University Dining partners with social enterprise Bridge Bread

Initiative is part of university effort to support local vendors, farmers and restaurants

A good bagel is hard to find.

So when Andrew Watling, associate director of dining operations at Washington University in St. Louis, sampled the chewy blueberry bagels from Bridge Bread, a social enterprise that employs unhoused St. Louisans, he knew they would be a hit on campus.

“Our students know their bagels,” Watling said. “And Bridge Bread is one of the few places that make bagels the right way.”

In January, Washington University entered a partnership with Bridge Bread to provide bagels to university coffee shops and markets and English muffins to its Parkside Cafe for breakfast sandwiches. Bon Appetit chefs also are developing new dishes using Bridge Bread products and exploring ways to provide additional training opportunities to Bridge Bread’s bakers.

“Everyone at Bridge Bread takes such pride and care in what they do,” Watling said. “For Washington University, it was a no-brainer to work with an organization that is doing so much for others while producing quality products.”

Founded in 2011, Bridge Bread provides job opportunities to those who have experienced homelessness or have been housing insecure. Workers earn a salary, learn transferable kitchen skills and are connected to housing resources. 

Fred M. Domke, founder of Bridge Bread, has provided training and resources to some 50 unhoused St. Louisans. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Fred Domke, Bridge Bread founder and volunteer, said the bakery’s new partnership with Washington University is an important vote of confidence in its workers.

“By selling more baked goods, we will be able to hire more people without safe and stable housing and provide supportive employment that makes it possible for them to get their lives on track,” Domke said. “Also, the exposure Washington University gives to our social enterprise lets us show that people who have experienced homelessness can become valuable contributing members of our community.”

Bridge Bread is just one of the many local food purveyors that partner with Washington University Dining Services. Every year, Washington University purchases 20,254 pounds of Kaldi’s coffee beans, 34,993 baked goods from Companion Bakery and 47,000 pounds of pork from Wenneman Meat Co. Paws & Go and Millbrook Market also sell a range of local products, including Papa Bear Popcorn, Fitz’s Root Beer, Marcoot Jersey Creamery cheddar and Windcrest Dairy yogurt.

“We try to give our students as much access to local product as possible,” Watling said. “Sure, it’s easier to get everything from a big distributor, but buying local is good for both the local business community and the WashU community. When you find someone who has committed their lives to a specific product, whether that be coffee or goat cheese, you know it’s going to be good.” 

Dining Services also has expanded its “Bite of St. Louis” program, which serves a signature dish from a local restaurant every Tuesday and Thursday at the Danforth University Center and, occasionally, Parkside Cafe and the Bear’s Den. Featured restaurants include Chicken Out, Gioia’s Deli, Sauce on the Side, Pappy’s, Salt + Smoke, Nami Ramen, Amighetti’s and many more. Visit Dining Services for a current schedule.

Watling said the program provides restaurants desperately needed revenue during the COVID-19 crisis and introduces students to St. Louis’ acclaimed culinary scene. 

“The best way to know a city is through its food,” said Watling, who arrived at Washington University right before COVID shuttered campus. “Sure, you can visit the Arch or go to the museums, but I can’t think of a better introduction to St. Louis than a hot pastrami from Gioia’s Deli or some barbecue from Pappy’s.”

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