Stone Hearth Bakery Raises More than Dough with Social Enterprise

Stone Hearth Bakery is a kosher bakery in Halifax that has been operating since 1982 - making it more than 30 years old. Stone Hearth boasts the only kosher bakery products east of Montreal, and provides bread to Ace Burger, Brooklyn Warehouse, Pete’s Frootique, Shannex and Sobeys, among others. You may have seen their herb stuffing mix at Thanksgiving, which was completed in collaboration with fellow Buy Social members Common Roots Urban Farm, for Pete’s Frootique. It was “flying off the shelves”, says Bakery manager John Hartling.

Without knowing anything about Stone Hearth, it looks like a standard bakery that is doing quite well. However, Stone Hearth doesn’t exist solely to sell their bakery products! Stone Hearth is also a social enterprise that exists to positively impact the lives of people living with mental illness and/or disabilities.

We caught up with John at a busy time to chat about their social enterprise; aside from becoming Buy Social Canada Certified last month, Stone Hearth has launched several new business streams, including a café, catering service, new bakery products, and a part-time pop-up store on Gottingen Street, where the Community Carrot Co-op used to be.

“Typically, customers have no idea we’re a social enterprise,.” says John. “They buy our product because they like it. And it’s the same thing with others, like Common Roots Urban Farm; we collaborated with them in doing the herb bread for Pete’s. No-one knows they have a program for new immigrants - they’re about local farming and so much more.”

Stone Hearth Bakery focuses on helping people with disabilities and mental illness primarily through their largest social program, which is a 10-month long training program in their bakery. It requires a commitment of about 20 hours a week from people who face barriers to being employed, and is designed to help participants understand their weak spots in a supportive environment, and get support to improve to a point where they can be successful at other employers in the community. This amount of time and attention needed for this staff development is significant, but the payoffs are huge.

“This is a very supportive environment”, says John “It’s about helping people move into the workforce. It’s not just about the specific skills of working in a bakery, it’s about attitude; defining positive behaviours and helping people understand how they can change their behaviours - what are employers looking for and what that means.”

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“We are honest with our clients, and that’s a condition of their working with us – participants must agree to be open to receiving constructive feedback. And that kind of working relationship builds trust and a level of care - most employers don’t have that ability and when problems surface they will cut hours or layoff staff without providing clear feedback for those individuals. They maybe great at getting jobs but keeping them is the problem.”.”

Stone Hearth makes sure they have a variety of venues that can hire their participants once they graduate from the program, including restaurants and production companies.” Stone Hearth themselves can now also provide continued training opportunities in their new café, catering, and pop-up store on Gottingen.

“Mark from Ace Burger and Brooklyn Warehouse is really great to work with.” says John. “We’re small enough to service customers like him in a unique way. If you’re calling a large industrial bakery trying to develop a product, it isn’t possible. But it is with us. We work really closely with our customers to develop new products and sometimes we find other venues such as markets and grocery stores to sell them.”

That’s the inherent difficulty of running a social enterprise; not growing for the sake of profits. It’s about intentionally growing to increase impact. That makes John Hartling not only Bakery Manager, but a program manager too. He must always think about two bottom lines - financial and social.

“That’s the fine line” says John.

“We do get program funding to cover social costs, and aside from that we’re a company that is financially viable, but we must invest in our social mission at all times.”

That means any new business stream or product line must align with their social goals.

“Growth has to mirror participant opportunities,” says John. "We may choose not to grow our production of one type of bread that is more lucrative, in favour of a small canteen, giving participants more opportunities to engage in skill building. It’s a catch 22 at times; we cannot just look at new opportunities with money in mind, but with participants and inclusion, as a top priority. If we didn’t have the program, we wouldn’t have the bakery.”

Learn more about Stone Hearth Bakery at http://StoneHearth.ca

Learn about Buy Social Canada at http://buysocialcanada.ca