Claire Randall, Grand Central Bakery: Bakers serious about making an impact
Claire Randall is CEO of Grand Central Bakery, a B-Corp certified artisan bakery operating in Oregon and Washington with a community-centered mission and sustainable business practices.
Claire’s been working at Grand Central for 29 years now.
“There was no straight career path of studying business, getting an MBA, and becoming a CEO…When I graduated, I had no career plans, like a lot of new graduates. I worked in a number of different restaurants…my good friend Piper Davis and her brother were just starting to open the Portland branch of Grand Central Bakery. I was already a super fan of Grand Central. Piper and I would travel to Seattle and load up our car with a bunch of bread that we would eat on the way home and then put in the freezer.
There was really nothing like it in Portland at the time. And so I hounded Ben and his mom, Gwen Bassetti, the founder of Grand Central Bakery, to hire me and which they eventually did.”
Gwen officially founded Grand Central Bakery in 1989, but she started baking bread way before that.
“I love to call her a food pioneer. She was creating beautiful food from local ingredients, way before a lot of people even thought that was a possibility…Gwen actually started a company with a couple friends in the early ‘70s and it was called The Bakery. It was in Seattle's Pioneer Square and it was a huge success.”
Women-owned and women-led from the very beginning, they made delicious food from scratch, using local ingredients.
Founding Grand Central, Gwen started making small batches of Como bread that would sell out every day.
“Como is a hearth-baked loaf. It's Italian style, white, nice hard crust, a beautiful chewy flavorful interior. It's on our logo. It's the loaf that we started the bakery with and it continues to be one of our best sellers.”
By the time the next generation (Gwen’s son Ben and daughter Piper), Claire and her husband Bob, and a few other friends arrived on the scene,
“We inherited a bakery that already had a really strong mission, strong values. Gwen already had super employee-centric policies, generous health benefits, generous time off, a really nice culture. Huge shout-out to Gwen. She's an inspiration for me.”
Grand Central’s mission is to serve delicious, authentic food made from high-quality, local, and sustainable ingredients while growing a healthy values-driven business. Grand Central is also the Pacific Northwest's first B Corp certified bakery.
The bakery supports several local nonprofits, including Lift Up Portland, CAUSA, and the Blueprint Foundation.
Supporting local food systems and using local ingredients is a strong value for Grand Central, similar to Salt & Straw Ice Cream.
“Through the way we source our food locally from local ranchers and farmers, not just our ingredients, but any purchases we can, we strive to constantly improve how much we're buying locally. That has kept us strong and resilient through the entire pandemic…the fact we're still in business has helped so many of our local vendors. I love that it's a mutually supportive relationship.”
Grand Central also pays a lot of attention to what they put out into the waste stream.
“Our goal is a 100% waste diverted from the waste stream. And the last couple years we've hit 87%, which is pretty great. We have a lot of fired up employees who care a lot about the waste stream. It's been exciting to track that progress. We recycle and compost anything we can and have very little garbage left over.”
After surviving the worst of the pandemic, now the bakery is navigating more challenges.
“Operating our business the way we do is not the cheapest way of running a business, right? We buy the best ingredients. We pay our employees well. We have great benefits. We have beautiful spaces…our customers stuck with us and we're continuing to attract new customers. So our sales are going up at a nice clip, but we're in a situation where our profit is declining. That is obviously a real challenge. I know that we're not alone…we're experiencing skyrocketing ingredient costs...and that's combined with this severe staffing shortage. Our goal right now is to become more efficient without sacrificing any of the deliciousness or the artistry of our products.”
I asked Claire for her advice for others who want to create companies that care. Grand Central is unique as it’s an open book company.
“My first piece of advice is to focus on the finances as much as your mission. So many businesses spend a lot of time thinking about what their mission is, what they want to offer…but they neglect the nuts and bolts of what it really takes to be a profitable business. And if you're not profitable, you can't live your mission…So few companies are open book companies…I think it's so important to educate your employees about your numbers and do your work to build that trust and use that transparency to improve your performance.”
Claire was excited to share that this summer, Grand Central is transitioning their ownership into a perpetual purpose trust.
“A perpetual purpose trust has no individual owners, but it instead exists to advance some noncharitable purpose…we realized it would be the perfect way to keep our way of business intact, long after we're gone. So it's been really fun designing the trust. We're designing it, not just for the next 3 to 5 years, but for the next 10, 20, 30 years. If we are a trust we're permanently independent forever. We're never up for sale, which is really exciting.”
We enjoyed talking about good, sustainable food, “Outlander,” and King’s Table restaurant! And now I need to go get one of those yummy cinnamon rolls!!
I alternate the Companies That Care podcast with my original podcast, Finding Fertile Ground, which shares personal stories of grit and resilience. On both my podcasts I strive to highlight voices from historically excluded populations, people who don't always get a platform.
I help professional services companies avoid BORING by making communications painless and boosting employee engagement, productivity, and brand recognition. I turn lackluster, jargon-filled, or technical prose into clear dynamic narrative. Look us up on fertilegroundcommunications.com.
As a podcaster for justice, I stand with my sisters from the Women of Color Podcasters Community. We are podcasters united to condemn the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others at the hands of police.
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