Twenty years' ago, the Rev. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit Priest currently tending his flock at Dolores Mission Church, which is the poorest Catholic parish in Los Angeles, decided to find jobs for local gang youth as a means to get them to leave the gangs and live a better life.
The Rev. Boyle met with scores of local business leaders and owners in Los Angeles, pitching them his plan. However, gang violence was such in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, as it still is today, that only a few business people were willing to take the good father up on his proposition to hire the ex-gang members at their companies and small businesses.
But the Rev. Doyle didn't give up. Rather, like a good entrepreneur who also just happens to be a man of the cloth, he decided to start his own enterprise as a way to offer gang members a way out of the cycle of violence, imprisonment and family strife that comes with gang membership.
Doyle received an introduction to the Hollywood movie producer Ray Stark and pitched his idea to the movie mogul, which was to open a bakery called "Homeboy Bakery" that would offer gang members who were willing to leave their gangs jobs.
Stark liked the plan, and signed on, providing the initial financing to get "Homeboy Bakery" started. That was 16 years ago.
The Rev. Doyle didn't trade in his Priest robes for a bakery apron. However, over the last 16 years he has gradually built up the bakery and some related enterprises while continuing his duties as a Parish Priest.
Today, "Homeboy Bakery" and its related "Homeboy Enterprises", which includes the "Homegirl Cafe" operated by former female gang members, a silk-screening T-shirt business, a maintenance and janitorial company, and a retail store, wants and needs to grow.
The Rev. Boyle just invested $3 million for brand new, state of the art equipment at the bakery, has signed a contract with a couple new foodservice businesses, and is looking for more customers for the bakery's high-quality breads, pastries and related baked goods items.
Fresh & Easy Buzz tasted Homeboy Bakery's baked goods at the "Homegirl" Cafe earlier this year while in Los Angeles, and can say...the baked goods are good.
The Rev. Boyle's goal in terms of expanding the bakery and related businesses is a simple one he says: "The more business we can bring in, the more jobs we can create. The more jobs we can create means the more former-gang members we can create. He says he knows numerous gang members who want to leave their respective gangs but see no job opportunities available to them.
The bakery currently has nearly 30 former gang members working at it; the "Homegirl" Cafe has about 27 former "homegirls" operating and working at it; and the other enterprises employee dozens more ex-gang members.
Since Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market plans on bringing in about 250 new food items, a few more might not hurt. Especially in the fresh baked goods category; and especially locally-produced fresh baked goods.
We think taking a look at buying fresh baked goods from Los Angeles' Homeboy Bakery offers Fresh & Easy a win-win trifecta:
(1) It allows the grocer to improve the stores' current selection of fresh baked goods, which is needed according to numerous customers we've talked to.
(2) Doing so allows the Southern California stores especially to get deeper into "local foods" merchandising and selling, which is a prescription for increased sales. Taken together, locally-produced baked goods, produced by a company ("Homeboy Bakery") working hard to solve a major social problem, is a powerful one-two marketing punch.
(3) Buying from and selling "Homeboy Bakery" baked goods at Fresh & Easy will win the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of numerous consumers in the region, who will praise Fresh & Easy's efforts towards helping the good father eliminate gangs one homeboy at a time through becoming a customer of the bakery's. Much of that praise will come in the form of customers buying the baked goods in the Fresh & Easy stores we believe.
There's also a practical element to the scheme: baked goods is one category that needs to be procured locally due to the products' short shelf life. In other words, buying from "Homeboy Bakery" not only makes good business and community relations since, it also makes good procurement and logistics sense as well.
There's also a myriad of promotions Fresh & Easy could do jointly with Homeboy Enterprises and Bakery. Fund-raisers, bake-offs, and more.
The partnership would also help Fresh & Easy with its many critics in Southern California, including the coalition that wants the retailer to sign what it calls a "community benefits" compact for responsible retailing.
Lastly, a partnership with" Homeboy Bakery" also ties in with Tesco's stated goal and strategy of locating numerous of its Fresh & Easy grocery stores in food deserts or neighborhoods underserved by food stores offering a decent selection of groceries and fresh foods at reasonable prices.
In fact, one of Tesco's Fresh & Easy grocery stores is located in the Los Angeles County city of Compton, where the two gangs the Crips and the Bloods were founded, along with others.
The young men and woman the Rev. Boyle is trying to get out of gang life by giving them meaningful jobs in the main come from these inner-city Los Angeles food desert communities. What better way to help meet the food desert goal in an overall and comprehensive way.
The Rev. Doyle says he sees amazing changes in the former gang members working at the bakery. Many sound like MBA's he said, while others have become master bakers.
Oprah Winfrey has even featured "Homeboy Bakery" breads and sweets on her talk show; touting them as one of her "favorite sweet things." And Oprah doesn't suggest very many things to her audience; not unless they pass her stringent standards for quality.
What the good father needs now though are more retail and foodservice customers--like Fresh & Easy--for the commercial bakery, so that he can create more future MBA-like businessmen and woman and future culinary stars.