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Volunteer consultants aim to be ‘capitalist peace corps’

Owner Wanderleia Ribeiro iced a chocolate cake at Daniel’s Bakery in Brighton. Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

For more than a half-century, Daniel’s Bakery has been the place where Brighton Center residents treated themselves to fresh-baked pastries, savored fresh cups of coffee, and chatted with neighbors before work. But the Washington Street shop is struggling, and it shows: The original 1960 sign is faded and the awning broken.

So when concerned neighbors found out that owner Wanderleia Ribeiro could not afford to fix the storefront, they turned to Allison Carter, executive director of Brighton Main Streets, a nonprofit development group. But as Carter spoke to Ribeiro, it was obvious that saving this neighborhood institution would require more than cosmetic repairs.


No one at the bakery was tracking sales and inventory, and Ribeiro didn’t know how to market her fresh-baked cakes, pastries, and Brazilian sweet breads. She wasn’t even sure how much it cost her to make a cake.

Enter Main Street Partners, a group of volunteers from prestigious consulting firms with Boston offices, including L.E.K. Consulting, McKinsey & Co., Charles River Associates, and Bain & Co. In September, the nonprofit sent a team of five consultants to Daniel’s Bakery. The goal: bring in new customers, increase profits, and get more cakes out the door.

“I now have five people working for me,” said Ribeiro, 46, who bought the bakery in 2007 from the original owner, Daniel Handalian. “They help me with Facebook, they help me with my website, they help me with everything. It’s awesome.”

It’s also free. Founded in 2010 by management consultants Bryan Solar and Alex Russell, both graduates of Colby College in Waterville, Maine, Main Street Partners has helped more than 75 small businesses, including restaurants, gyms, cleaning services, dance studios, and pet stores. Clients have increased revenue by an average of more than 50 percent, according to the organization.

Solar, 30, calls Main Street Partners a “capitalist peace corps.” He said the idea came from seeing his aunt sell her restaurant after it nearly went bankrupt in 2009, during the last recession. “Big companies were getting bailed out, but mom and pop shops were getting butchered,” Solar said. “We thought, ‘What if we took everything we learned consulting with big firms — the skills and really smart people — and applied it to small businesses?’ ”


At Daniel’s Bakery, that process began with an assessment by Main Street Partners’ executive director, Patrick Moran. In Ribeiro, he found a talented baker who grew up in Brazil making cakes with her grandmother, but who lacked the training to market her products and manage sales.

“Here’s a woman, an immigrant, working for nine years, and there’s some basic business stuff she could use help with,” said Moran. “You marry the unmet need of small business owners with talented volunteers who have the training and education and are highly motivated, and it’s a wonderful thing to watch.”

Most of the organization’s 200 volunteers are in their 20s, attracted to the work, said Moran, because they can take leadership roles that aren’t typically available to junior consultants.

Linda Vitale, a 25-year-old analyst at Bain & Co., is project leader for Daniel’s Bakery. She and her team devised a four-point plan tackling financial management, marketing strategy, pricing, and website design.

In marketing, for example, Wesley Locke, a 26-year-old investment analyst with John Hancock, is focused on showcasing the bakery’s specialty cakes.


“Wanda’s cakes and breads are some of the best in the city, but she’s never thought of advertising,” said Locke, who spends six hours each week on the project. “The main challenge is increasing customer flow.”

To do that, Locke is using Facebook and Instagram and exploring university partnerships to provide cakes for college events. He hopes to make Daniel’s a resource for faraway parents who want to send birthday confections to children attending Boston colleges and universities.

Other team members want to adjust prices to better reflect the market and the costs of making the products. While the price of eggs has risen by more than 50 cents a dozen since 2007, the bakery’s prices have stayed the same. Cupcakes at many bakeries sell for up to $6, Locke said, but Ribeiro’s are less than $2.

Overhauling a business’s approach has challenges. Just ask Victoria Amador, owner of the Dorchester cleaning company Tremendous Maid. Amador has worked with Main Street Partners twice — first in 2012 to increase employee retention, and then in 2014 to grow her commercial clientele.

To help retain employees, the consultants came up with a benefits plan tailored to Amador’s largely low-income workforce. She now offers on-site English classes, financial literacy training, health insurance, and retirement plans. The annual turnover rate fell to 33 percent from 75 percent, cutting training costs, and improving employee and client satisfaction.

Amador’s list of commercial clients also has grown to about 40 from just 13. She said her profit margin — now 10 percent — has more than doubled since her first sit-down with the group’s volunteers.


“It’s having really smart people consult for you for free,” said Amador. “I don’t think it gets any better than that.”

The test for Ribeiro and Daniel’s Bakery comes next month, when the consultants’ recommendations are implemented.

Jacqueline Kieff of Brookline has been a morning regular at the bakery for 25 years. She said she hopes her favorite cherry and nut pastries remain on the menu, but understands that Ribeiro needs to improve her bottom line.

“Her stuff is so much better than the rest,” said Kieff. “I’m a psychologist so I shouldn’t say this, but I’m addicted to that place.”

Lorne Bell can be reached at