Food for the Soul: East Bay food producers make social impact

Food producers in particular have been hit hard during the pandemic, but that didn’t stop a few East Bay companies’ charitable efforts. One company made sure to include giving back to their community in their charter, so that that aspect of their mission remains ever-present. Another company, despite opening during the pandemic, still made giving a part of their mission. 

For the purposes of this article, “giving back” isn’t about businesses with a one-off promotion for a cause they care about—even if that promotion was a damn good Hazy IPA called Always Pride from Del Cielo Brewing in Martinez, where 20% of the proceeds benefited the Rainbow Center. In this case, giving back is instead about food producers who started their businesses with a mission to help their employees, BIPOC youth or simply the communities they serve every day.

Last year saw brands add a black square on Instagram for a day and think they did something to help BIPOC in their neighborhood; more recently, we saw hundreds of corporations edit their websites or social media logos to include a rainbow flag, yet still donate to politicians or causes that actively discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

Superficial support to promote brand awareness on social media is easily detected by anyone with an internet browser. Social media is a tool for businesses to share their values with their audiences, but they need to authenticate their online presence by living their values even when nobody is around to praise them for it. 

The East Bay is a hub for businesses that give back to the local community. Whether it’s TCHO Chocolate or Third Culture Bakery—both in Berkeley, with a location in Walnut Creek opening soon for the latter—working with farmers who pay their employees living wages, or Rubicon Bakers in Richmond providing employment to those in need of a second chance, many East Bay business owners understand that their company culture, and how they treat their employees, vendors and community, matters.

It is also “good business” to give back. In fact, this survey by Google revealed that almost half of young millennials—the current largest consumer group—are more likely to support a brand after learning more about their values.

iniBurger is the East Bay’s first 100% halal burger concept, with locations in Pleasanton and Fremont. Since opening last summer, the husband-and-wife owners made it part of their mission to dedicate a percentage of proceeds from every sale to local community organizations—and also hosted standalone fundraisers, like a recent one with HERS Breast Cancer Foundation. They are dedicated to helping reduce hunger in their community, and to working with charities that support and empower women. www.iniburger.com

Teas with Meaning was started by Kamilah Mitchell, a former educator, after a cancer diagnosis. It is an organic loose-leaf and bottled tea-blend company “with meaning,” based in Oakland—and when Mitchell says “with meaning,” she means it. She sells custom Tea Time services to Bay Area corporations in which businesses talk about wellness and self-care with their employees. This helps to fund her Community Tea events at local schools, where she engages in social-emotional conversations with younger people—specifically BIPOC—looking for guidance. www.withmeaning.org

Firebrand Bakery is planning an expansion of their Oakland-based bakery to focus on wholesale out of their Alameda location. Their company was created to make damn good bread, but it has proven more important to build a culture that empowers their workers. Their mission is to work with formerly incarcerated people, or those struggling with homelessness; they provide well-paying, full-time jobs and workforce development and skills that go beyond the employees’ current roles. They also fully pay for employee healthcare. Their new Alameda warehouse houses the nonprofit Five Keys (fivekeyshomefree.org), which provides life skills, survivor empowerment programs, and training and job placement for the East Bay community. www.firebrandbread.com

What To Drink is an online wine shop. The owners, a husband and wife team, started their East Bay business when the former was furloughed from his sommelier position at The Slanted Door. They only work with smaller, sustainable wine producers, and seek out wines made by BIPOC as well as untapped or underappreciated winemaking areas like Mexico, Serbia and South Africa. In addition, for every—yes, every—wine bottle sold, they donate $1 to a different local charitable organization. Past nonprofits include: No Us Without You, NCLR, AAPI Women Lead and CALMA. Each month, they choose a new charity that means something to them and their community. www.whattodrinkclub.com

In addition to these four companies, the East Bay is filled with individuals who go above and beyond for their neighbors. We watched many of them step up during the pandemic to help those in need.

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