As Kneaded Bakery

Iliana has seen a revenue growth of 150% at As Kneaded Bakery since she started working with PCV’s small business loan and advising programs, and has reinvested in the business and her staff.

As Kneaded Bakery is a bakery in San Leandro, California, established in 2016 by Iliana Berkowitz. Inspired by the sourdough bread culture of California and the rich tradition of breads of her Jewish heritage, As Kneaded serves loaves that blend cultures and fill bellies. Iliana focuses her bakery on baguettes, challah, and a variety of sourdough hearth loaves, as well as a unique lineup of seasonal “noshes” (Yiddish for ‘snacks’) which they showcase at multiple weekly farmers’ markets.

As her business grew, Iliana needed to move from a shared commercial kitchen into a space of her own. She started planning to move into a space that was large enough to accommodate her growing wholesale and farmers’ market clientele — and also allow for a small portion of space to be dedicated to direct sales of their loaves and noshes. She needed funding for new equipment to build out that space, but couldn’t get funding from a traditional bank. She came to Pacific Community Ventures (PCV) for a small business loan. That funding meant the opportunity for plentiful direct sales while also opening her kitchen to the public for sales of bread and gourmet toast, and to seize other direct sales opportunities such as monthly pop-ups, special holiday events, and bread classes. All of that means creating new jobs as well.

When Iliana started her small business, she did everything herself: baking, hiring, training, administration, and more. As her business grew, she began to see a need to develop systems and processes so that her employees could perform specific tasks with clear expectations and guidelines. For example, Iliana wanted to create a code of conduct and operations manual outlining how to run the business. As a PCV client, Iliana decided to join our Good Jobs, Good Business toolkit launch pilot program, and we paired her with Silvia Doundakova, an pro bono advisor with a background in business strategy, who had four previous engagements with small businesses on PCV’s Business Advising platform.

Good Jobs, Good Business

Silvia suggested a few areas of the manual for Iliana to work on that would make the most immediate and impactful differences, but after her move to the new kitchen and storefront her business experienced rapid and unexpected growth. Hooray! This expansion was the catalyst for job creation. Since enrolling in PCV’s Business Advising program, As Kneaded Bakery has grown from 4 employees to 12. Iliana built a team of bakers, hired another delivery driver, and hired an operations associate. She decided that her business’ most pressing priority was to add more channels of communication to make the employee and employment experience better. She and Silvia put the code of conduct and operations manual to the back-burner and started working on creating proper evaluation and feedback channels.

With this new initiative, workers would receive an evaluation at the thirty-day mark, three-month mark, six-month mark, and one-year mark of employment. They would also receive a questionnaire and an assessment regarding their skill set, food safety acumen, teamwork, communications, personal development and growth. Since Iliana is not always in the kitchen, these forms enable her to stay connected with her workers. The forms also allow Iliana to relate to her workers, fix any unexpected problems, and optimize workflows.

To propagate high standards of company culture, Iliana started conducting mandatory all-staff meetings. These meetings opened the floor for celebrating successes and voicing feedback and constructive feedback, as well as introducing the 4 a.m. shift workers to the 4 p.m. shift workers. Iliana also placed a whiteboard at the bakery so that morning workers could communicate with the evening workers. This has created a way for them to work more effectively across shifts.

Iliana has seen a revenue growth of 150% since the beginning of 2018 and has reinvested in the business and her staff. She told us: “I’m beginning to understand and acknowledge what would make somebody stay somewhere for a long time. I’ve realized that if the company culture is good, if the benefits are good, if there is good communication and openness with the managers, that all of these could lead to people staying longer and developing with the business.”

Patience Is A Virtue

The Good Jobs, Good Business toolkit became particularly useful for Iliana after the move to the brick and mortar store. Her business was growing, and she saw the need to invest in her employees. Iliana admittedly faced the reality of many small business owners: her brick and mortar opening was consuming most of her time and energy, so she was unable to make as much progress as initially planned. 

Iliana began to experience the challenges that come from having more employees – for example, some employees come and stay at the organization while others come and leave in a short period of time. Realizing that investing in her employees was critical to the success of her business as she grew, Iliana and Silvia created a new game plan for the second phase of their work to improve the employee experience. Iliana’s hope is that by putting more into her employees, they will, in turn, put more into As Kneaded, including staying at the organization. To facilitate this, Iliana is working on three main initiatives:

  • Feedback and Evaluation Channels: Iliana instituted one-month, three-month, six-month, and yearly evaluations for all employees. These evaluations include a questionnaire and assessment on the employee’s organizational skills, kitchen hygiene, collaboration, communication, teamwork, personal development, and growth. Because Iliana can’t be everywhere at once, the responses allow her to surface what employees understand so that she can more clearly communicate expectations and set her employees up for success. If an employee is struggling with how to perform the job, she is made aware of this in a timelier fashion and can share with the employee a concrete plan that shows them how they can take steps to improve their performance. The form also provides space for the employees to provide feedback on their experience at As Kneaded so that Iliana can understand their experience and be made aware of any red flags. 
  • Health Benefits: Iliana worked with an HR consultancy to determine the best small group insurance to offer her diverse workforce (some families, some young adults, some non-family adults, etc.). She had this on her radar for about a year and decided to move on it now that she better understands why she needs to invest — and can invest — in good job improvements so that workers want to stay at her company.
  • Compensation: Iliana’s also committed to revisiting wages quarterly and at one-year employment anniversaries. This will be a standard time when Iliana can review employee compensation against employee performance and the financial health of the business. By setting up clear times for reviews and wage increases, it ensures that this important task will not go overlooked.

While Iliana is still implementing some of her pilot efforts, she is already speaking with Silvia about plans for future work to improve the quality of jobs offered to her employees. For example, she wants to create a formal paid time off policy, which she does not have right now. 

At the start of the pilot, Iliana’s long-term goal was to create an operations manual so that employees felt set up for success and there was consistency with the wholesale products created at As Kneaded. However, as many small businesses know, the business is constantly changing and while her big-picture goals remain the same, she is not set on creating the same end product moving forward. Instead, she is committed to listening to the feedback shared by employees, observing what is happening in the kitchen, reviewing resources in Good Jobs, Good Business toolkit and shared by her advisor, Silvia, to create higher quality jobs for her employees.

Could your small business benefit from free advice or a fair and affordable loan? PCV can help. Learn more about our advising program or our loan program.