Serving Up Baked Goods With Northwest Values
Claire Randall BA ’87 lives her values as CEO of Grand Central Bakery.
For nearly 30 years, CEO Claire Randall has worked at Grand Central Bakery, a business with 11 locations across Seattle and Portland that holds corporate responsibility to the same level as the tastiness of its treats. In 2021, the company sourced over half of its purchases from local vendors, diverted 87 percent of its waste from landfills, and donated more than $24,000 in cash grants to local nonprofits. This year, Grand Central will transition to a perpetual purpose trust, a unique ownership structure that ensures the business can remain local and independent forever.
How did you make your way to Lewis & Clark?
I grew up in Boise, Idaho, and came to Portland to visit my grandmother. Lewis&Clark was one of the top schools on my list. It was a beautiful sunny day when I visited, and I was sold. One of the great things about a liberal arts school is you can take classes in so many different disciplines, and I was able to do that. I also participated in an overseas study program to India. I feel so grateful to have learned from professors who encouraged us to think critically about what it means to be an engaged citizen. And I can report that my nephew, who also attended Lewis & Clark, feels the same way—and he’s a tough customer.
What was your path to Grand Central Bakery?
Gwen Bassetti, the mother of my friend and business partner Piper Davis BA ’87, started the bakery in Seattle, and I was already a super fan. Piper and I would drive to Seattle and load up our car with as much delicious bread as we could to bring back to Portland. In 1993, the family was looking for places to open new locations, and I became the Portland bakery’s first sales manager and also oversaw the first cafe on Hawthorne Boulevard. I had done almost every job except baking before I became CEO in 2017.
What are the company’s mission-driven values?
We operate with the idea that all of our decisions can have an impact on our communities and on the food system. This involves everything from our sourcing of ingredients to the vendors we choose to the way we treat employees. We’ve had the privilege of building on a really solid foundation as a multigenerational bakery, with the mission, values, and employee-centric policies started by Gwen Bassetti already in place. I love that our very product is a community builder, that I’m working directly with employees at every level, and that we are a vibrant part of our local economy. I draw on my L&C education every day to tackle challenges and to listen and learn, especially in the last two years during the pandemic.
What are your top Grand Central Bakery recommendations?
My favorite bread at the cafe is the Peasant Levain. It’s made with whole wheat and rye, and we bake it nice and dark with a good crust. That, hands down, is the employee favorite. My favorite pastry is our classic cinnamon roll. Even after 29 years at Grand Central, I still enjoy it!
I draw on my L&C education every day to tackle challenges and to listen and learn, especially in the last two years during the pandemic.