Sweet Success: Owner Of Growing Richmond Bakery Offers Zero-Interest Loans To Employees

Inside Richmond's Rubicon Bakers, 200 employees create, bake, and decorate cakes, cupcakes, and cookies that are shipped to 2,500 grocery stores around the country.

Still, it was something happening much closer to home, literally down the street, that made owner Andrew Stoloff realize there was more he could be doing to benefit his employees.

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Chelena Goldman

That was quite a goal for someone who had already done so much for them.

Nine years earlier, Stoloff had purchased the bakery from a non-profit that was losing money on the job-training venture. At the time, the bakery had just 14 part-time employees.

Under Stoloff's leadership, Rubicon Bakers is now a thriving Certified B Corporation (a for-profit company with a mission to do social good) employing 200 workers, many of whom have recently come out of prison or drug treatment programs.

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So, what more could Stoloff be doing? Well, as Stoloff saw it, he could stop them from heading down the street when in need of financial help.

"At the end of our block, about a five-minute walk from the bakery, is a check cashing store," Stoloff said. "I watched our employees walk down the block and borrow $50, $100, and $200 dollars, and then struggle for months after that," trying to repay the high-interest payday loans.

The answer, to Stoloff, was a simple one. He just reached into his own pocket.

"I started by opening up my wallet and taking out a $20 bill and handing it to an employee asking them to pay it back in a couple of weeks," Stoloff said.

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The employee did and since then, Rubicon Bakers has given out half a million dollars in zero-interest loans to its employees. 80% of it has already been paid back.

Stoloff says the money is often needed for unexpected expenses, like a car repair bill, but sometimes it is for something much more meaningful.

Lucia Baires has worked at Rubicon Bakers for a decade. Her daughter, Maria, had been accepted to Syracuse University. Maria Baires was going to be the first in her family to go to college but a financial aid gap left the family needing money to make that dream a reality.

Stoloff was more than happy to oblige.

"They are really good people," Baires said. "Every company has different bosses but here one feels that they get very special treatment."

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It was such a positive experience for Baires that, four years later, after repaying the initial loan, she returned to Stoloff to ask for a new loan.

He asked what it was for.

"She said it's so I can go to watch my daughter graduate from college," Stoloff said. "Our eyes just teared up. To be able to loan money for someone to change their lives or their children's lives in that was was what this was all about."

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