October 31, 2008
Meet the cast of characters of the Sweet Miss Givings Bakery.
*Stan Sloan, 45, idea mastermind, a tanned Episcopal priest who wears a black leather jacket and grooves on Madonna.*Stephen Smith, 28, chief operating officer, Harvard grad who just moved back to town with a master's degree from the London School of Economics.
*Kristi Gorsuch, 30ish, head baker, who earned her pastry degree at a school of the Cordon Bleu.
And the bakery's interns, among them:
*Mary Pelts, 44, 5th-grade graduate whose birth certificate, she says, carries the words "female pelvis" where a name should have gone, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2001 and never had a job except street hustling until she came to Sweet Miss Givings.
*Stanley Long Bey, 44, who was diagnosed with HIV the year he finished high school, who spent half his adult life in prison, and who, when he finally got out, had nowhere to sleep but parks and sidewalks.
Since last week when Mayor Daley snipped the ribbon, Reverend Stan, Stephen, Kristi, Mary, Stanley and a dozen others have come to work at this little brick factory off Division Street near the Chicago River.
"We got rave reviews from the Cheetah Gym on our bagels this morning," Stephen reported to the baking interns shortly after I walked in Thursday.
One intern was dicing butter for scones. One was weighing baking soda for the morning-glory muffins. Mary was packing gift boxes.
Kristi took a knife from Stanley, who was chopping carrots for the zucchini bread. Look. Bend your fingers. Hold the carrot with your knuckles.
When the bakery idea was born, it was going to be a bar. Investors had come to Reverend Stan with an idea for a partnership that would help to raise money for his ministry, Chicago House, which had begun as a place where homeless people with HIV and AIDS could live until they died.
But medicine has improved, and with his homeless flock living longer, Reverend Stan saw a new need: jobs.
Still, a bar? A priest? The idea morphed into a bakery. The city gave $97,000 toward the $1.5 million start-up costs.
Here's the dream: The bakery hires homeless people with HIV and other disabilities, teaches them to chop, cream, fold, mix, pack, clean, deliver. They cater meetings and events for businesses, peddle wholesale to restaurants and coffee shops, sell gift packs to the public on their Web site ( www.sweetmissgivings.com).
The proceeds go to Chicago House. And other businesses recognize that the intern bakers are worth hiring.
Another do-gooding utopia destined to fail?
Reverend Stan grinned. It looked like a dare. "Watch us grow."
The first 13 interns were carefully selected, tested to see if they understood the delicate arithmetic of baking -- measuring, fractions -- and then trained in hard but simple acts like showing up on time.
"Work is habits," Stephen said. "We have to teach habits."
And work is patience. A couple of times Mary, frustrated, has announced, "I quit!"
"No, you don't," Reverend Stan says.
"Thank you," Mary says.
Baking is hard work. Cold refrigerators, hot ovens, hours on your feet.
"I don't have the best of legs," Stanley says. He wears support hose for the gout. "But I have the motivation of wanting to do something on my own."
He wiped his sudden tears. "I cried so much a couple of years ago, you just wouldn't believe it."
Now, he said, it feels like making art to him, the way the green zucchini mixes with the orange carrot and the batter turns into bread.
Orders are coming in. The latest is 500 jumbo cookies every Wednesday to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.
And I can testify that that zucchini bread is better than what I buy at my local coffeehouse.
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