Semifreddis Bakery

Every morning I walk down to the coffee shop and order my cuppa joe.  It's a ritual. I love this ritual. I say hello to the folks there, it feels like my day is off to a great start. The people at the bakery, it's actually a bakery that serves coffee, are doing their job, with a smile, and all feels right in my world. Last week, I said to the guy I always see, whose name I now know to be Tony, "how come you guys are always so nice here? It's a pleasure just to come in." 

Tony said, "we have no reason to be mean." He started telling me about how much he liked working there, that he has a great job, and he's basically lovin' life right now.

"We have no reason to be mean." My jaw dropped.

Here's a guy who's in his 20s, and he's happy. Doesn't he read the papers? My world came screeching to a halt. I study work places, for a living. That's what I do.  I'm always looking for great workplaces, the ones that get it, and as a result, get a lot in return. 

I walked back home and checked the company out.  Sure enough, the website looks exactly like the characters I see everyday over my steaming coffee cup. Happy faces, a YouTube that rocks, slightly irreverent, mostly proud. You can feel how alive this company is.

That's when I knew I had to meet the owners. I pulled out the stops.  When I really want to know someone, I figure out a way.  I sent an email, then a follow up long letter in a big sized envelope, then...low and behold, I didn't even have to go to step three. Tom Frainier, one of the owners of Semifreddis Bakery, calls me.  Okay, that's already unusual.  More typically, I have to badger at least twice on the phone to get a call back. Nope, and it turns out that's one of their signature ways of doing business. "If we're open, we answer the phone." 

Tom invited me to come in for a chat and I met him this morning.  He gave me an hour of his time.  I walked out with a huge story, about big-hearted people, doing things they love in a tough business, hitting the results out of the park, and, I had two loaves of their artisanal bread in hand and a big smile on my face.

Work that works, wow!

Tom and his co-owners have cracked the code on how to create work that works. The work in this case is artisanal bread, and my local bakery is one of only two retail stores which bring in a small percent of their revenues. The bulk of revenue comes from their wholesale side. They keep it local, they keep it fresh. And this bakery that I toured this morning is 19,000 square feet, impressive since at their founding they were baking bread in a 450 square foot closet! One bread machine. (I saw it.)

Today, they have the company they envisioned.  What was that vision? It hasn't changed: To make the best bread in the universe. Yes, you read that right, the universe! Gotta love that kind of aspiration. By telling their employees what they were aiming for and by helping them understand what was expected of them, they started to grow the right culture and to build trust. They said, show up on time, work hard, work together, and we all get paid. 

And they do get paid.  According to Tom, they get the highest wages in the bread making business. Almost no turnover.  Of course, why would there be? With full healthcare plans, 401k plans, profit sharing, and not too shabby bonuses every year, people are happy. They start out in junior positions, and they make their way up. Head of bakery, been there 20 years.  Head of distribution, been there 17 years. 

I could go on and on. The company is greener than Ireland and a heartfelt community member. They respond to charities and other non-profit requests on a daily basis by donating fresh bread. Fresh bread, not day old bread, the fresh stuff. Tom said, "most people don't do that, because they're afraid it will be sold.  You gotta trust people, and when the charities ask, we're there."

Why am I writing a blog post about this company?  My work is to help people transition from jobs that no longer inspire them to jobs that feed their soul. I help people face their frustration, find out what sets them on fire, what inspires them, and then together we feed that flame until they create that work.  I help companies do the same thing.  Or, I should say, I help groups of people work together better, and create a place that sustains them.

I asked Tom about it and he said, "My philosophy is capitalism with a heart. I got my MBA from Berkeley, graduated in 1981 and went to work for Clorox.  Good company Clorox, I worked there 7 years, but I had a little too much personality.  By the time I was 30, I quit. I could quit, I wasn't married, I didn't have a mortgage.  I just knew I wanted to do something, make something. After about six months, my sister suggested I come work at her small bakery, and I thought why not. I went from making $70,000 a year in financial planning at Clorox to making $7.00 an hour. And I loved it! I've never looked back. "  

He summed it up with "That's my philosophy, capitalism with a heart. Treat people well. There you go, that's it."

And the good news is, more and more people are stepping out of their corporate systems, and making it a reality. 

Ever since I met Tony at my local bakery, I smile every morning thinking to myself, what would it be like if other businesses had employees like him?