The rise of the Bread and Butter Project
2 December 2020 at 8:08 am
Over the past decade, the Bread & Butter Project has gone from being a small artisan bakery to having its bread stocked in major supermarkets. But it’s more than just good bread that keeps customers coming back for more, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on social enterprise.
When Masar first came to Australia from Iraq four and a half years ago, he struggled to find work or a sense of belonging in the community.
“It was hard on me because my [English] language wasn’t good,” Masar told Pro Bono News.
“But me and my family had to leave Iraq because the situation was really not good and we were all getting tired of it.”
In Iraq Masar was a goldsmith, but he had always had dreams of becoming a baker.
Now, he’s making that happen through the Bread & Butter Project – a Sydney-based wholesale bakery that invests its profits back into training and employment opportunities for people seeking refuge and asylum in Australia.
People like Masar undergo a six to eight month traineeship which includes on-the-job bakery training, TAFE accreditation, English language tutoring, and job readiness support.
Trainees learn the tricks of the trade from The Bread & Butter Project’s head bakers at their Marrickville bakery, using recipes gifted to the business by Paul Allam and David McGuinness, who run the renowned Bourke Street Bakery.
Since 2013, the organisation has taken on 45 trainees who have all found employment after graduating, and it now takes up to 30 new trainee bakers each year.
And as Phillip Hoban, The Bread & Butter Project’s general manager, explains the impact of the program goes beyond just finding a job for the trainees at the end of the course.
In 2018, Social Impact Hub was brought in to check the impact the organisation was having, and identified that all of the graduates’ children were enrolled full time in high school or university.
“That was great to see because it means we’re not just helping out the people coming through our doors, we’re actually helping their children as well, and that just flows on and on,” Hoban told Pro Bono News.
Planning for success
Currently, sales from bread and pastries make up 90 per cent of the organisation’s revenue, and philanthropic donations make up the other 10 per cent.
Hoban said the enterprise was on track to be completely financially independent and sustainable by 2021, by focusing on increasing its commercial skills to grow the business.
“At the moment we’re increasing our skill level around our commercial side,” he said.
A major part of the organisation’s growth has been a partnership with Woolworths, which last month saw the Bread and Butter Project open a small bakery inside a Sydney Metro store and stock its bread in stores across the city.
While the two businesses started talking about the partnership pre-COVID, Hoban said the timing of the launch couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Because most of our business was selling wholesale products to hospitality, we lost 70 per cent of our business overnight when COVID hit,” he said.
“When everything hit the fan we reached out to them [Woolworths] to ask for their help… and now that we’ve launched it’s going far better than we expected.”
He said that it was important for social enterprises to not be afraid of partnering with corporations in order to grow their own businesses.
“We want to one day expand down the eastern coast, and to help refugees and asylum seekers in other states… and to do that you really need a corporate partner,” Hoban said.
He said there were challenges in balancing social impact with commercial interests, but at the end of the day, their impact was a huge vantage point for their customers.
“It is hard because unlike a commercial bakery where all your time is spent on making profits, a big chunk of your time has to be devoted to the social side of the business to ensure our trainees are succeeding and that we are supporting them as much as possible,” he said.
“But the story and the fact that our products are actually really good is certainly an avantage point for selling products and retaining customers.”
As well as becoming completely financially independent, Hoban said the bakery is aiming to increase the number of trainees through the door to 100 people a year, a goal it will be setting its sights on over the next 12 months.
“We are hoping to just get all the business back that we’ve lost in the past year because of COVID, and then grow to a point where we can bring more people through our doors to set them up for success in Australia,” he said.
As for Masar, once he finishes his training course in a few months time, he is also setting his sights on big dreams.
“When I finish from here of course I want to have my own business,” Masar said.
“It’s a beautiful life here in Australia, I’m so excited.”