Alita Byrd interviews her dad, Michael Byrd, about his bakery project in Uruguay — how it will provide jobs, healthy food and support Uruguay Adventist Academy (Instituto Adventista del Uruguay) at the same time.
Question: You have just finished building and kitting out a bakery outside Montevideo, Uruguay. Why did you want to start a bakery in Uruguay — more than 5,000 miles from where you live in Collegedale, Tennessee?
Answer: Uruguay Adventist Academy actually recruited me, and asked me to put the bakery there. They already had a possible building that could work, and they wanted industry for the students. One of their teachers was here at Southern Adventist University, and we got acquainted, and that’s how it all began. As of this autumn, Fantastico Bakery is operational.
Question: What did you think when they approached you?
Answer: I was already interested in putting up a mission bakery, and had already looked at other possible places for starting a bakery, but hadn’t yet found a good place. Uruguay Adventist Academy was a good place in many ways. There was an existing building; Uruguay is quite a safe and stable country with virtually no corruption; and the school wanted us there. We started talking about it in 2010.
Question: How big is the bakery? What goods will be baked there?
Answer: It's about 8,000 square feet. We are set up to bake whole grain sprouted breads, but we can bake a lot of different bread. We can also make dinner rolls or hamburger rolls.
Question: How many people work there now? How many will work there when it’s up and running?
Answer: Right now we have two employees. We are expecting to employ about 24 students. I anticipate we will start hiring students in about six weeks.
Question: Will the students be paid directly, or will the money go their school accounts?
Answer: They will get some money, but most will go to their school account.
Tuition is about $600 a month. That’s a problem there — the school has mostly non-Adventist kids because the Adventist kids can’t afford to go there. This will help more Adventist kids be able to attend the school.
The students who work at the bakery won't only be earning money — they will also be learning a marketable skill.
Question: How much earning potential will the students have, assuming they save enough time to attend classes and study?
Answer: They could probably earn about $300 a month working in the bakery. That would be working five days a week, four hours a day.
Question: How long have you been working on this project?
Answer: I started in about 2011. We concentrated on renovating the building first. We had to set up a freezer and cooler, build a loading dock, put in all new electric and plumbing, paint everything, and build some office space. Then we had to find baking equipment, purchase it, ship it there and get it set up. Which we did.
Right now we have the building fully renovated, have all the equipment set up, and we are already doing some baking for a few small accounts. We have packaging ordered, so it won’t be long before we can go out and start getting bigger accounts. We have three of the largest supermarket chains in the country already that want to handle our bread.
Question: Why are the country’s largest stores already interested in doing business with a brand new, small bakery?
Answer: Two reasons: our bread tastes so good, and it’s 100% whole grain healthy bread, which no one else in the country is offering. They feel their customers will love to buy the bread, and it will be successful.
Question: If everyone starts ordering your bread, will you keep up? How much capacity is there?
Answer: Even though Fantastico Bakery is small, we can bake about 400 loaves an hour. That’s about 3,200 loaves in a shift. We don’t yet know how much the supermarkets will buy. They will buy as much bread as they can sell, but we don’t know how much that is yet. We will start small, train people, and ramp it up slowly until we are at full production.
Question: How has the project been funded? How much has it cost?
Answer: So far we have about $700,000 in the bakery project. I have not been as successful as I hoped in raising money from various sources. I asked all of my suppliers and they all promised to help, but most haven’t actually come through.
We hope that within the first year the bakery will be self-sustaining and turning a profit. The bakery is owned by a non-profit corporation, called Ideals International. So any profits earned will support the school, and possibly help to open other bakeries in the future.
I would love to have some other people joining me in this operation — funding and starting new bakeries and plants where they are needed.
The bakery has a mill to grind its own grain.
Question: What challenges have you had in getting the bakery built?
Answer: One of my biggest problems is that I don’t speak Spanish. Translators tell people what they think I should be saying, not what I actually say. The culture is very non-combative — in my experience the people in Uruguay flee from any type of confrontation. They won’t tackle problems.
That is a really problem when it comes to getting things done. For instance, I will tell a contractor that he is really messing up, and needs to do A, B, and C. I come back later and ask why he didn’t fix it, and he’ll say: “But you didn’t ask me to.” The translator didn’t tell him!
The other problem is that when the building was constructed about 40 years ago by the Adventist Church the proper permits weren’t obtained. So a lot of corrective action had to take place before we could get the building opened. I did not know this when I started. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted the project. But we have gotten through it, mostly.
Question: What are your most ambitious goals for the project?
Answer: If we really did well, we would get plenty of orders for one shift, then build up to baking bread for two shifts. That would be very rewarding to see.
Question: You have been in the food business for a long time. Tell us a little bit about your experience in this industry.
Answer: I’m just a lowly muffin salesman here in Tennessee. There you have it.
Question: Yes, I know that’s what you tell people! But give us a little more. [And here the interviewer feeds the interviewee prompts.]
Answer: Well, I’ve been in the food business for more than 35 years. I opened a health food store, Noah’s Storehouse, in Pennsylvania in 1977. Then I was sales manager for Better Foods, a health food bakery and distribution business. Then I joined Hadley Farms in Maryland as sales manager. [Hadley Farms employed students from nearby Highland View Academy.] In 1990, I started my own bakery supply business, called Bake Crafters. The business grew from selling a single muffin to 60 semi-truckloads a week. That’s a lot of muffins. We sell goods baked at 15 plants in the eastern half of the US to schools, hospitals, airlines and restaurant chains throughout the country.
Question: And didn’t you work in industry to help pay your academy tuition?
Answer: I worked in both the dairy and the print shop when I attended Shenandoah Valley Academy.
Top image: Michael Byrd holding first loaves of bread baked at the Fantastico Bakery at Instituto Adventista del Uruguay.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6439