After 40 years of addiction — and two rounds in prison — 52-year-old Dennis Sisneros has been sober 389 days.
Sobriety, the former heroin addict explains, may have come sooner, if not for a relapse in 2018 while waiting to get an internship at Salt Lake City’s Flourish Bakery.
Sisneros was finally able to enter the 12-month training program in August and is learning the art and skills of professional baking. In the kitchen — located at Salt Lake Community College’s South City Campus — he is surrounded by teachers and mentors who encourage physical, mental and spiritual growth as much, or more, than mastering new job skills.
“If you don’t have a support system after recovery,” Sisneros explains as he mixes a batch of dough, “you’re only going to be sober for so long. If there were more of these jobs for people, recovery would be a bigger success.”
Which is why Sisneros and the rest of the interns, staff and volunteers at Flourish Bakery have put out a call for help: They need to find a new home before year’s end.
SLCC notified the bakery in late October that it would not renew the lease for the commercial kitchen. The school needs the space for its own educational and catering programs, said Clifton Sanders, SLCC provost.
“We have appreciated our affiliation with Flourish Bakery for the last two years, and we’ve been pleased to be a part of their service to the community,” he wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune. “Our South City Campus has increasingly become a center for community engagement activities and college-wide events, prompting us to use the kitchen facilities to support those activities and use the space to support our academic programs.”
Aimee Altizer, Flourish Bakery’s executive director, called it “a difficult piece of news,” which arrived at a particularly busy time for the bakery, with orders for 800 dinner rolls and more than 150 pies for Thanksgiving. It is expecting a similar rush in December for Christmas parties.
The bakery sells cookies, pies, tarts and breads — as well as soups, sandwiches and other savory items — for catered events, farmers markets and to the public through its website.
Altizer said the nonprofit program needs about 2,000 square feet, and it would be “a blessing” if it could find a commercial kitchen that already has a ventilation hood, a grease trap and walk-in coolers and freezers — large pieces of kitchen equipment that would cost money the bakery doesn’t have.
Adding to the challenge is the lack of commercial kitchen space in the Salt Lake Valley and the need to be near public transportation. The interns — all recovering addicts who have been incarcerated — usually have lost their driver licenses or don’t have vehicles to get to and from work.
“We can’t just set up the kitchen anywhere,” said Altizer, a trained pastry chef who worked at several Utah restaurants and resorts before becoming an Episcopal priest. She combined her passions two years ago when she helped found Flourish Bakery.
She has faith that a space will present itself.
“Like our interns,” she said, “we are in a transitional time in life.”
Flourish Bakery started as a pilot project in January 2018 with five interns, two instructors and several volunteers. Two of those interns successfully finished the program and have returned as employees, helping with operations and community outreach.
To be hired, interns must be in recovery and be attending therapy, addiction-recovery meetings and do the other hard work needed to remain sober.
In return, they work 32 to 40 hours a week at Flourish Bakery, earning $12 an hour. This allows them to pay rent, buy food and pay other expenses while also receiving job training.
After they complete the one-year program, interns participate in a three-month externship at a restaurant, bakery or ski resort. After the real-world experience, they are ready to get a job in the industry — which is desperate for trained employees.
Not surprisingly, there are more people in recovery applying for Flourish Bakery than revenue — from donations and sales — will allow.
Last November, when Tristan Arellano was charged with a drug possession and sent to the Utah State Prison, she lost everything, including custody of her five children — ages 18 years to 9 months. While in prison, she could have taken business courses, which she would have completed in a few months.
But she was drawn to the culinary program. “I grew up baking with my grandma,” she said, “so it’s nostalgic for me.”
After her release, she was hired as a Flourish Bakery intern.
“It’s an important steppingstone between treatment and society,” she said, “which can be scary and overwhelming.”
Earlier this week, she was navigating the transition well, making crusts and filling for pumpkin pies.
“The support here and the accountability,” she said, “make all the difference.”
Now the bakery itself needs someone to make a difference — and offer it a new home.