What do a school guidance counselor and a corporate executive do when they need a change of pace professionally? Why, start their own bakery, of course — and make sure to bring in the rest of the family as well.
Almost five years ago, Kim Alexander and her husband, Jim Blumenstock, opened a Great Harvest Bread Company franchise in Wayne, and have recently expanded into a new location at the Ardmore Farmer's Market. The breads, muffins and other products are all made from whole-grain flour, milled by Blumenstock himself at the Wayne location. And every Friday morning, Great Harvest makes challah, though Alexander noted that it's not kosher.
Blumenstock — who worked for Johnson & Johnson and the American Red Cross — took on the role of full-time breadmaker, while Alexander tackled the human side of the venture, setting up the staff resources and training aspects of the business.
Alexander, a native of State College, Pa., met her husband there when the two were in graduate school. While Blumenstock is the one with his hands in the dough on a daily basis, both have a passion for their enterprise.
The 52-year-old Alexander, who is Jewish (her husband is not), works part-time at Great Harvest for most of the year; her duties as a guidance counselor at Haverford Middle School keep her well-occupied. In the summer, she switches to full-time. This year should be particularly busy, as she plans to spend her days bouncing between the two store locations.
The couple's children — a junior in college, a senior in high school and a fifth-grader — are key members of the workforce. They have toiled at the bakery, in various endeavors, throughout the years. "They can see how important a work ethic — and a commitment to a work ethic — are," insisted their mother. "It's truly a family business."
The support of the entire clan was fundamental to starting the bakery, she added.
Neither she nor her husband knew anything about baking, though he got a two-week crash course in the art of breadmaking after they signed on to open the store.
"It was a frightening proposal in the beginning," Alexander said, since no one was certain if the family could get by without her husband's corporate income. "Sorry to use the pun, but he was the breadwinner," she admitted.
When she and her husband, also 52, told the kids there would be risks involved, they nonetheless supported the idea and pitched in with some elbow grease of their own.
The bakery now has nearly 30 employees; some are students who only work one shift a week, or are hired only for the summer months. Alexander tries to employ people "who really love to be around people," she said. "We ask them to make a connection," and to try to give customers a personal experience.
She also utilizes her well-honed guidance skills in the human-resources side of the business, often to the benefit of her young employees. Since many of the staff members are working in one of their first jobs, she helps them along their career paths, whether that brings them back to Great Harvest or sends them down a new road entirely.
"That's guidance," she stated. "That's what I do in my school work as well."
And while she's helped students and staff piece together their future, she's also helped her children explore their past.
"My children consider themselves Jewish," she said, "even though they haven't had a lot of exposure."
Still, the values she embraces are those affiliated with her upbringing, growing up in the rare Jewish household in State College. "And our business fits with [them] very nicely."