Growing And Expanding
Avalon International Breads to add warehouse, move flagship store next year.
In an effort to “be bigger to be better,” Midtown Detroit’s Avalon International Breads will complete a $2.2 million expansion next year, building a 50,000-square-foot warehouse on the city’s east side, and moving its flagship store a block away to a larger retail space in a cafe setting.
“We became victims of our own success,” said Jackie Victor, partner and co-founder of Avalon. “This neighborhood became so hot that we can’t afford to do the scale of production we want to do in this neighborhood, which has become a retail neighborhood.”
She and co-founder/CEO Ann Perrault began the company in 1997 when Midtown was still called the Cass Corridor.
“The winter before we opened, there were 300 homeless people living outside of a church in tents,” said Victor. “It was a rough place. The 2,000-square-foot building was once a speakeasy, once a sporadic art gallery when we took it over. There was one light bulb hanging from the ceiling, no windows, just plywood doors, and one pipe coming out of the back where a toilet was. It was a cave. That was 15 years ago. In our wildest dreams, we never thought it would become this.”
Now, Avalon generates annual sales in excess of $2.6 million, and this year was named one of the top “Michigan Businesses to Watch” by the Michigan Economic Growth Corp.
According to Victor, Perrault and three other partners, Avalon’s triple bottom line is “the right relationship with the Earth, right relationship with our employees and the right relationship with the community, and it’s no longer a place where we can have a right relationship with our employees, because we’re just over capacity,” said Victor. “Our overhead is so high, and our efficiency is so low.” She said she wants Avalon to be a place where employees make enough money to “stay for life — work and raise families and buy houses.”
The retail space will relocate in the spring of 2013 to a store with limited production in a cafe setting.
Avalon purchased a dilapidated warehouse for $25,000 in a semi-vacant industrial neighborhood on East Forest (at Bellevue), in a neighborhood “with plenty of potential.”
Avalon City Ovens will open sometime next year, and will give the company room to produce its high-quality baked goods on a larger scale.
Avalon opened up the “Eat Well, Do Well” cafe inside Henry Ford Hospital’s West Grand Boulevard facility in July 2012. It was also expanded into grocery stores like Whole Foods and Plum Market, restaurants and cafes.
“We’re close to 60 employees now, but we could end up with 100 in a few years,” Victor said, adding that the company is committed to hiring employees who live within the city limits.
Getting It Done
The complicated loan that made the deal possible closed in October after 22 months of work, said Donald Snider, senior vice president of Urban Economic Development at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), which jumpstarts economic development and supports businesses dedicated to employing people, particularly from urban areas.
“There were too many moving parts,” he said, citing the retail space, the warehouse purchase, and the renovation and equipment purchases.
The collateralized loan also involved five entities: Main Street Bank in Bingham Farms, Invest Detroit, the Small Business Administration, a Whole Foods small producer loan and the MEDC.
What makes the loan so worthy of all the work is simple, Snider said. “By being in Detroit, by the jobs that it would create and with urban economic development, we’re hoping that once we get them up and going, we can duplicate this in Flint and other places as well.”
By Harry Kirsbaum, JN Contributing Writer