Friendship Meets Baking: The Story Behind Friendship Circle’s Purchase of Dakota Bread

Friendship Circle recently purchased West Bloomfield’s own Dakota Bread Company, well-known throughout metro Detroit for its delicious challah bread! Under Friendship Circle management, Dakota Bread will host a bakery training program for adults with special needs in the community, providing self-fulfillment and career opportunities.

Friendship Circle Board Chairman Ron Hodess shares the story behind Friendship Circle’s exciting new project in a Q&A. Read more below.

Where did the idea for Friendship Circle to have a bakery start?

Friendship Circle started a challah baking program several years ago as a vocational program that trained participants to bake challah. It was a successful program that gave opportunities to people with different abilities. When the program was concluded, we had requests from many Friendship Circle families and also from the community to restart the program.

One night after dinner, my wife Sue had one of those light bulb moments. She proclaimed that it was now the right time for the Friendship Circle to start a bakery and continue the challah baking program. It would serve the adult special needs community through job training and employment. It would also be the perfect complement to the Soul Café and catering business already providing various jobs to people with special needs.

How was Dakota Bread chosen as the perfect location?

We started touring different bakeries for ideas. A consistent theme from everyone we spoke with was that the best tasting challah was found at Dakota Bread. Within days we learned that the owners of Dakota Bread, who ran the business for over 20 years, were preparing to retire to Florida and wanted to sell. Wow, the stars were lining up for this to happen.

A key turning point was when we tested the Dakota Bread challah to determine if we could bake it as a kosher recipe. We were delighted to find out that all the ingredients in Dakota Bread are already kosher and that no ingredients needed to be changed!

What inspired donors to jump on board?

Our donors to the Dakota Bakery have been extremely generous with their time, advice and funding. I was gratified, but not surprised, to learn that the bakery was a “love at first taste” experience for most of our donors. As soon as they learned about the mission to create jobs for people with all abilities, and then they tasted the mission, they were all-in! (Not to mention their immediate love for the tasty challah.)

Why is this new venture meaningful to you and your family?

The Friendship Circle has been meaningful to our family since it started over 25 years ago. Our boys, Jay and Andy, have participated in the Friendship Circle family since they were very young. They met their closest friends at the Friendship Circle. It is a place that is a meaningful part of an extended family.

As the kids grew older (Jay is now 27 and Andy is 24), Friendship Circle programming evolved to create vocational opportunities for adults. This includes the Soul Café and Soul Studio. With the addition of Dakota Bread, this will create another great place for people with all abilities to learn new skills in a caring, friendly and productive environment.

Where do you see Dakota Bread and the bakery training program headed in the future?

Dakota Bread and the bakery training program will serve the needs of many in our community who are ready, able and willing to work. There is no limit to what they can accomplish and there is no limit to the bakery. Yesterday I saw that one of our participants in the bakery training program posted this message: “I can’t wait to start working [at Dakota Bread] and seeing what the future looks like!”

What inspires you about Friendship Circle’s legacy?

Under the leadership of Bassie and Levi Shemtov, the Friendship Circle has changed the lives of so many people, one family at a time. This includes the extended family of teens, volunteers, trainees, employees, artists and others.

The Friendship Circle spirit and programs have been replicated in over 70 other locations around the world. I have been fortunate to be able to visit some of the other Friendship Circle locations in US cities and also in Israel and it is an amazing thing to see.

Thank you to Bassie and Levi for their dedication over these past 25 years. Back then, who knew how many people would be touched by this organization? Let’s see how many challahs we can bake and lives we can impact. The future is summed up by our slogan: “Bake the world a better place.”

For media inquiries, please contact Melanie Barnett at [email protected].

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