Where Alumni Work: Essential Baking Company

By David Williams

If you go into either of the two Essential Bakery cafés in Seattle you will find some of the finest food in the region—freshly baked bread and pastries, delicious sandwiches, and to-die-for chocolate. You will also find several UPS alumni. Melanie Bonadore ’94 is general manager for Essential. Andrea Meyer ’95 manages the Madison Park café and helped develop the Fremont location, too. Jason Evans ‘00 is a barista, Ted Spas ‘98 is an account representative, and Kim Nyhous ‘93 is the human resources director.

“I have stayed with the company for eight years now because of the family atmosphere,” says Bonadore, who worked her way up to her present job in September 2003.

Bonadore didn’t expect to end up at Essential. After graduating with a degree in biology, focusing on freshwater fisheries, she went to the Congo with the Peace Corps, where the simplicity of life helped clarify for her what was important. “I came to the realization that I wanted three things wherever I worked. I wanted to respect the product or service that I provided. I wanted to respect the owners. And I wanted to respect my co-workers,” she says.

When she came back to the States, Bonadore worked at an organic farm in the Skagit Valley. Once a week she drove into Seattle to deliver produce. One of her stops was Essential, which until recently was the largest consumer of organic flour in the U.S. (It is currently number two.) The bakery also buys its supplies locally where possible, including potatoes from River Farm in Ellensburg, Wash., and rosemary from the Snoqualmie Valley.

Although she enjoyed farm work, she became a driver at Essential in December 1996 and then worked as distribution manager for four years. “Everyone makes a livable wage, but it’s like working at a nonprofit. I felt the same thing at UPS—that it wasn’t about making money but about the experience,” says Bonadore. Part of Essential’s mission is to give back to the community.

Andrea Meyer didn’t expect to end up at Essential either. She graduated with a double degree in biology and English. She had been friends with Bonadore at UPS, where she started to get interested in fine food. “I discovered that food could be a creative and fun outlet. When I was offered the job of managing the Fremont café, I realized it had untapped potential. With another UPS graduate, Matt Carey ‘93, we began to introduce more food items,” she says. Andrea managed both locations before taking over the Madison Park store.

“I have been pleasantly surprised by how well the cafés have done. I think it is because we have an authentic and unique staff and that we have created a neighborhood-type feel to each location,” says Meyer. “I think that in this way UPS students and Essential employees share a similar experience.”

More information on the Essential Baking Company at www.essentialbaking.com.