tell us more about it.
How it began
“BreadHive got started about a year and a half ago, but has a long history before then. We were part of a collective called “Fancy and Delicious” that operated out of different kitchens in the city where we would do small-scale production in tiny little ovens. We were having a really good time, but we were only producing the breads the we knew we could make with that equipment. None of us had jobs that we owned. We weren’t the primary owners, so we didn’t know where that business was going. We all knew about this concept called a “Worker Cooperative” and decided that this is how we should start our business. We shut down the collective, and with our skills learned through the experience spent the next year and a half doing startup work for the space. We raised $65k in community capital through 40 individuals. We sold $1000 shares to community members who have an investment stake in the business. They get little perks as well as a small return, but it’s not a traditional investment.
Went to auctions all over the city and an purchased our equipment – the oven is from Farmers & Artisans. A bench and mixer from Russ’ on the West Side. A table from Dash’s and a slicer from Pumpernick and Pastry in Hamburg. Everything has been collected from places around the city. It was sad to go to these auctions and see these businesses close down, but we felt like having their equipment kept their history going.”
The three current worker-owners of BreadHive are Emily, Allison, and Valerie.
Tell us about Emily
“Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, I found my way here after grad school. I was director of a non-profit doing organizing work in Niagara Falls. We were working on different issues like public transportation for all, responsible development, and working with the city government. I really enjoyed my job, but at the end of the day I knew that I was really more interested in community oriented businesses. We are all really interested in something called Community Capital Control, which is: the more capital that is controlled by the community itself, the more the community can be reflective of it’s residents, versus the powers that be. Our hope is to become a model for other businesses be able to start in the way that we did and to end up with the same kinds of values that we have here.”
“There are only 3 worker-owners, but the goals is to have as many as we can possibly have. That can be 10, 20, 30 worker-owners. This allows for a greater investment of everyone involved, and more growth potential for all of the worker-owners. It means that you’re actually having a hands-on experience. The product that you’re making is paying your wages and you’re making collective decisions together that make sense for both the worker, and the business.”
What got Emily started?
“The moment hit when I realized the we all wanted to start this bakery full time. I had one of those moments where I started remembering how I wanted to go to school for business, and I ended up in art history because I was interested in the startup phase, but we didn’t have the program in college. Then I remembered back to my first job in a kitchen which was an internship when I was in 8th grade at my dad’s friend’s restaurant. Then to the lemonade stands and all of those little things all came together… this is what I’ve been working towards – finding my path to this bakery. For me, it was having the investment of all of us together, but also knowing that every decision I made was leading to this.”
Is there something about Buffalo makes this work?
“Buffalo is an incredibly special place. I left Nashville right as a lot of people were moving to the urban core. I was working at a homeless shelter and I got to see how private developers look at an urban landscape in a different way. I was really disappointed in the way the development was moving. I needed a change and when I moved to Buffalo, I felt like there were some really amazing conversations going on around development of the city. I really felt like there was a different sense of what local businesses meant here, that there was a different concept of what local development looks like. I also fell into a friend group that likes to fix houses and do potlucks. We all really had an intense leaning toward community and what that meant. We all lived at the Nickel City Housing Cooperative on Elmwood. The three founders of BreadHive lived there together and were baking out of its kitchen. A lot of our ideas came from living in that same space.”
How BreadHive makes it’s bread
“We’re a sourdough long-ferment bakery. Which means that every bread we make is naturally leavened with a sourdough starter which was started in 2010. Our “momma” has been going for that long. We believe that in the sourdough leavening and long-ferment process (3 day process of allowing bread to rise before we bake it), that in that time the gluten is given the opportunity to transform into a digestible form for the average person. We’re bringing it back to what people used to do for centuries. It’s exciting to introduce people to a bread that they can actually/potentially digest. It is also important for us to use as much local product as possible. All of our breads have around 60% flour from a mill that gets grains from farms in the finger lakes region. We use that in combination with other more consistent flours to make a our product more consistent. Everything is fermented except our granola, which is made out of organic sunflower oil and local maple syrup. We are really proud of that as well.”
How much bread?
“We do anywhere from six to twelve 60-pound mixes a day. We are mostly a wholesale bakery and sell to about 12 different restaurants and 3 grocery stores in the area . The list is expanding constantly. Our window is open daily from 10am to 3pm, except on Saturdays when we’re at the Elmwood Bidwell Market. When it starts getting cold, we’re going to transition to doing our installation at Hydraulic Hearth – the Bagels and Brooze Brunch.”
Where does BreadHive go from here?
“We always talk about how the bakery has to meet your self-interest. Allison’s primary interest is in the bread and creation. She’s also an expert at social media, so she runs our social media accounts. For me, I’m really interested in businesses and cooperatives and how we can bring about change in different community settings. So I’m living out my self-interest on a daily basis by being here and meeting other people who are interested in starting other worker cooperatives. We’re also working on a separate group called Work Hive – a worker cooperative development center. It’s in its infancy right now. We’re doing a feasability study to learn about different ways worker cooperatives can come about in communities. For me, that’s really exciting and inspiring, where so many people are having that conversation and are really interested in the transformative effects of local business in the context of greater social change.”
“Bread Hive is always growing in its own way, and it’s a reflection of everyone who is participating in this experience. Our five year plan is to go retail where people can buy and eat our products in different ways. We’re still working on our direction for that. There should be some news of this soon.”
Remember this about BreadHive
Good Bread. Good Work. “It’s our motto that’s on the wall. We just want to make good bread and do good work. The quality of our product is incredibly important to us. If we’re not good at the work that we are doing, then we are not working at the place that we want to be.”
What can the Buffalo community do to help BreadHive?
“Our goal is to talk to our customers about the ways that we make our bread, why it’s important to us, and why it’s unique. But, it’s also important that we talk to people about why we are a worker cooperative and what we’re doing on an organization. Come ask us questions. Ask how we make our bread and why we started a worker coop. We think we’re doing some really cool things here and would love to be able to talk to more people about it.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“Keep exploring. Just keep going and don’t worry so much. You’re never really going to figure it all out, you’re just going to find cool things and cool people and amazing experiences – and if you’re finding that, you’re on the right path.”
About the Worker Cooperative business model
- Incorporated in NYS as a 5A corporation, which prioritizes ownership
- Class A shares as owners
- Class B shares as investors – non voting or working share owners.
“Back in the 80’s, some students organized a take-over of the common council and put together a plan to create worker-cooperatives. The incorporation status in New York State came out of Buffalo, and was written by a UB professor.”
You can read more about Worker Co-op’s on the BreadHive website.
- Tim Bartlett – The Lexington Coop – the capital campaign is pretty amazing.
- Megan McNally – The Foundry
BreadHive was nominated by Public Espresso + Coffee