Under New Ownership Model, Grand Central Can’t Be Bought or Sold

Photo courtesy of Grand Central Bakery
Grand Central CEO Claire Randall

CEO Claire Randall says the company will launch a capital campaign to fund its leadership transition.

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Earlier this week, Grand Central Bakery announced it will be transitioning from private ownership to a perpetual purpose trust (PPT) — an ownership structure that protects the company from sale.

“When the ownership group was thinking about how we wanted to set up the trust, we were not just thinking about the next two, three, five years,” says Claire Randall, who has served as Grand Central’s CEO since 2017 and has worked for the company since 1993. “We were trying to imagine what [the company’s] purpose was, and the objectives that could be in place to protect our mission 20, 30 years into the future. Because it can never be bought or sold, the leadership can concentrate on making the company be the best it can be while staying true to its mission and values.”

Randall, who also holds an ownership stake in Grand Central, says the company will run a capital campaign as the ownership group is phased out. That, Randall says, will partially fund the gradual exit of the ownership group and also provide capital to invest in the company’s initiatives, allowing Grand Central to “grow in a sustainable way.” Investors will have the opportunity to earn dividends, but the value of their investments should remain stable, Randall tells OB.

According to Grand Central’s announcement, Randall will continue in her role, with additional support from an independent board.

Randall says the PPT model has existed for about 100 years in the United States, and in Europe for longer than that. It remains an uncommon succession model, but that may be changing.

Grand Central leaders received transition guidance from Alternative Ownership Advisors, a subsidiary of Organically Grown Company, a Portland-based wholesaler of organic produce, which shifted ownership to a PPT in 2018. Alternative Ownership Advisors’ clients include the Newport-based restaurant and fish market Local Ocean Seafoods, the Michigan-based specialty food chain Zingerman’s and the Kansas-based agricultural nonprofit The Land Institute.

Grand Central, which sells bread wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores as well as at its retail cafes, was founded in 1989 in Seattle and now has 11 retail locations in Seattle and Portland, with 370 employees total. The company plans to open an eighth location next year in Hillsboro.

And while the company formed the Grand Central Bakery Trust with the aim of preserving the company’s independence in the long term, Randall says her immediate goal is helping the company continue to stabilize. While Grand Central has largely recovered from the COVID-induced disruption in sales, she says, it is facing new challenges in the form of staffing disruptions and skyrocketing prices for its ingredients.

“It’s been a tough couple of years — I’m sure you can imagine,” Randall tells OB. “We are excited to do the transition and also make some key investments into equipment and facilities that will allow us to make our products better and more efficiently.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to clarify the nature of the company’s capital campaign, and the number of Grand Central locations.

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