Andrew Stoloff says it was against his better judgment (as well as that of his friends and family) that he bought Richmond's Rubicon Bakery four years ago. It turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made for himself and the bakery's now-100 employees.
Andrew Stoloff, it would seem, rarely does what others expect him to do.
Take his education, for example. After graduating from Oberlin College, a school with the reputation for being one of the country's most liberal of liberal-arts institutions, Andrew headed off to get a graduate degree from one of its most esteemed business schools, Wharton.
Then there is Andrew's career path. After working on Wall Street, he quit his job in finance to try his hand at restaurant work in Northern California. Andrew took minimum wage jobs as a sandwich maker and busboy before eventually opening his own restaurants. He still owns one of them, Castro Valley's Red Tractor Cafe.
Andrew's unique background, though, made him the perfect person to make the next, unexpected move in his life: turning around Richmond's Rubicon Bakery.
It all began four years ago when an acquaintance asked Andrew to help find a buyer for the bakery. It was at the time being run by Rubicon Programs, a Richmond-based non-profit. The mission of the bakery was to provide on-the-job training for those who lacked skills, so they could find full-time employment.
The problem was the bakery was losing so much money it was threatening to derail all the other programs Rubicon was running.
It was easy, Andrew said, to diagnose the problem.
"The problems were pretty basic," Andrew said, "problems any business making food would have. The two largest costs are food and labor. They were spending too much on both."
Still, Andrew was able to look past the bottom line. He fell in love with the bakery's mission of helping people get back on their feet.
Andrew soon realized the buyer he had been looking for was just a mirror away. "Against all my better judgment," Andrew said, "I decided to buy it."
Relying on his background in finance, and experience in restaurant management, Andrew has led Rubicon through a remarkable turnaround.
When he bought Rubicon in 2009, he inherited 14 part-time employees. Just this month he hired his 100th full-timer.
"I see the smiles on their faces," Andrew said, "I know I made the right decision four years ago buying this bakery."
What is even more remarkable, though, is not just the number of jobs Andrew has created, but who is getting them.
In a decade of restaurant management, Andrew says he can't recall a single applicant for a job checking "yes" when asked on the application if he or she had been convicted of a crime.
At Rubicon, things were different. "I had a stack of applications probably an inch thick," Andrew said, "and every single application had that box checked, and I was kind of taken aback by that."
Andrew says he was under a deadline at the time to hire 30 employees to get through his first holiday rush. "I realized we didn't have a choice, we just had to choose among the applications we had. We couldn't wait."
Andrew now says those employees, many of whom have served jail time and couldn't find employment anywhere else, have turned out to be some of the best employees he's ever had.
"Yes, they've made a few mistakes," Andrew said, "but, boy, when someone has decided to change their life, they are a force to be reckoned with."
David Johnson certainly fits that bill.
In and out of prison for the past 17 years, David says no one would hire him, "Not even McDonald's."
David has now been working at Rubicon for the past six months, and is out to prove Andrew didn't make a mistake in hiring him.
"I don't look so good on paper, but get to know me and see how I work. You're going to love me."