"My dad owned some restaurants in Vermont," said Richard French, a founder and president of the Works. "As a young kid I washed dishes standing on a milk crate to reach the sink."
As Richard grew, so did his appreciation for well-prepared food, fresh ingredients and the joy of serving a good meal. "I worked in every area of my dad's restaurants. I learned to cook, wait tables and everything else it takes to make people happy and a restaurant successful."
Richard didn't forget the lessons he learned traveling to New York's Chinatown with the chef of his dad's Chinese restaurant to buy bok choy and fresh chicken and pork. "Sourcing the right ingredients was worth a four-hour trip each way," Richard said. "We wanted to buy the best ingredients at the best price."
While getting a degree in international business at the University of Vermont, Richard never left restaurants, working at Sweetwaters in Burlington before starting Breakfast in Bed. Dressed in a tuxedo, Richard served everything from pancakes and sausage to omelets and quiche—to people in their PJs. "People were paying for someone to sing happy birthday to a friend at their office. I figured offering breakfast in bed would be a more memorable experience."
During the UVM years, other business pursuits included opening a wine store and starting a limo business. Valuable lessons about people and their relationship with food and fun included watching Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield run their small ice cream shop out of a converted gas station. "They showed old movies on a wall outside their store in the summer. In the winter they offered discounts—taking so much off the price for each degree the temperature dropped. The ice cream was close to being free some days in February," Richard recalled. "The ice cream was good, but the adventure of it was even better."
Feeling pressure to find a "real job" after graduation, Richard pounded pavement from Texas to New York in search of corporate nirvana. It didn't exist for a devoted clog wearer who now found himself cramming his feet into wing tips.
He returned to Vermont in 1987, craving both the authentic bagels he had devoured in New York and a new business venture.
With the help of former classmates Jennifer Pearl, Garrett Mead and John Carlin, the Bagel Works was born, and the first café opened in Manchester, Vermont in July 1988. In 2002, with five cafés and much more than bagels, French changed the name to The Works Bakery Café.
Today, The Works Bakery Café still reflects the early idealism of its founders. The company has run on the principal of the triple bottom line—people, planet, profit—since 1988. And it remains firmly committed to producing delicious breakfasts and lunches—good food for good people.