Japan's Sweet Sensations (I): Le Mauve
Recently, I had the chance to go to two bakeries owned by the same people. Both are located in eastern Hyogo Prefecture. The first one is a small bakery in a quaint neighborhood not too far from a train station. This was the owners' first bakery, which they opened in 2012. They opened their second bakery in 2021. This bakery is much bigger, with a tall ceiling. The building they bought used to be a cafe which went under. Since the shop only sells the baked goods that they make, rather than run a cafe at the same time, the areas that used to be for the cafe's customers are now used for the workers to make the baked goods. Even the area near the front of the shop which was surely used for counter seating in the former cafe was converted to a place to display the delicious treats to customers.
These bakeries have an extremely unique distinction of being two of the only bakeries in Japan that employ mostly people with physical and mental disabilities. The real point of the distinction is this: All of the baked goods are 100% made by workers with disabilities. Right now, there are 30 workers at one of the bakeries, and 10 at the other one. Though robotics have recently been known around the world to assist those with disabilities, these bakeries do not utilize robotics. All of the baked goods are made by hand. I was given permission to briefly watch these workers shape the dough that is used in the boules de neige, which is available in the Nishiki Box. By the way, boules de neige means snowball in French and that is essentially what they are - snowball-style cookies with flavoring. I was really impressed by their attention to detail. The average worker is able to output 500 of them per shift.
It is often the case that those with mental or physical disabilities in Japan are relegated to doing a more menial task. This task might be the only thing that they ever do at the company, perhaps thousands of times. However, the workers at these bakeries are all allowed to pitch their ideas and make new baked goods. Additionally, for those who want to gain more skills than what they knew having entered the company, they can learn from the professional bakers who work here. It is rare for the owners of a company to involve workers who are mentally or physically disabled to this degree.
The great realities about these bakeries would be all for naught if the food wasn’t delicious. Thanks to the hard work of all of the workers, the food tastes really good. I am a stickler for texture and the texture gets a thumbs up from me, too. By the way, there are about 15 different baked goods that are sold throughout the year, with 10 or so additional ones that are made and sold exclusively for events like Japanese summer festivals.
And one final great aspect of the bakery is a new idea from the workers that has recently been implemented - selling the caneles that didn’t turn out so well for 50% off. They are also not burnt, so the taste is totally fine. They just didn’t turn out perfectly in their shape, but they are certainly perfectly edible. While someone might not give them as gifts for the office, they make great treats for one’s own family.
Perhaps it is fitting to close this article with a brief interview that we did with one of the workers. He is 20 years old and learned how to make everything from scratch. He said that he enjoys the learning process. He added, “I feel good when I have made something that somebody else enjoys.” It’s really great that these two bakeries have given him, and dozens of others, chances to work and to work in a fulfilling way - for themselves and for others.