In June of 1997, we pulled the first loaves of bread out of our newly installed hearthstone oven in a small, converted storefront in the Cass Corridor of Detroit: Avalon International Breads was born.
To many, offering artisan baked goods made with 100% organic flour in the heart of Detroit seemed an improbable venture. Some looked at Detroit and saw economic distress, population exodus, crime, vacant land and abandoned buildings as obstacles too great for a small venture like ours. But we saw the seeds of a transformation, with food growing on vacant land, small businesses filling unmet needs, artists thriving, and neighbors coming together to rebuild, renew and re-spirit the city from the ground up. And we loved the cultural heritage, legendary architecture, and beautiful international riverfront of our city. Most of all, we loved the incredible souls of Detroiters.
The work to start Avalon started just two summers prior at Stonehouse Breads in Leland, MI, where we spent nights baking bread and days struggling to keep our eyes open, laboriously writing our business plan. We headed back to Detroit that fall, energized about the craft of traditional sourdough breads, and passionate about our completed plan for a bakery with three bottom lines: earth, community, employees.
We raised our first $6,000 from friends and family who purchased vouchers for our first loaves, “bread dough dollars,” to be used when we opened our doors. With additional support from family and benefactors who shared our values, we converted an unfinished space with neither lighting nor plumbing into a full production and retail facility. With the help of dedicated volunteers, we mixed, baked, and delivered our signature organic loaves, all while running the front counter and cleaning the bathrooms at the end of our 18 hours shifts. Our moms could often be found helping customers or making pies. We spent weekends sampling out our goods at suburban grocery stores. We learned to bake the old-fashioned way: hard work, trial and error. We learned to manage finances and provide customer service too. More hard work. More trial and error.
Now we have the privilege of seeing our vision become a reality. Over 1,000 customers stream through our doors daily from sunrise to sunset, seven days per week. Three trucks leave each morning, delivering to over 40 restaurants and markets stretching from Ann Arbor all the way back to Royal Oak and Grosse Pointe. Our baked goods delight our customers and fill us with pride.
One small storefront at a time, other businesses have joined us and West Willis St. has become a vibrant community that is spreading (see for yourself!). Our vision of an “Agri-Urban” economy is beginning to come to life in the seeds of a new economy, based not on a declining industrial economy, but with sustainability and community at its core.
When Avalon began, our greatest aspiration was to become an inspiration to others. Now, our customers, our employees and the community are inspiring us as we find new ways of fulfilling Avalon’s mission: Eat Well. Do Good.