The first indication that the cheerful white building in Georgetown is not a run-of-the-mill bakery is its front door: A large sliding glass structure that takes up a good chunk of the building’s exterior.
That door, made to accommodate disabled employees and patrons, is one of a number of considerations that went into building Dog Tag Bakery, a venture years in the making, that opened its sliding doors in November.
The business is a for-profit enterprise, but its mission is very much rooted in philanthropy: In addition to serving up bread and quiche, the bakery works closely with Dog Tag Inc., a nonprofit that offers a six-month entrepreneurship fellowship for disabled veterans through Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.
Students spend 15 hours a week working at the bakery, where they handle everything from front-of-the-house operations and dough-kneading to updating the company’s Web site and helping run its catering and wholesale operations.
“This is not only a business, but it is also a laboratory for our fellows to put to use the skills they’re being taught at Georgetown,” said Phil Cassidy, chairman of the bakery’s board.
The number of veterans re-entering the workforce has been climbing as the United States winds down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, making programs such as Dog Tag’s more important, Cassidy said. There are 1.25 million veterans in Virginia, Maryland and the District alone, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Roughly 150 veterans applied for the fellowship’s first class, which concluded last month. Ten participants were selected, all of whom were categorized as at least 50 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The people we’ve targeted are enlisted personnel who — during their entire service careers — have been told where to go, what to do, what to wear,” Cassidy said. “We want to prepare them for the workplace, but we also want them to feel empowered.”
It took two years to find a building that offered enough space to hold classes and could be made compliant with guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Proximity to Georgetown University was also a priority.
Eventually, the bakery’s founders — Father Richard Curry, founder and director of the Academy for Veterans at Georgetown, and Constance Millstein, a local attorney, philanthropist and entrepreneur — settled on 3206 Grace St., next to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. It cost more than $2 million to purchase and renovate the building.
Since its opening in the fall, the bakery’s focus has been on creating a following among Georgetown residents. Sales in December were three times higher than they were in November, according to General Manager Justin Ford. Cassidy says he expects the bakery to be profitable by the end of 2015, without offering exact figures.
“It’s not a charity, and we don’t want it to become a charity,” Cassidy said. “We think it’s important for the students in the program to run a profitable business.”
“If they’re going to learn anything about running a business, they’ve got to understand that the most important thing is figuring out how you’re going to get the doors open and the lights on,” he added.
Much of Cassidy’s work centers around raising funds for the fellowship, which costs about $20,000 per student. Dog Tag Inc., the nonprofit, covers the costs for the six-month course, provides a living stipend and pays for medical care for participants.
“The bakery, while it will contribute, will never be able to sustain the whole cost,” Cassidy said, adding that he expects the business to have profit margins between 3 percent and 5 percent. “That’s just not the business model.”
Maurice Jones, who recently retired after 22 years in the military, is one of the program’s recent graduates. Beginning this month, he will begin a Master’s program in project management at Georgetown, and plans to eventually open his own IT consulting firm.
“The fellowship was really great because I got to meet other veterans who had different ideas about business,” Jones said. “We bounced ideas off of each other.”
Among the nine other recent graduates, one is pursuing an MBA at Howard University, while others are planning to start their own businesses.
The program is currently accepting applications for its next class, which is likely to start in the spring. Eventually, Cassidy hopes to double, then triple, the size of each class.
“We believe we have a replicable model,” Cassidy said. “The objective is to r0ll this out across the nation slowly, one step at a time.”
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