The Anarchists' Cookbook

They make bread, not bombs, at the Black Bear Bakery

The aim of self-realization is spelled out in Black Bear's proposed vision statement: "This bakery does not manufacture leaders, bosses, experts, followers, employees, peons or grunts.... Everyone should expect to engage in some sales, organization, delivery, cleanup or other shit work on a regular basis.... Profits will be used to pay decent, competitive wages and benefits and to support, through cash or product donations, people who promote similar ideas. There is no pretense that selling loaves of bread ... will bring about the demise of authoritarian institutions or capital-based distribution of wealth. This not what is radical about a collective. [Collectives] are radical because the people who shape them share and develop skills...."

There is nothing pie-in-the-sky about the life choices of the bakery workers. Black Bear is not a dotcom start-up with speculative investors pounding on the door. Pay is low, $6-$8 per hour. Workers live communally. They barter for fresh vegetables with fellow vendors at Soulard Farmers Market. Bohnert rides a bicycle to work. Rakel walks. Collective members mainly come from middle-class, white suburban backgrounds. Sweet's father is a psychiatrist. His mother is a professor. Bohnert's brother is an accountant. His mother sells real estate. But for the bakery anarchists, life has become more elemental, like the rounding of a loaf of bread by hand.

The bakery makes 10 varieties, including its own organic recipes. Honey whole-wheat and Lickhalter rye are customer favorites. A wide selection of baked delicacies, such as its hazelnut chocolate bars, is available at the bakery's stall in Soulard Market every Saturday. The bakery itself is open from 3-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Baker Mark Bohnert: "The whole system distorts our ideals. "
Jennifer Silverberg
Baker Mark Bohnert: "The whole system distorts our ideals. "
Baker Bobby Sweet doesn't have a boss and doesn't punch a clock.
Jennifer Silverberg
Baker Bobby Sweet doesn't have a boss and doesn't punch a clock.

Black Bear also sells its products to 14 commercial customers. Blueberry Hill in University City serves the bakery's French bread. Dominic's on the Hill and in Clayton serves Black Bear's pumpernickel.

"It's good bread," says Kirk Warner, the chef at King Louie's at Chouteau and 39th Street. Warner appreciates the quality and the service that the Black Bear bakers provides, but, even more, he admires their spirit: "What's really sold me is just how passionate they are about baking bread." Warner adds that he doesn't care what kind of political views the bakery espouses, "as long as the bread is good."

The front of the bakery, facing Jefferson, looks much as it did near the turn of the last century. The tin ceiling is bordered by a frieze depicting a bounty of corn and grapes. There is a row of bread shelves with sliding glass doors. Below the poppyseed buns, the anarchists display their lending library. The titles include America: What Went Wrong? by Donald Bartlett and James B. Steele; and Sacco and Vanzetti by Paul Avrich.

Meredith Cobb, the youngest member of the collective, is minding the store. She is a 17-year-old junior at Metro High School. "When you're doing something collectively, it means a lot more than just making money," she says. As for how her anarchist ties are perceived by her peers, Cobb says: "Depending on whom I talk to, they're either scared of me or think it's awesome."

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