Artisan Spotlight: The Bread Project

Makers, Meet, Williams-Sonoma Behind the Scenes

This post comes courtesy of Jenn Yee, a member of the Williams-Sonoma culinary team.


On a rainy April morning, I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than to stay inside and bake — except maybe to watch someone else do the baking. So I drove across the Bay Bridge to The Bread Project located in Emeryville. The Bread Project produces bread and other baked treats for organizations in the Bay Area. In March, new to Union Square’s Artisans’ Market, they launched the Social Enterprise line of treats for the public.


The Bread Project provides culinary training to people with low income to help get them on the path of self-sufficiency and eventually obtain jobs in the food industry. I wanted to know more, so I donned a hairnet and was given a grand tour by Mark Chacon, Chef and Director of Bakery Production.


As I entered the warehouse, I was greeted by the aroma of bread baking, and if I closed my eyes much longer to savor the smell I would have run into a cater cart whizzing by full of freshly baked loaves. I gasped and ogled many times throughout the tour. At every turn, there was something new just baked. I was pleasantly surprised with how much production The Bread Project does. Those bread loaves were part of weekly deliveries to Berkeley and Oakland Unified School Districts and San Francisco’s non-profit organization, Project Open Hand.


Individual Chocolate Babka with Orange, from the Social Enterprise line.


The trainees take part in the daily production. While talking with Alicia Polak, the Executive Director of the Bread Project, she discussed the importance of the trainees obtaining real kitchen experience so they will be ready to succeed at the next phase in their careers. Taking part in the daily production prepares the trainees for similar working structures in the food industry. In their 360-hour bread and pastry program, a part of it is dedicated to bakers’ math.


Alicia Polak, Executive Director of The Bread Project handing out samples to a customer.

As I made my way from the bread side of the warehouse to pastry, I stop at a tray of hazelnut brittle. Chef Mark explains that along with daily production, the trainees have the opportunity to work on individual projects to develop skills and further their interests. The hazelnut brittle would be ground up to make a praline paste and later, fill a 12-layer cake. By giving trainees freedom with these projects, Alicia assesses the capabilities and desires of each trainee and seeks out appropriate opportunities in the field.

Caramel Ganache Shortbread, Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins, Maple Brown Butter Shortbread.


Half of The Bread Project employees come from within the training program. This is a reflection of the personal attention, dedication and investment that Alicia, Mark and their team give to each trainee. At the April Artisans’ Market, a new face was at The Bread Project table. Alicia had brought along a trainee.


“I wanted her to see what it was like to be some place as nice as Williams-Sonoma, ” she said. She went on to share that it was an opportunity to see how to sell in public and what good visual presentation looks like. Among the delicious array of cookies, breads and cakes the real star is the people and the commitment they have for making the lives of others better.


Learn more about The Bread Project


Taste the Treats
The Bread Project will be at the May and June San Francisco Artisans’ Market with the full line of goodies to taste and purchase.


About the author: Jenn Yee is a part of the Williams-Sonoma Union Square culinary team. The store is her dream kitchen. The Food Hall is her favorite section and can talk endlessly about baking mixes and bakeware. When not at work her every moment, not surprisingly, is still very much about food. She’s honing her skills at pastry school, attending food events, meeting chefs and vendors and out in search of the best pastries and desserts. She dreams of Pierre Herme macarons and Gerard Mulot croissants.

3 comments about “Artisan Spotlight: The Bread Project

  1. Mark

    This project is a total win-win situation. In a country that’s so dependent on mass-produced material (a lot of which is made overseas), it’s wonderful to read about programs like this that are training people-in-need to become the next generation of artisan bakers.

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