If Jackie Victor and Ann Perrault had known before they embarked on their remarkable business venture how demanding their new lives would be, the world might never have known one of Michigan’s most wholesome, creative and nourishing bakeries, Avalon Breads International. As Victor explains, “If we’d had experience baking or running a business, we probably would never have tried this. It was sort of an improbable experiment that worked because we didn’t know it couldn’t.” They were wise enough to hire a couple of “breadheads,” baking experts who could help them get things rolling. And now, thirteen years and tens of thousands of loaves later,devotees of Avalon’s delicious products can give thanks that Victor and Perrault made up for their lack of “breaducation” with big dreams, good instincts and perseverance.
From its simple beginnings thirteen years ago in the economically depressed Cass Corridor in Detroit, Avalon has grown to service about 45 wholesale customers, including specialty food stores, restaurants, cafes and farmers’ markets. Add to this an abundance of dine-in and carry out patrons, and you’ve got a booming business. According to Victor, Avalon is now the largest purchaser of organic bread flour in the state.
Although Victor and Perrault downplay what they each brought to the endeavor, it’s clear that their partnership is a combination of idealism and good business sense. Nowhere is this more evident than in their choice of locations. “I thought about how great it would be to have a healthy bakery in the Cass Corridor, providing good food, inspiration and an oasis in what was a pretty tough neighborhood,” Victor says. She adds that the area had a “well-concentrated residential population” and a large work force with the Cultural Center, Detroit Medical Center, and Wayne State University close by. It is this balance of passion and practicality that has allowed Avalon to thrive. Oh yes, and hard work.
Consider an average day at the bakery, which begins around 4:30 in the morning when the wholesale drivers and manager come in to check and pack orders into the trucks. The retail staff comes in by 5:00 a.m. to set up the front counter and complete Avalon’s daily transformation from its early morning mass-production to its mid-morning, ready-for-customers appearance. The doors open to the public at 6:00 a.m.; coffee is brewed, scones are served.
Chef Laurel arrives soon after and begins prepping breakfast and lunch items such as sandwiches and salads. The bread bakers start at 10:00 a.m., mixing dough for the next day’s bread. At noon, the second team of bread bakers comes in to “bench” the dough into loaves.” The first bread goes in the oven at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, with the baking process continuing all day long. The last loaf comes out of the oven around 1:00 a.m.
But wait, there’s more. The staff making cookies, brownies and other sweets uses the ovens after the bread is done, and the packers do their work in the wee hours of the morning, so the bakery is quiet only from about 3:00 to 4:30 a.m. One can almost hear the ovens exhaling sighs of relief as they catch 90 minutes of shut-eye before the next workday begins.
When asked what about their early lives prepared Victor and Perrault for their work helping people and the planet, they both cite their parents as influences. Victor’s parents were “engaged people who were involved in the community around them” and taught their children to “live a life bigger than ourselves.” Her mother was an early environmentalist who noticed the impact of her life on the world around her. Perrault says that an early exposure to nature instilled in her a “strong belief in the oneness of life. I was one of twelve children and we had chickens, a horse, a couple of dogs and a three-acre garden. Helping was just a part of the natural cycle.”
It’s only natural that the positive energy expressed through Avalon would help transform the area in and around the bakery since it opened many years ago. Many independent, locally owned businesses have sprung up nearby, and these fellow entrepreneurs often site Avalon’s co-founders as part of the inspiration for creating their companies and moving into the area. The neighborhood has become much more vital and vibrant. And they are proud of the fact that they employ a diverse workforce in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and special needs.
Victor and Perrault offer an inspired dream for Detroit in the 21st century: “Our vision is of a sustainable city. Imagine a city where every child lives within two miles of a working, bio-intensive, organic farm; where families go to Harvest Festivals on the weekends and work in community gardens in the summer months; healthy, fresh food is picking-distance from our homes - a new kind of urban living that we call the agri-urban economy. As for improving the atmosphere of Michigan, Victor recommends that we “buy locally grown and produced food, shop at independent businesses, and travel in Michigan,” adding, “follow your passion and we will create a vibrant, passionate place to work and play. If we think global and act locally, we could have an amazing region in ten years that is part of a healthier planet.” Perrault continues, “We as citizens of the earth need to walk this life knowing that what we do will affect other generations and parts of the world.”
Together, they have created a business that combines creativity, caring and passion in a way that lifts us all. Goodness is rising, one loaf of bread at a time.
Avalon International Breads is located at 422 W. Willis Street in Detroit. They can be reached by phone at 313.832.0008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Krieger is a singer and songwriter living in Southfield, Michigan. He is the owner of Celebration Songs and is co-owner of Family Stories, preserving family histories through videotaped interviews and original songs. Michael can be reached at www.michaelkrieger.com