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Ferguson Baker Goes From Two Hand Mixers to Supplying Starbucks

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes & More (Credit: Starbucks)

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More in Ferguson, Missouri, was working out of a 700-square-foot kitchen with one oven, two hand mixers and a 6-foot foldable table when Starbucks came knocking in 2015.

That year, she began supplying a Ferguson outlet of the coffee chain giant with her baked goods. Now, DuBose supplies over 30 Starbucks stores with her signature caramel cake, which is also in several universities, seven grocery stores and eight gas stations in the St. Louis region. She’s doubled her kitchen space and added two ovens — and no longer uses hand mixers.

The first Ferguson Starbucks where DuBose’s cakes were sold is what the company calls an “opportunity store” — which it conceived to create local jobs, partner with minority-owned contractors and suppliers, and offer an in-store job skills training program. For the latter, Starbucks partners with a local nonprofit to train young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working or in school (often referred to as “disconnected youth”).

The first opportunity store opened in Jamaica, Queens, in 2015, and the model’s also in Phoenix; Englewood in Chicago; Baltimore; Long Beach, California; and White Center, near Seattle. In spring 2018, Starbucks will open one in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“I’m excited to welcome Starbucks’ new store to Bed-Stuy,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said in a statement about the plans. “This innovative concept will bring jobs, mentorship and training opportunities for our neighborhood’s young people. This store will brew the next generation of leaders in Bed-Stuy and ensure that area youth will have a venue to access resources, meet new people, and get the skills they need to enter the job market, all while enjoying a cup of coffee.”

According to Starbucks, through the opportunity store model, the company has used 19 minority-owned general construction suppliers and nine minority-owned general contractors, 43 percent of which have been women-owned businesses.

In New York City, Starbucks partnered with YMCA’s Y Roads Centers (created to reach disconnected youth) and Queens Community House to provide in-store training for youth. QCH has had a relationship with Starbucks for about a decade, says Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer. The partnership is an extension of the Queens Connect Young Adult Food Sector Initiative, a collaborative employment program that trains and prepares youth for careers in food service and manufacturing.

“For over 40 years, we have been working to strengthen neighborhoods and bring special opportunities to individuals within the borough,” Ben Thomases, executive director at Queens Community House, said in a statement about the Jamaica, Queens, partnership. “This partnership with Starbucks allows us to help even more young people to develop their skills, launch their careers, and become meaningful contributors to their community.”

The partnership has led two Queens youth to jobs at Starbucks, says Redmond. Others have gone on to continue training with QCH and use its job placement assistance. In the coming year, the partnership aims to train 100 more youth.

A Starbucks opportunity store in White Center, near Seattle (Credit: Starbucks)

In addition to the forthcoming Bed-Stuy store, Starbucks plans to take the model to Miami Gardens, Trenton, Birmingham and Dallas over the next year. By the end of 2018, there will be 15 opportunity stores total.

Rodney Hines, director of social impact for U.S. operations at Starbucks, explains that the company developed an internal “suitability index” to identify the top 50 cities across the U.S. that could be good options for the model. It considers about seven criteria including enterprise zones, density size, unemployment rates, ethnic diversity and Starbucks’ presence in markets.

If a community is already committed to economic development that preserves the well-being of families in the various neighborhoods that’s a plus too.

“The joy of my work is to really thoughtfully think through and consider how do we actually do this in a way that is respectful, responsive to the community, to leaders and to others there locally and also responsible for our share to our shareholders,” Hines says. “But doing it in partnership with the local community.”

In addition to new jobs, training and partnerships with MWBEs (minority- and women-owned business enterprises), each store has a room available for local groups to host meetings and events.

Starbucks estimates that the opportunity stores have led to $59.7 million in indirect economic development created from store construction, $8.5 million average for indirect economic development per community, and created over 1,100 jobs indirectly.

Hines acknowledges there are challenges that come with the opportunity stores. For example, some youth trainees are dealing with homelessness and drug addiction.

“What we’ve had to learn quickly was how do we support our store managers so that they can better support those young people, but then how do we embrace the partnerships that we have with the local nonprofits and also the human resources that we have available here through the company,” Hines says. “How do we harness all of that so that we’re truly wrapping ourselves around the young people and the store managers who need that support too, with developing these young people.”

For small suppliers, Starbucks’ global reach can be overwhelming too, Hines says. He notes that he and his team have been thinking through how to continue to support the small businesses, help them grow and ensure that they have the right systems in place to be a great business partner with Starbucks, as well as other restaurants and grocery stores.

DuBose, however, has embraced the growth. When she first started as a Starbucks partner, she employed two people. That number has increased to 12 regular employees, a number that swells to 30 during the summer when she partners with a local organization on a youth entrepreneurship training program.

“I just thought I was going to be a local bakery,” says DuBose, who adds that her company will begin supplying 10 additional stores next month.

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More in Ferguson, Missouri, was working out of a 700-square-foot kitchen with one oven, two hand mixers and a 6-foot foldable table when Starbucks came knocking in 2015.

That year, she began supplying a Ferguson outlet of the coffee chain giant with her baked goods. Now, DuBose supplies over 30 Starbucks stores with her signature caramel cake, which is also in several universities, seven grocery stores and eight gas stations in the St. Louis region. She’s doubled her kitchen space and added two ovens — and no longer uses hand mixers.

The first Ferguson Starbucks where DuBose’s cakes were sold is what the company calls an “opportunity store” — which it conceived to create local jobs, partner with minority-owned contractors and suppliers, and offer an in-store job skills training program. For the latter, Starbucks partners with a local nonprofit to train young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working or in school (often referred to as “disconnected youth”).

The first opportunity store opened in Jamaica, Queens, in 2015, and the model’s also in Phoenix; Englewood in Chicago; Baltimore; Long Beach, California; and Seattle’s White Center. In spring 2018, Starbucks will open one in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“I’m excited to welcome Starbucks’ new store to Bed-Stuy,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said in a statement about the plans. “This innovative concept will bring jobs, mentorship and training opportunities for our neighborhood’s young people. This store will brew the next generation of leaders in Bed-Stuy and ensure that area youth will have a venue to access resources, meet new people, and get the skills they need to enter the job market, all while enjoying a cup of coffee.”

According to Starbucks, through the opportunity store model, the company has used 19 minority-owned general construction suppliers and nine minority-owned general contractors, 43 percent of which have been women-owned businesses.

In New York City, Starbucks partnered with YMCA’s Y Roads Centers (created to reach disconnected youth) and Queens Community House to provide in-store training for youth. QCH has had a relationship with Starbucks for about a decade, says Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer. The partnership is an extension of the Queens Connect Young Adult Food Sector Initiative, a collaborative employment program that trains and prepares youth for careers in food service and manufacturing.

“For over 40 years, we have been working to strengthen neighborhoods and bring special opportunities to individuals within the borough,” Ben Thomases, executive director at Queens Community House, said in a statement about the Jamaica, Queens, partnership. “This partnership with Starbucks allows us to help even more young people to develop their skills, launch their careers, and become meaningful contributors to their community.”

The partnership has led two Queens youth to jobs at Starbucks, says Redmond. Others have gone on to continue training with QCH and use its job placement assistance. In the coming year, the partnership aims to train 100 more youth.

In addition to the forthcoming Bed-Stuy store, Starbucks plans to take the model to Miami Gardens, Trenton, Birmingham and Dallas over the next year. By the end of 2018, there will be 15 opportunity stores total.

Rodney Hines, director of social impact for U.S. operations at Starbucks, explains that the company developed an internal “suitability index” to identify the top 50 cities across the U.S. that could be good options for the model. It considers about seven criteria including enterprise zones, density size, unemployment rates, ethnic diversity and Starbucks’ presence in markets.

If a community is already committed to economic development that preserves the well-being of families in the various neighborhoods that’s a plus too.

“The joy of my work is to really thoughtfully think through and consider how do we actually do this in a way that is respectful, responsive to the community, to leaders and to others there locally and also responsible for our share to our shareholders,” Hines says. “But doing it in partnership with the local community.”

In addition to new jobs, training and partnerships with MWBEs (minority- and women-owned business enterprises), each store has a room available for local groups to host meetings and events.

Starbucks estimates that the opportunity stores have led to $59.7 million in indirect economic development created from store construction, $8.5 million average for indirect economic development per community, and created over 1,100 jobs indirectly.

Hines acknowledges there are challenges that come with the opportunity stores. For example, some youth trainees are dealing with homelessness and drug addiction.

“What we’ve had to learn quickly was how do we support our store managers so that they can better support those young people, but then how do we embrace the partnerships that we have with the local nonprofits and also the human resources that we have available here through the company,” Hines says. “How do we harness all of that so that we’re truly wrapping ourselves around the young people and the store managers who need that support too, with developing these young people.”

For small suppliers, Starbucks’ global reach can be overwhelming too, Hines says. He notes that he and his team have been thinking through how to continue to support the small businesses, help them grow and ensure that they have the right systems in place to be a great business partner with Starbucks, as well as other restaurants and grocery stores.

DuBose, however, has embraced the growth. When she first started as a Starbucks partner, she employed two people. That number has increased to 12 regular employees, a number that swells to 30 during the summer when she partners with a local organization on a youth entrepreneurship training program.

“I just thought I was going to be a local bakery,” says DuBose, who adds that her company will begin supplying 10 additional stores next month.