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Local bakery giving jobs to ex-cons, helping them turn their life around

Laughing Bear Bakery gives jobs to ex-cons and helping them turn their life around.

ST. LOUIS — Inside the old Centenary United Methodist Church are new beginnings.

In the church is the kitchen of the Laughing Bear Bakery where the slogan "flour power" has a different definition.

"It's not just a great mission, it's a great product," baker Eric Satterfield said.

Though they're known for their delicious cookies and pies, baking experience is not required to work here. What you will need on your resume is a criminal record.

"Well, I served 15 years in prison," Satterfield said.

Eric Satterfield prefers not to talk about the reason he went to prison but he's more than happy to talk about how grateful he is for this job.

"It's really good to come out and be at a place where people accept you no matter what," he said.

The Laughing Bear Bakery was started by Kalen McAllister, a former chaplain with the Missouri Department of Corrections.

"When guys were getting out, they were panicking," she said. "They were afraid they were going to be on the street."

So she made a promise to the inmates. She would start a business that could be a starting point for recently released ex-offenders.

When it comes to his past, Peter Wallace doesn't sugarcoat it.

"Yeah, it was just drugs," he said. "I was selling drugs trying to support my habit. And I ended up catching more and more felonies."

He was finally able to get off drugs but then he couldn't get a job.

"I spent months and months and months trying to find work," Wallace said.

But here, he's worked his way up to kitchen supervisor.

The recipe at Laughing Bear is to hire ex-cons at higher than minimum wage and give them some job experience. But right now, it's only three days a week in this rented church kitchen.

"My dream is that it becomes a flourishing business," McAllister said.

In the last year, the bakery made enough money to purchase a delivery van and now Kalen is looking for property and investors.

"If we had our own building we could be there seven days a week," she said.

The bakery sells their goods at Straub's Fine Grocers, the Smokehouse in Chesterfield and at farmer's markets.

Of the 20 men and women who've come through the program, Kalen said only one has gone back to prison. Peter Wallace thinks Kalen's the reason for the success.

"She is probably the most selfless person I've ever met in my life," Wallace said.

With a job, ex-convicts can become a productive person again, instead of a number.

"The confidence that people gain while they're here and they begin to believe in themselves," Satterfield said.  

The Laughing Bear Bakery serving up sweets and second chances.

"It's a great place to work," Satterfield said.

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