About 25 years ago, Kirk Michaelis found himself at a crossroads, faced with having to sell his kolache and donut shop in Southeast Houston. It was around the that time that some of his bakers decided to use the extra dough to introduce him to bolillos, a popular bread eaten in Mexican households, and from there, El Bolillo Bakery was born.
Initially, Kirk’s outgoing friendliness towards the customers and all his bread donations to Hispanic churches, schools, and fundraisers, was part of his strategy to make El Bolillo Bakery a profitable business. However, after being diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and being told that he had a 20% chance of survival, his understanding of being a giving person changed. There wasn’t a day that went by without a hug, gift or prayer from a customer, priest, teacher, or someone whom he had previously impacted through his friendliness and philanthropy; and thus he experienced firsthand what “partir el pan y compartir” means, a tradition deeply rooted in the Hispanic culture.
Three years later and being cancer free, Kirk decided to change his life and business model, making his customers and employees a priority and investing back into their communities. Kirk makes an effort to support his employees through their life battles, many of whom have been working for him since the beginning; and gives them the freedom to be artisans and create new types of pan dulce. With the help of his head baker, Jorge , El Bolillo Bakery has grown from 5 employees to a team of 275 individuals, all hired from the surrounding local community.
The bakery’s culture of kindness and creativity came to light last year during Hurricane Harvey. On that Friday, when the rain started pouring, the bakery was overrun with panicked patrons, forcing it to close early so that everyone could get home to safety. On Saturday, the bakers decided to work overnight to make sure there would be bread Sunday morning, without realizing that rain had started to fall and they were trapped by high waters. After a few hours of phone calls to their worried families and to Mr. Michaelis, the team decided people were going to need food, and blessed with running electricity, they continued to bake for 48 hours straight, making thousands of pieces of bread and pastries.
Awestruck by the work of his team, Kirk decided that they should box, bag and take the bread and pastries to first responders, police, and shelters to help those in need. Their story went viral worldwide and for the next several weeks they were doing interviews explaining what gave them the inspiration to do such a selfless feat. Their humble answer: “We are bakers, and we just wanted to help. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, there is a way to bless and serve others with it.”
From that Tuesday on, over the next several weeks, El Bolillo Bakery worked overtime baking, donating and delivering thousands of pieces of breads and cakes daily to churches, shelters, and first-responders around Houston, all while continuing to serve their own customers.