My Gluten Free Bread Company in Hendersonville is filled with the sweet aroma of banana bread and looks like a cheery classroom: clean and bright, with encouraging posters on the walls bearing words like “dream” and “laugh.” When 21-year-old Dakota Cook clocks in each morning, he reviews the day’s orders and sets about weighing, mixing, and baking. Since being promoted to team captain, his responsibilities also include training and supporting his coworkers.
Cook is among eight at-risk young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 employed at the bread company, which opened in March under the guidance of Buddhist nun Pannavati. The bakery is a social enterprise of My Place, a youth shelter she created in 2009. Head baker Kenneth Martinez, former owner of West First Wood-fired Pizza, oversees the program’s participants, who are trained to create gluten-free breads and desserts to be sold through local grocery outlets, online, and in the store. But this bakery isn’t in it for the money.
The profits go to support and provide housing for the employees. My Gluten Free Bread Company, explains Pannavati, evolved as a way to maintain and expand My Place as well as provide jobs for at-risk youth. “We don’t hire youth to make bread. We make bread to hire youth,” she says. Pannavati aims to give them a safe place to live and work, as well as coping, job, and social skills, but most of all, a sense of hope. “They need to believe in themselves,” she says, “I teach them about accountability, self-respect, and confidence. I help them learn they can break the cycle.”
Pannavati’s efforts offer much more than emotional and psychological support. A stepping-stone for job placement, the program guides participants through earning either a high school diploma or GED while completing the six-month apprenticeship, which lays the foundation for a career in culinary arts.
This winter, Cook will be one of the program’s first graduates. “I learn something new every day, and I’m challenged every day,” he says. “It’s an environment with no negative energy.”
My Gluten free Bread Co.
409 7th Ave. E., Hendersonville
Open Wednesdays &
Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.