Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Behind the Sweets: Lisa Thompson Mixes Up a Batch of Mixed Berry Scones at Blue Sky Bakery

[Photographs: Lindsey Becker]

When Lisa Thompson told people she wanted to start a bakery to train and employ homeless and at-risk youth in order to give them a much-needed stepping stone into a demanding job market, she was unsurprisingly met with a hearty dose of disbelief. Potential funders balked at the image of the man they gave change to on their morning commute making their breakfast muffin. Even when Lisa re-framed the way she presented the idea so as not to bring this image to mind, the concerning facts remained that she had neither a background in professional baking nor any experience opening a restaurant. The one thing she did have was a background in fund raising. This experience combined with her frustration with feeling disconnected from the people she was trying to help in her past as a fundraiser resulted in Blue Sky Bakery & Café, which has been training at-risk youth while simultaneously producing homemade items like scones, quiches, and muffins for five years now.

Potential employees find their way to Blue Sky through a number of channels, including 18 different agencies around the city as well as via referrals from Lisa's personal listserv of parole and probation officers. Those who are hired train at the bakery for 12 weeks, working about 22 hours each week. The majority of that time is spent in the kitchen, and the remainder is spent working a stand at two farmers markets where the employees can chat with customers about exactly what is in the items they themselves made.

Covered in Berries

Blue Sky uses as many local ingredients as possible; 100% of the fruit used in the bakery last summer was sourced from local farms like Nichols and Seedling, though this summer that percentage has been cut in half due to a rough growing season and skyrocketing prices. Lisa also tends a small garden in a Peterson Garden Project lot located next to the Montrose Brown Line stop, which provides the bakery with fresh tomatoes, basil, rosemary, and chives.

Lisa was kind enough to show me how she whips up a batch of her fantastic Mixed Berry Scones. Their remarkably fluffy texture can be explained with just a few simple secrets. Click through the slideshow to learn more about the scones and Blue Sky's well-tended garden.

Picking Basil

If you'd like to try some of Blue Sky's offerings but don't live near the bakery, grab a ticket to their upcoming annual fundraiser Cupcakes & Cocktails on Friday, September 28th. The bakery will create both sweet and savory cupcakes that expert mixologists from the U.S. Bartenders Guild will use as inspiration for paired cocktails. The event is going to be held at DIRTT, an event space located at 325 N. Wells that offers non-profit organizations a beautiful indoor/outdoor location for fundraisers.

Blue Sky Bakery & Café

3720 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60613 (map)

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