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“Our main goal was to create jobs. So we came up with the idea of a bakery,” says Father Szulczynski. “We thought the bakery could provide bread for our soup kitchen and we’d also be able to employ people and give them the practical skills of making bread.”

Money from Caritas Germany helped the project get started. The space just below the Caritas office was renovated, equipment and supplies arrived from Italy and the bakery opened.

Within just a few months a pastry shop was added to the bakery. Then an eating area with just four tables was added. Soon this was too small to satisfy the growing number of customers.

“We quickly realized we were growing much faster than we had imagined in drawing up the project, so we decided to open a pizzeria and build on our early success,” says Tamaz Shakiashvili, who directs Panetteria.

The growth did not end there.

Panetteria’s sister bakery is already operating in the town of Kutaisi in western Georgia. In Tbilisi, there are plans to open another pastry shop downtown.

The business already employs some 50 people in Tbilisi, almost twice the number hoped for when the project began. “All of these people are also breadwinners for their families. Even students who come to learn how to make bread get our minimum salary of about $150 a month. While this might not sound like a lot of money, in Georgia where a teacher gets $20 a month, this is not bad money,” says Mr. Shakiashvili.

Panetteria has managed to offer more than just employment and job skills to people. Every day the bakery provides bread for the Caritas soup kitchen, which feeds more than 400 people a day, and pastries for an orphanage administered by Caritas. It also helps fund other projects supported by the Catholic agency, which provides social services to the poor across the globe.

The project marks a dramatic change in the work of Caritas Georgia. For nearly a decade, the agency has helped the poor by providing basic needs.

“Panetteria is certainly a different kind of help. Our traditional programs – helping the elderly, orphans and unemployed by feeding them and providing medical care – are extremely important. However, this gives people a chance to learn something new and be in a different environment,” says Father Szulczynski.

Back at Panetteria, Mr. Shakiashvili walks past the ovens and machines. Ask him the correct temperature for water in making the Italian bread ciabatta, and he is correct down to the last centigrade. Ask him the proportion of water to flour for Panetteria’s special wheat bread and he answers without a second thought. Though now an expert on every piece of Panetteria’s machines, he admits he is new to the profession.

Five years ago Mr. Shakiashvili completed his economics degree at Tbilisi State University. Shortly after, Georgia’s rampant unemployment forced him to settle for a job as a security guard at the Holy See’s Embassy, where he met Father Szulczynski.

“I told Father Szulczynski how much I wanted to find a better job and he told me about the bakery project that was just beginning,” says Mr. Shakiashvili.

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Tags: Georgia Cuisine Tbilisi