Sweet Miss Giving's, a project of Chicago House, recently celebrated one year as an operational bakery that trains and employs formerly homeless people and people with HIV/AIDS. Particularly within the context of a major economic recession, Sweet Miss Giving's growth has been remarkable: It has enrolled 49 interns in its baking program and established business relationships with such institutions as Boeing; Microsoft; Whole Foods; and Northwestern and Loyola universities.
After having done mostly catering and private accounts, Sweet Miss Giving's recently opened its first retail space in the Chicago French Market, the new venture located downtown in the Ogilvie Transportation Center, 500 W. Madison. "We created a new model," said Chicago House CEO and Sweet Miss Giving's founder Rev. Stan Sloan. Sloan said that the concept of social enterpriseblending business with social concern is "usually unsuccessful … [ Most social enterprises ] tend to treat interns like social service clients, not employees."
The initiation of the project was grant-funded with the help of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who, according to the bakery's Web site, sought to identify and alleviate the most "desperate needs" of Chicago House's clientelewhich turned out to be the lack of employment opportunities. Sloan said that once the decision was made to create a baking enterprise, the project received private funding from a number of investors interested in its missionwho Sloan characterized as "a group of men who believed in us."
Despite the faltering economy, Sloan said, the food sector was still anticipated to be in "growth mode" for the next decade. As to the decision to focus specifically on baked goods, he said, "There is something so very healing, or therapeutic, about baking."
Those who intern at Sweet Miss Giving's some of whom go on to full employment with the bakery or elsewhereare filtered through Chicago House, which provides housing and services for people affected by HIV/AIDS. Sloan said that interns undergo a six-week training program, followed by a six-month paid internship at the bakery, which operates out of a kitchen on Goose Island.
Chicago House provides counseling along the way, along with help in finding stable jobs for its interns. In addition to providing employment opportunities, more than half of the revenue brought in by the sale of Sweet Miss Giving's pastries goes back to help fund programming and services at Chicago House.Read more story below....
Sweet Miss Giving's opened Oct. 13, 2008. Sloan said that in January 2009, the bakery's revenues were about $6,000. By December, Sweet Miss Giving's was earning over $70,000. The bakery employs a full-time staff of eight, including Kristi Gorsuch, a pastry chef who serves as its production manager.
"We want to keep growing," said Sloan. As Sweet Miss Giving's establishes more accounts and increases its outputthe freezers and refrigerators are regularly near capacity, though the ovens are notSloan said, "We're still optimistic that we're very much in growth mode."
And the bakery has recently gained at least one high-profile fan: in town in November to inaugurate Chicago House's Annual Speaker Series, Bill Clinton was asked his thoughts on Sweet Miss Giving's. "This is the best example anywhere in the country of all the AIDS outreach efforts that I am aware of," said the former president.
See www.sweetmissgivings.com .