There’s something more behind the sweet goods at Rubicon Bakers. While the bakery’s commitment to quality is evident in its premium, clean label cakes, cupcakes, pies and muffins, a closer look shows its mission is much greater. Rubicon Bakers is committed to transforming its local community and redefining how the baking industry operates.  

Based in Richmond, Calif., the bakery began in 1993 as part of Rubicon Programs, a local nonprofit helping disadvantaged populations transition to employment. The bakery found success making cakes and pies through the program, but eventually ran into financial troubles.

“They wanted to thrive and continue on with their mission, and while they were really good at making and selling product, they were worried about sustaining the business,” explained John Clinkscales, chief financial officer of Rubicon Bakers.  

This was until 2009, when the bakery was purchased by restaurant-owner Andrew Stoloff and lawyer Leslie Crary. The two saw an opportunity to grow the bakery’s mission while ensuring a viable future for it. 

“They had the vision to take the business, keep the exact same social mission, but run it in a way that was profitable and sustainable,” Clinkscales said. 

Becoming a for-profit company allowed Rubicon Bakers to take these values — and its baked goods — to a new level. When the bakery was purchased in 2009, it had only 14 part-time workers. Today, more than 400 full-time employees work there. Rubicon’s sweet goods are now available nationwide in more than 2,500 natural grocers and big-box retailers and continue to expand, including recent launches in Target and Kroger. 

To build on its growth, Rubicon Bakers in 2021 acquired Fairfield, Calif.-based Just Desserts, a fellow Bay Area producer of commercial cakes and cupcakes. The company also brought in longtime food industry veteran Sebastian Siethoff as chief executive officer last year. 

Although Rubicon Bakers has grown significantly, its dedication to social responsibility hasn’t wavered. The company operates a second-chance hiring program that remains at the heart of what it stands for, and it achieved B Corp certification in 2013.

“Even though we’re now a for-profit company, all of the core values that Rubicon Programs instilled in the business are what drive our decision-making today,” Siethoff said. “We have a genuine desire to make an impact on the lives of the families that depend on this business and in the community that supports us.”

The story of Rubicon Bakers goes far beyond its sweet goods, and it’s one the company believes will be vital to its growth going forward.

Since its founding, the bakery has operated a second-chance hiring program, aimed at employing those who’ve faced significant barriers to entering the workforce such as incarceration, housing insecurity, substance abuse disorders and other systemic challenges. For these people, Rubicon offers another opportunity they may desperately need to get their lives back on track. 

“You walk the hallways here and talk to people, and you have folks who will tell you, ‘I was on the road to nowhere or maybe even a really bad place, and this company changed my life,’ ” Siethoff said. “For us, it’s really about having a culture where everybody feels like this is a place where they belong and are valued.” 

The company accomplishes this by offering health care, paid vacation, sick leave and career advancement opportunities. Rubicon will even provide interest-free loan payments to employees when needed, loaning out more than $600,000 over the years. This strong support system has helped the company excel at hiring and retaining workers at a time when the rest of the industry is struggling. 

“A huge portion of the folks that we hire are actually recommended to us by current employees, which we wear as a really big badge of honor,” Clinkscales said. “We think that’s the fruit of investing in the folks who we have. This is and should continue to be a place where people who work here leave excited about the work that they’re doing, and go and tell other people, ‘Hey, you should come be a part of this.’ ”

The bakery is also a Certified B Corp, a designation given to companies that meet a high standard of social and environmental responsibility and transparency. 

Rubicon’s B Corp status and overarching social mission has resonated strongly with retailers, Siethoff said. The bakery launched nationwide in Target last year with its seasonal Pumpkin and Chocolate Fudge Brownie 8-inch pies under its own brand, in part because of the reputation it’s built.  

“We have major national retail accounts who took interest in us because of our B Corp status,” Siethoff said. “It is a significant conversation-starter.”

Maintaining B Corp certification not only is a great way for Rubicon to hold itself accountable, Clinkscales said, but also a way to communicate its message to consumers. 

“What we hope is that when people see the B Corp logo on our products, that they look further into what this company is actually doing to achieve and maintain this status,” he said. “And we hope that then leads them to discover our mission and learn more about the way that we’re making an impact here.”

Rubicon Bakers has significantly expanded its marketing presence to further this message. Last year, the bakery launched its “Baked with Human Goodness” campaign, a digital campaign highlighting the story of Rubicon Bakers and how the company’s baked goods promote social change. The company has also become increasingly active on social media and recently hired new Marketing Director Lena Grobe.

“When you talk to the consumer on the street or in the stores, they often don’t know anything about [our story],” Grobe said. “They pick us up today because they like the products, but they don’t know the backstory. We believe it’s important for people to become more aware of what we are doing so we can grow the mission and business of Rubicon Bakers together and start to build a movement around this.”

The company is also looking to partner with more retailers that are interested in “walking the talk” with them.

“Some of our most successful grocery retail partnerships are companies that also have a vision to bring more brands like Rubicon into the fold and to really support brands that have a mission that they believe in,” Clinkscales said. “But there’s still a lot of accounts out there that we’re excited to partner with going forward that we think we’re a logical fit for.”