Tonight, it’s small ball for readers used to my brooding on the big picture of war and peace in the Middle East. We’re going to talk about public education and the wonderful local businesses who support it. Back in the old days when this blog was searching for its voice, my subject matter was more diverse and I wrote a great deal issues like food, family, culture, photography, the arts and the like. In this post, I want to return there at least this once.
My children attend a Seattle K-8 public school, TOPS, where my wife is the president of the site council (PTA). TOPS is an alternative school based on a social justice model, in which such themes are integrated into the curriculum through all the grades. Anyone reading this blog and following my interests will understand why this is important to me. We raise over $100,000 each year to enrich the school programming by adding drama, art, music, and other important elements to the student experience that isn’t funded by the district budget.
Like many schools, we’re about to hold our school auction. One of the tried and true elements of such events is the silent auction in which local businesses offer to donate services and products to help the school raise funds. In our nearly 14 years living in Seattle, we’ve developed close relationships with many local businesses who offer some of the finest products of their kind made in the region or even the nation. I want to salute some of them for understanding why it’s important not just to make the best product you can (which is certainly important), but supporting public education and the institutions that make our communities strong.
Here are some of the folks I want to thank tonight for their generosity: first and foremost I thank Annie Boyington of Trevani Truffles, maker of some of the finest artisan truffles in the Northwest. I met her at the local farmer’s market a decade ago or so and have enjoyed her truffles almost every week since.
I met my friend, Carolyn Ferguson, of Belle Epicurean, at the Columbia City farmer’s market lo these many moons ago and have watched her business grow from a stall to an elegant shop in the Four Seasons Hotel to a gleaming new Madison Park branch. In the new store, she has also opened a specialty food and wines section called Provisions. She makes the finest French pastries, including her specialty brioche buns, I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. It is a little bit of French culinary heaven here in the Pacific NW.
Tomas Sukakos of Vios, whose moving personal story I’ve posted about here, owns Seattle’s finest Greek-Mediterranean restaurant. I can’t say enough, about not just the extraordinary quality of the food, but the care he takes in cultivating relationships with his customers (and their children).
Tallgrass Bakery makes the finest challah I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve enjoyed challah on three continents!) along with wonderful granola. A pizza parlor new to our neighborhood, Pritty Boys, serves wonderful family style meals friendly for kids.
To all of them, a hearty thanks for sharing my vision of a strong community only made stronger by our public education system.
There are local businesses that take a different approach to these fundraising solicitations. In truth, they must get scores in not hundreds of requests. I’m sure it begins to feel like a flood and appears to threaten the profit and viability of the business if all requests are fulfilled. Two such businesses which I’ve loved over the years are Columbia City Bakery and Volunteer Park Cafe.
Three years ago, I asked the Bakery manager to donate to our “dessert dash” and she was incredibly generous and gave us one of their wonderful cakes. Last year a new manager took over and we never received an answer to my request. This year, when I didn’t receive an answer, I decided to contact the bakery. The new manager told me he couldn’t possibly answer all the requests and that donations for March had to be filed by January. I told him that our school auction doesn’t begin soliciting donations for its auction until February so we couldn’t file a request that early.
I told him how disappointed I was that such a fine bakery which I’d patronized for many years faithfully would refuse our request. I also reminded him of the extent of my patronage. But it was to no avail. I decided that no matter how excellent the product a business sells, that there has to be a sense of commitment to community and the customers who comprise it. No doubt, Columbia City Bakery donates a great deal to support the community. But I still have a problem with a business which tries to force the community to conform to its needs and not the other way around.
Today, I was in the neighborhood and my kids asked to go to the Bakery. While there, I thought I’d try to see if I could speak to the owner and possibly get a different response than the manager had offered. I spoke to Evan Andres and told him my story. I was shocked that he allowed me to speak to him for three full minutes and when I finished he had nothing at all to say. In fact, I could tell by his body language that he was very tense and possibly even angry. His way of dealing with the situation was not to respond at all. He thanked me for my feedback in a few curt words and said nothing further. Not a word of explanation or even defense.
What I should’ve done was brought him over to the table where my children were enjoying his cookies and chocolate pudding and asked him to explain to them why he couldn’t support their school. I wanted to walk out that very minute and never return. But I had to endure a terribly awkward few minutes till they were done. Then I told my kids I was never going to return. They were upset because after all, it is one of the best bakeries in Seattle. But there has to be more to running a business than producing the best of whatever it is that you sell.
If you’re going to spend several hundred dollars a year at a local business you’d think it could respond favorably to a request for a $25 donation. If it can’t, why do you patronize it? Why shouldn’t you patronize businesses that do share your vision of building community? I should make clear that I’m not suggesting what anyone else should do. There will be hundreds or thousands of customers of the Bakery who may swear by it and they’re fully entitled to do so. But I can only make my own decisions based on which businesses understand the value of supporting local education and my children’s school in particular.
Columbia City Bakery markets a Community Supported Bakery (CSB) model which operates like an agricultural CSA and sells shares that allow members to receive weekly deliveries of product to their home. The Bakery is clearly supported by the community. But at least in my personal case, the Bakery doesn’t support the community, my community, which is why I can’t support the Bakery.