Worth to be stubborn!
How did it started? – says Marc Stenfert Kroese, co-founder of the Donkey Bakery - I met Luyen Shell, my Vietnamese business partner through couchsurfing. One day we decided to open something, to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities. We were considering business cases till 3am, discussing what we want to do. We came up with donuts. We bought a donut machine, we learned how to do them and we were biking to embassies to sell them. It worked a short while but soon it collapsed. Then somebody said: why don’t you do bread? Bread? Ok! I lived 20 years in Germany so I knew German bread. I called an organization from Bohn, they have all kinds of specialists, retired people who come as volunteers to help. So I asked them to send me a good baker. They gave me a 75 years old man who joined us after two weeks. He didn’t speak any English, just German. We had 5 deaf staff. Language is not a problem. He trained them for 2 months. He taught them how to do bread… but it was a recipe used many years ago… with sour dough and doing everything from scratch. Our customers told us later that nobody is doing bread that way anymore… This idea was also not sustainable. So we moved to this building and started to do weekend buffets. We were inviting people, a lot of friends. After a while also this was crushed. People stopped coming. And finally one day some of our customers asked if we can do catering for schools. We had no idea how to do lunches for schools, but we said: we try.
And this finally worked. Donkey Bakery started to prepare organic, healthy meals firstly for one school, then for another. Today they prepare 900 meals per day, proposing dishes from 40 different countries. They are served to kids by people with disabilities.
I don’t call them people with disabilities, it’s the most stupid name. They are people with great abilities. They develop strength which we don’t have. Especially heart strengths. They are able to appreciate life much more than we do. They are committed, trustworthy, they want to learn, want to try. And they stick to us. Our problem at the beginning was that we trained people and they ran away. Not deaf people, but” normal”, most of our issues were with people who are not deaf.
Today Donkey Bakery is a sustainable social business hiring many deaf and blind people, giving them salary, but above all dignity and sense of independence.
The basic philosophy is to create a for- profit social enterprise. If you earn your own money, you are proud. If you are only putting your hand to get money from an NGO, you are not proud. It’s pride and helping each other which generates energy in our team. And bring people to work with us. We’ve just hired a 5-star French chef who is trying to improve even more our 5-star food for schools provided for 1-star price. We have an American chef who helped us from the very beginning. Very involved. He was working for the best hotels. Now he wants to do something for the heart, not for the pocket. There is something magical when you do that kind of business. The more you give, the more you receive.
Beside following their hearts, they also follow a very Vietnamese attitude, so much different than the Western.
In Europe we have too many rules. We should learn from Vietnamese. They also have some rules but they never follow them. We need to question the rules, consciously. Too many rules narrow our actions. Vietnamese never stay still. They are so flexible. If they can’t go one way, they will find another. We, western, need to always feel on the safe side. They don’t have this need for security. We need to have a plan. Vietnamese don’t, they just find out in the moment what will work. They don’t worry too much, they believe that finally everything will be ok. One way or another.
More about Donkey Bakery: donkeybakery.com