Proceeds support The Bakery Project, Ugandan women
By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – What do Big Sky and Uganda have in common? Women-owned bakeries, thanks to Tessa Sharr, founder of The Bakery Project and owner of Big Sky Dough, the town’s new doughnut shop. Inside the China Café in Town Center, owned by her parents, Sharr stands behind rows of homemade doughnuts—cinnamon sugar, vanilla sprinkle, chocolate, huckleberry and her personal favorite, brown butter glaze.
Big Sky Dough opened Friday, Dec. 18 and a portion of every sale goes to The Bakery Project, a nonprofit Sharr started in 2018 in Gulu, Uganda that allows women to learn the trade of baking and selling their baked goods. Although her visit to Uganda last May was cut short due to COVID-19, Sharr is still able to raise money for her nonprofit, and, with the help of The Bakery Project’s on-site manager, Godfrey Lapolo, employ three bakers back in Uganda.
“Especially in Uganda, they’re the ones running their households,” Sharr said, explaining why her nonprofit focuses on empowering women. “They’re the ones taking care of the kids, they find the firewood, they cook all the meals, are cleaning—they’re just the backbone, I think, of society there, but there just has never been an opportunity for them to capitalize on it and I think that’s why the bakery idea has worked so well there.”
She says she noticed during her first visit that although women had the skillset to bake, men were traditionally the ones who did it professionally—The Bakery Project provides them the opportunity to equally capitalize on their skills.
Sharr grew up near Breckenridge, Colorado, attended college at Biola University in Orange County, California, then bounced around in the nonprofit industry for a bit, interning for Krochet Kids, a nonprofit that employees hundreds of people in Uganda and Peru to crochet quality, ethically-produced hats that are then sold, all with the goal of providing families with the tools to rise out of poverty.
During her time in Uganda, Sharr fell in love with the country’s people and culture and she vowed to return and give back to the community that had inspired her. Her parents had moved to Big Sky from Colorado and she was baking at Caliber Coffee, where, with no formal background, she developed a love for it.
“I had this idea that we could teach women how to bake [in Uganda], and that would provide them an income first of all, because they’d be getting paid to bake, and then it would be like skill-based training, so they’d have a skill under their belt that if they wanted to branch out, they would have that opportunity as well,” Sharr said.
She pitched the idea to some of her local mentors and they were immediately on board. The Bakery Project has a local board as well as trusted mentors she credits to her success, including Dawn and Diane Winston.
Due to the pandemic, the Uganda airport shut down and the European travel ban went into place, and Sharr suddenly found herself stateside looking for a project to keep her busy. That’s when Big Sky Dough emerged. Her parents already had the space, so Sharr put together a business plan and worked The Bakery Project into it, and although she hopes to return to Uganda at some point, she can, for now, continue her passion from afar.
“The whole intention behind The Bakery Project was that I wanted it to be sustainable to locals, so I wanted them to be able to take ownership over it, and then it could be something where I wouldn’t even be needed, I could just oversee it from the states,” Sharr said. “So I think that was always the goal, and COVID just pushed it more quickly.”
Sharr says right now, under Lapolo’s leadership, her Bakery Project women just finished 150 wedding cakes and are finishing up 25 Christmas cakes.
“It’s been really cool to see,” said Sharr. She says next, her and Lapolo would like to start a training curriculum to professionally train incoming women to bake, and further build their marketable skills. She says in Uganda, many girls graduate from secondary school and are unsure what to do next—The Bakery Project could soon be an option.
Meanwhile, Sharr will be at Big Sky Dough serving up Big Sky’s only fresh doughnuts and coffee and spreading the word and raising money for her nonprofit with the help of the Big Sky community.
“The thing I love best about it is just the sense of community,” she said of Big Sky. “We’re all in this small town together and I feel like there’s never been a sense of like, competition or whatever between small businesses. It’s been like, ‘how can we support each other.’ That’s my favorite part about it.”