Lifting Spirits

On the Rise Bakery doesn’t just create an array of delicious baked goods, it elevates the self-esteem of its employees
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Photographs by Erik Howard

A  sign reading simply “On the Rise Bakery,” with a doodle-like drawing of a rising sun, is posted at ground level on Gratiot Avenue and McClellan Street on Detroit’s east side.

It’s easy to overlook, and those who do are missing out on a discovery. Curious passersby who do pull into its parking lot to investigate will find a bright spot where shelves are piled with multi-grain, honey-wheat, and cinnamon-raisin breads; muffins; brownies; blueberry, cherry, apple, key-lime, and coconut-custard pies; and chocolate-chip and peanut-butter cookies nearly as big as Frisbees.

Everything is produced on site in the spotless white-tiled kitchen. On the Rise, however, is much more than a bakery. It’s helping to change the lives of those who work there. Established by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, it’s an offshoot of ROPE (Reaching Our Potential Everyday), a residential bakers’ training program for men who’ve been released from prison or who have completed substance-abuse treatment.

Each loaf pulled from the huge hearth oven is a steppingstone toward a new life for the apprentice bakers, who live in or are graduates of the nearby ROPE house, the housing component of the enterprise.

The men, who work 24 to 28 hours a week at the bakery, and are paid an hourly wage with benefits, have a year of residency while turning their lives around, not just by training to be bakers, but also by getting their high-school equivalency, attending AA/NA meetings, and becoming part of the surrounding community.

The bakery is supported by metro Detroit volunteers who help make it a viable enterprise. After less than two years, it’s close to being self-supporting.

On weekends, the baked goods are taken on the road to a different Catholic church each week and sold to parishioners before and after Mass. Many decline to take the change from their purchases.

A grant from Ford Motor Co., as well as assistance from business students at U-M Dearborn, allowed founder and project director Brother Ray Stadmeyer to get the enterprise off the ground. Before moving to the building on McClellan (owned by the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance), the baking was done during off hours at the Soup Kitchen.

In April 2009, On the Rise had its grand opening in the well-equipped bakery inside the renovated building that no longer shows its age.

Over the years, it’s been “this, that, and everything,” says baker and ROPE graduate John Karnicki, co-manager of the bakery with Brian Talley, who works the counter.

You might say that, along with the workers, the building is reaching its potential every day.

On the Rise Bakery, 6110 McClellan, Detroit; 313-922-8510. Hours: 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Thur., 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri. and 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Closed Mon.-Tue.

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