Atlanta, GA

How one local Atlanta bakery is giving its staff a fresh start

Gené Hunter
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

(ATLANTA, Ga.) Wisconsin native Leah Lonsbury is providing resettled refugees with new skills and a liveable wage through her non-profit Just Bakery.

Founded in 2017, Just Bakery offers individuals who’ve fled their home countries in search of a better life with new skills and the opportunity to make a liveable wage as well as earn professional certifications like ServSafe. Many of the individuals Lonsbury has worked with come from countries like Congo, Pakistan and Syria.

Just Bakery was inspired by a friend of Lonsbury's who created a program in Winsconsin for formerly incarcerated people released from prison. The program allowed the individuals to establish their lives and learn new skills while adjusting to life after incarceration.

With a small grant from her home church, Lonsbury tweaked her program to specifically target those seeking refuge and a new start in America.

“We start people at $15 per hour, which I don’t know of anywhere else in Atlanta you can come in with no high school diploma and get paid to train and work in a way that is paying off, literally,” Lonsbury told Eater. “Our folks are purchasing homes and a second car so they can get to and from work independently and safely during the pandemic, and starting higher education. If folks can have access to earning a living wage, then everything else starts to fall into place.”

Just Bakery is located in the city of Clarkston, east of Atlanta and operates from a licensed commercial kitchen. The staff is comprised of bakers of training who serve up baked goods that sell at pop-up events, deliveries and neighborhood drop-offs.

Some of the menu items are American classics like dark chocolate chip cookies with sea salt, multi-grain bread, blueberry muffins, and cinnamon rolls.

Other menu items allow the bakers to put their own twist on ingredients and recipes, usually inspired by their home country and ethnic background. One menu item is a jeera cookie. A blend of sweet and spicy, the shortbread is a mixture of peanut butter, curry and a hint of ginger. It’s crafted by head baker Bhima Thapa who came from Nepal.

Another item is the plantain-based banana bread, which was sold to celebrate bakers from Africa for Giving Tuesday last year.

“Food is the connector of human beings, and an opportunity to know each other and crawl across perceived or real differences,” Lonsbury said. “I wish more people knew about us and we had access to more people because I think we’ve got a really amazing thing going because of the amazing folks that come to work with us.”

The organization is currently working to establish a storefront and expand the training program for a bigger impact in Atlanta and surrounding cities.

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