Bakeshop provides a unique job opportunity for students

Washington-Liberty+High+School+graduate+Bemnet+Negash+greets+one+of+Bakeshop%27s+customers.+Bakeshop+shits+usually+consist+of+serving+customers+and+prepping+materials+such+as+bags+for+use.+
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Bakeshop provides a unique job opportunity for students

Washington-Liberty High School graduate Bemnet Negash greets one of Bakeshop's customers. Bakeshop shits usually consist of serving customers and prepping materials such as bags for use.

Washington-Liberty High School graduate Bemnet Negash greets one of Bakeshop's customers. Bakeshop shits usually consist of serving customers and prepping materials such as bags for use.

Washington-Liberty High School graduate Bemnet Negash greets one of Bakeshop's customers. Bakeshop shits usually consist of serving customers and prepping materials such as bags for use.

Washington-Liberty High School graduate Bemnet Negash greets one of Bakeshop's customers. Bakeshop shits usually consist of serving customers and prepping materials such as bags for use.

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When Bakeshop first opened in 2010, owner Justin Stegall viewed the gray pillar in its center as an eyesore, a necessary evil that blocked the open feel of the shop. When Stegall received his first few cards of thanks from children and neighborhood residents, he realized the pillar would be an ideal place to display them. Now, it is covered with Christmas cards, personal congratulations to the Bakeshop crew and a list of the heights and astrological signs of the employees. 

The decor suggests a strong connection to the community, a component that was very intentional in the Bakeshop’s business model. Located in Clarendon, the bakery only employs high schoolers to work its front counter, allowing them to return to work after they leave for college and creating a network of students across Arlington.

“[When the shop first opened], I wanted it to be a part of the neighborhood and the community, so I wanted to hire people who were a part of the community. I hired a couple of kids from [Washington-Liberty] and it became almost like a sports team or an after school program,” Stegall said. “I always get a bunch of them from every class, like four kids from each one.”

Bakeshop is one of the few opportunities for underclassmen workers in Arlington, employing students as young as freshmen. Although college students can work over the summer, during the school year, the front of the shop is manned exclusively by high school students and adult full-time employees when students are not available. To match the complexity of high schoolers’ schedules, employees sign up for one to two shifts a week during the school year, each one five to seven hours long. Shifts start after 4 p.m. in the afternoon on weekdays, run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m on Sundays and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays. The minimum hiring age and flexible hours are the reasons freshman Ellie Potts initially applied. As she transitions to high school, Potts found Bakeshop to be ideal for her changing schedule. 

“I haven’t started high school yet, so I don’t know [a job] will fit,” Potts said. “It’s good [that it’s mostly high schoolers] because they have very flexible hours. I think it’s a fun environment to work with people who are all going through the same thing. I’ve gotten to know the people I work with. They’ve given me advice about high school.” 

Stegall not only allows freshmen to work, but encourages it, so they can develop their skills and become deeply rooted in the community.

“I really love having freshmen because by the time they’re a junior or a senior, they’re super polished,” Stegall said. “They stay with us for sometimes three years in their high school career, and we become pretty close. [Once they are in college], they come back over the summer to work, or to hang out. When we get together, we go over to my mom’s house to do yard work.”

The application process begins when prospective employees send an email to the shop expressing interest. There is no resume or previous experience required as most of Bakeshop’s employees choose the bakery for their first job. 

“Experience doesn’t really matter, because we’re going to build their experience at Bakeshop,” Stegall said. “Professionalism is the first thing. Everything else can be learned in experience. Certain people understand how to be professional, and certain people don’t know it or haven’t learned it yet. The ones who are professional at an early age are the ones we want.”

When the shop was first opened, Stegall wanted it to have a family-run community feel. Bemnet Negash, a recent graduate from the school, says this is his favorite part of the job.

“The owner of the shop, Justin; his wife, My; his mother, Linda – they’re always coming down [to visit],” Negash said. “I’ve become really good friends with them. I’ve met some of my closest friends here. It was really great to know that, because of a job I had, I made a really close connection with a bunch of people. Especially My, Justin and Linda. I’m really glad I met them. It’s not like a normal boss and employee relationship; it’s more a friendship, and I really love that.”

There are many upperclassmen working at Bakeshop along with underclassmen, something they say they are able to do despite heavy coursework because of the flexibility.

“You get to choose your availability,” Ayman Belafia, a recent graduate from the school, said. “Around the time I was applying to college I wouldn’t work as much, and when I was [more free] I’d pick up more shifts.”

Bakeshop started by employing Washington-Liberty students, but now has some from H-B Woodlawn and Yorktown, reaching different parts of the Arlington community. Stegall estimates that he has even numbers of employees from each school, and says the addition of high school students has been an added bonus to the work he loves.

  “I knew I was going to start a bakery, I knew I was going to make [food] and work with the community, serving people,” Stegall said. “The experience with the high schoolers was something that I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how rewarding it was going to be. They’re very special to work with.”

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