Baker Learns That Man Does Not Live by Profits Alone

Times Staff Writer

Gerald Gaucher studied business at a French university about 12 miles outside Paris where he learned that profits are paramount.

But, in pursuing his career, he realized that man does not live by profits alone.

When the French-born Gaucher came to San Diego in 1987 to work as the general manager for a French-owned gourmet bakery and restaurant chain, he was amazed and disturbed to find a concentration of homeless people on downtown sidewalks.

He had seen them in Los Angeles and Dallas. It was the homeless men and women huddled and sleeping on the sand near his Pacific Beach home, however, that finally prodded him to do something about it.

Gaucher, 33, decided to donate the day-old sourdough breads and French pastries his company was routinely pitching in the trash.


“Most of what we learn in school is theory and books, but once you’re actually out there, you learn much more,” said Gaucher, in between taking calls at the headquarters of A la Francaise. “At this point, it’s up to you.”

A Godsend to Hungry

In the last two weeks, the donations--about 2,000 loaves of bread, croissants and pastries--have been a godsend for the Neighborhood House Assn.'s San Diego Food Bank, which distributes food to nearly 100 agencies that feed the homeless and needy.

“It’s been a tremendous help as far as we’re concerned,” said Shirley McGill, program monitor for the Food Bank.

Especially popular among the agencies are the delicate pastries such as mille feuille, noix-japonaise and the strawberry tarts, McGill said.

“With the donations of A la Francaise, it gives the daily on-site agencies who come directly to us a nice pickup of breakfast foods,” she said.

Those agencies--mainly the YWCA’s shelter for battered women, the St. Vincent de Paul Joan Kroc Center and the Salvation Army--prepare breakfast on their premises.

The day-old bread and pastries from the company’s four San Diego locations are boxed and bagged nightly, then picked up the next morning by one of the Food Bank’s three trucks.

Once at the Food Bank’s 12,000-square-foot warehouse in Southeast San Diego, the bread and pastries are sorted by volunteers and placed on shelves where they are then scooped up quickly by local agencies for a 12-cent per pound handling fee.

“Even if it’s taking a little more time to pack the stales, that’s OK,” said Gaucher. “If it’s not worthwhile financially in the long run, it’s worthwhile spiritually, perhaps.”

The donations, however, do provide a minimal tax write-off for the French parent company, Arlaud Group, which owns A la Francaise plus a chain of supermarkets, sporting goods shops and cafeterias in France.

Gaucher said that, before the donations to the Food Bank began, he and his wife had taken bread and pastries to the San Diego AIDS Project on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

Before that, the bakery had donated its stales to a downtown rescue mission, but the arrangement ended when the mission was unable to pick up bread regularly.

Gaucher said France has its share of homeless people, but not nearly as many as the United States.

“Some people here are not getting what they are supposed to get,” he said.

“You get the feeling that . . . how do you say it, that you might be able to affect part of the pyramid. But then you wonder how much?”