The sun is barely flickering on a slowly waking city, but inside the shop's narrow kitchen, rubber spatulas fly, spotless stainless gleams and the dough rises, fries, grows gold, then brown.
The dawn crew is at work, making doughnuts for the 7 a.m. opening of the Five Loaves Bakery at 1750 Columbia Rd. NW, a project of the Church of the Savior near Dupont Circle.
The bakery, in business for a year this September, not only offers tantalizing treats made fresh daily, it also provides jobs and skills, mainly for people from the Adams-Morgan neighborhood.
The shop is run by a half-dozen regular workers, paid $3.50 an hour, and a host of volunteers, with help from "trainees" who get some on-the-job skills and a small stipend for expenses while looking for longer-range employment, according to the Rev. Gordon Cosby, pastor of the ecumenical Christian church.
So far the church has invested $60,000 in the project, which is still in the "embryonic stage" and not yet showing a profit, says Cosby. The offerings are basic but steadily expanding -- bread, muffins, cookies, doughnuts and a few other sweets -- and the results of the trainee program are mixed, with some finding jobs but others disappearing after a few weeks' work.
The focus is on lessening area unemployment, but "need is all over the city so we take people wherever they come from," without looking for "sophisticated professional bakers," Cosby says. Many of the workers live in low-rent Jubilee Housing nearby, also part of the active church's many neighborhood efforts, ranging from Columbia Road Health Services to the Potter's House coffee house.
One member of the dawn crew is Imogene Wise, who enjoys the convenience of working two blocks from her home in the Jublilee project. Wise, a paid staffer, arrives at 5 a.m. to begin making doughnuts, the customers' favorite early morning fare.
She and one or two other bakers whip up nearly 20 dozen before moving on to concoct cinnamon and sticky buns, fruit-filled turnovers, and specialties like gingerbread and pineapple upside-down cake, served up in big wedges. Before the morning is over, around 30 loaves of bread -- honey or molasses wheat, French, rye, potato white -- are cooling in the kitchen.
Wise is an old hand at this, having started work at Five Loaves when it first opened last fall, but in the beginning, she says, she knew "nothing" about baking. Now, one of her greatest satisfactions is "just putting out a product" she knows people will enjoy. And, she says, "you get to know customers" who before had just been passing faces on the street.
Another regular worker and Adams-Morgan resident, Virgie Jones, also likes working close to home: "I like the area, and I know most of the people," she says.
Jones, who takes up where the morning shift leaves off, slips the fresh loaves into plastic bags and twists them shut as she speaks, recalling the four months she spent looking for work after being laid off from her job as a switchboard operator last June.
"It was hard," she says. There aren't many openings, and "then when you find a job, it's way out in Maryland and Virginia; here in the District, there just wasn't anything" until this.
Jones begins preparations for "double chocolate" brownies, a favorite of neighborhood children who often stop by, and says that she sees the job as a steppingstone -- the mother of three hopes to return to school, study early child development and, some day, open a day care center.
Another worker with future business plans, Alice Ofori-Kru, a native of Ghana and experienced cook, says she might return to her country one day and open her own bakery there. After working at Five Loaves just six months, "I know how to do everything here now," she says.
The staff and their helpers do it all, taking turns baking, cleaning, waiting on customers from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The customers, averaging 100 to 150 a day, seem to appreciate the effort. "Sans the Brass Man," who works at a jewelry store two doors away, comes in daily. "They visit us and we visit them" he says of the bakery staff, conceding that perhaps his liking for chocolate chip cookies brings him to their door a little more often.
Some come from farther away, like gingerbread-lover Henry Johnson, 25, who lives near Silver Spring. Back for a second visit recently, he says, "I was pleased the first time -- I'll come back again if I'm in the neighborhood."
Keeping the customers coming back is exactly the idea. Sponsors and supporters, like the Washington Work Association and other community groups and individuals, hope the upcoming second year will set the new business ahead.
To Cosby, the church's investment is well worth the goal of helping the unemployed. For some of the seven trainees who have worked at the bakery, he says, essential skills may be as basic as learning to "get to work on time," and while the program doesn't help in all cases, "every once in a while you have one that works."
Such a success is Robert Bracey, 19, of Northeast Washington. Laid off from his job as a landscaper last spring, he started as a trainee a little over a month ago, coming every Thursday night. The idea was to provide prospective employers with the bakery as a reference, and to show that "you're volunteering your time, doing good at it" and that "you're proud of your work," he says. "That was my first time working a cash register" and "learning how to bake things from scratch.
"It only took me three weeks and I had a job," says Bracey, now a porter at a Washington condominium. He's also studying for his equivalency diploma and considering a number of careers with enthusiasm: "I would love to learn everything that I can."