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Avalon Bakery

422 West Willis
Detroit, Michigan 48201

Ann Perrault

By Tunde Wey
January 23, 2013

Success is an idea often confused as an end wholly justified by any means. It is usually purely quantitative, often coldly calculating and uninspiring save for its white-washed results. The story of Avalon Bakery proves that success means doing the right thing, period.
Conventionally Avalon Bakery is a success. It has experienced steady growth since it opened in 1997 in Midtown on a street that connects to the oft-maligned Cass Corridor (formerly Detroit's "skid row" according to Forbes).
It is a business with estimated revenues of $2.2 million (in the 2011 fiscal year); employing 55 bakers, drivers, managers, and customer service representatives at above industry average wages with benefits; serving over 200,000 customers annually through its own locations and wholesale and retail operations; and, according to co-owner Ann Perrault, is the biggest purchaser of organic flour in Michigan.
As a consequence of its success, the bakery has outgrown its current 2,000-square-foot location. Later this year Avalon Bakery will relocate its primary bakery production to a new facility, 25 times larger than its current flagship location, in turn doubling their staff and eventually quadrupling their business.
What is distinct about Avalon remains its commitment to enriching the impoverished conversation around better business stewardship, or "corporate responsibility" as called by industry experts. Without compromising their widely advertised motto of "Eat Well, Do Good," they are competing effectively with businesses less concerned about sustainable practices. The success of the bakery, as a symbol of Detroit’s hardscrabble ethos even in a quagmire of unrelenting setbacks, has been featured in documentaries, national news articles and feature pieces. If Avalon Bakery is anything, including successful, it is the manifestation of its founders.
Ann Perrault, 53, is one half of the ownership team behind Avalon Bakery. Along with partner Jackie Victor, they have created a place where handcrafted bakery products are made using 100% organic bread and the business operates with a triple bottom-line – care for the community of employees and customers and attention to the natural ecosystem the business inhabits, all the while still being a profitable company.
"The idea was not so much about creating a business but to have a triple bottom-line company," Perrault says, "A company that looked at how they used products, how they treated people, and be a part of a community. The bakery business was just a vehicle to be able to do that."
She also offers insight into the choice of the name, saying an "Avalon is where people take refuge from a storm." The allusion, that Avalon is a place Detroiters can break from a sometimes dysfunctional city, is too easy to make but the significance of the implication is not diminished.
Perrault could be described as a pragmatic idealist. Tall and trim with long silver hair, she seems to reside in an uninterrupted state of deliberation, her speech and gesture reflecting this intentionality. Each word appears weighed by contemplation and considerations uncommon in most business owners.
The interplay of pragmatism and idealism Perrault commands is demonstrated in the way she conceives the role of Avalon Bakery.
"Knowing that the city needs jobs, you can make an impact with certain things that you buy," she says. "The biggest thing we purchase is flour – we are the biggest buyer of organic flour in Michigan. If we make the commitment to be an organic buyer, that is a huge impact. Making a commitment to buy our produce, cheese, eggs locally – continuing to have those relationships grow as we are growing – creates more jobs throughout the state."
As she gently smiles, there is a sequentiality in how her ideas, hopes, and plans unfold, in a way that convinces of their importance. "What we need in Detroit are jobs, but we have to have companies that are committed to do the training that is needed to allow humans to be part of that [food] economy," she explains. "Avalon Bakery is about higher quality hand crafted product – we mix scones on a bench and we will continue to mix scones on a bench. That is what our company is about: the people make the food."
Growing a business is a slow process, harrowing even, but the results of a good business are a sight to behold. When that initial ideal, uncorrupted by unnecessary concessions, grows into a storefront with customers, inventory, employees, sales and smiles, then success is achieved. 

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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