Chabaso Bakery offered Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz and US Small Business Administration (SBA) Connecticut Director Christine Marx a taste of their manufacturing processes, their pandemic recovery effort, and, of course, some fresh bread, during a tour of the business’s James Street headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.
Chabaso Bakery, a homegrown New Haven business, was opened in nineteen ninety five by the owner of Atticus Bookstore Cafe on Chapel Street, Charles Negaro Sr. In 2019, his son took over the coffeehouse/restaurant and bakery, where the ciabatta is baked not just for Atticus, but for venues throughout the Northeast. In March 2021, the new Negaro-in-chief opened a second location of Atticus in East Rock. (Click here to read a full story about Atticus’s nearly five-decade-long history in New Haven.)
Bysiewicz said the visit to the longtime local family-owned business was part of an effort to highlight Connecticut’s innovators and job creators. She praised Chabaso as a “vibrant business” that has adapted to remain “an innovative and community-focused business presence in New Haven.”
Marx, meanwhile, congratulated the owners for receiving the US Small Business Administration’s award for Connecticut family-owned small business for the year 2022. (Click here to read about Senator Richard Blumenthal’s visit to present the award earlier this year.)
Negaro Jr. and Atticus Communications Director Reed Immer led the government officials and their teams through the manufacturing plant, where the air was warm with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Everyone had to mask up, remove jewelry, put on a smock, and cover their hair in a net before entering the factory floor.
As Negaro Jr. showed the government officials the dough-mixing stage, Bysiewicz asked if they have faced any pandemic-related supply chain challenges. The bakery owner said there’s an occasional blip on the road with supply chains, but the fluctuation in the affordability of raw ingredients and materials has come to be more of a challenge.
“The price of a pound of commodity white flour has been between twenty-one and 22 cents for a long time, but starting summer of last year, with some shortages and with a bad crop last year, it was up to 29. We’re buying Q3 at 3. 4 cents to pound right now, so that’s a major issue,” Negaro Jr. said.
Another challenge: rising labor costs. Last year, the bakery increased everyone’s starting wages to $fifteen/hour. Bysiewicz applauded Negaro Jr. for making this change ahead of the state’s minimum wage, which hits $fifteen an hour in 2023.
Despite these challenges, Negaro Jr. said that the company is getting “very good fulfillment rates” and “picking up where a lot of other folks are dropping off.” He described most of Chabaso’s competition as “huge industrial, corporate-owned bakeries that have been bought and sold four or five times; nobody really wants to do business with them.”
“That’s what I love about your business. You are homegrown, and you started small. I remember when Atticus was in Middletown, my hometown, and New Haven. You were just a staple, and people loved your bread and pastries so much that here you are,” Byesiwicz said.
“Yeah, it all started at a little kitchen on Crown Street in New Haven,” Negaro Jr. said.
“A lot of people in Connecticut shop at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods and buy your bread and don’t even know that it’s made in Connecticut,” Marx said.
Immer and Negaro Jr. then led the group to the shaping line, where “dough is run through a series of stretchers and rollers to reduce it to the desired thickness.” Watch a clip below.
Bysiewicz, Marx, and their teams watched in awe as the automated guillotine cut according to the weight of the dough and rolled ciabatta under a series of chains, which gives the bread its rolled shape.
Chabaso employs around 120 full-time workers at the manufacturing facility, most of whom are from Fair Haven, and 70 individuals at Atticus. Since the beginning of the year, fifteen percent of their hourly workforce at Chabaso has been comprised of refugees, Negaro Jr. said.
“I’m thrilled that you’re doing that. When the United States pulled its forces out of Afghanistan, the governor said, ‘We welcome Afghani refugees here,’ and I’m delighted to hear that you are employing them,” Bysiewicz said.
Next, the dough was placed onto racks and pushed into a temperature and humidity-controlled cabinet called a proofer for two hours. As the group watched employees load the racks onto trays, Negaro Jr. told them about the history of the building, which used to house a factory for the sportswear clothing company Starter. He talked about how Chabaso has found success by focusing on small wins, like the strong bonds they have coveted with their buyers.
“This is a relationship business. In retail, it’s relationships with the 500 people who walk into a place each day. Here, it’s with twenty people that control all of the bread sales up and down the east coast,” Negaro Jr. said.
When the pandemic hit the US in March of 2020Chabaso Bakery had a 40 percent reduction in sales, according to Negaro Jr.. Atticus Cafe went down to three employees from fifty.
“PPP save us. Now, thanks to PP and RRF. that is back up to 70,” he said.
Marx chimed in to explain: PPP is the paycheck protection program administered by the SBA. RRF is the restaurant revitalization fund. And EIDL (which Chabaso also used) is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. The programs offered relief offered to small businesses like Chabaso to help with pandemic-related economic challenges.
“They took that money from the programs as they were recovering from the pandemic, and because of their commitment to community, they purposely worked with the nonprofit IRIS to incorporate the Afghani refugees when they were getting ramped up back to staffing,” Marx said.
Bysiewiczsaid that industries all over Connecticut are looking for employees, and two groups to consider “beyond the usual” are immigrants and people coming out of prison.
“What you’re doing on a local level is what we’d like to see happen all over the state,” Bysiewicz said.