Community reflections

Bruce Haller’s businesses serve more than food

ALL HEART Bruce Haller with his wife Audrey have made a mark in their town—giving back at every turn. Photo: Robert Eliason

The tabletops feature fresh flowers from the Demonstration Garden down the street, the walls showcase the work of local artists, and chalkboards highlight the specials of the day came from local schools: each of these unique decorations is a reflection of the community it serves at Café 152 Bread Company.

Bruce Haller, owner of the Bread Company, as well as Café 152 Burger Co. and Café 152 Catering, incorporates local touches into each of his businesses because for Haller, “The community is a part of the restaurant.”
Haller is far from your typical business owner. He focuses on people, not profits, which is just one reason he and his wife, Audrey, who’s originally from Ireland and a trained operatic singer, were presented in February at the Spice of Life Awards with the Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award for 2018.
Deirdre Powers, one of the Haller’s four children feels the award was very “fitting.”
“My dad for years and years from elementary school all the way up until now, he’s always donated generously, always given back to the community, always been providing for everyone,” Powers says.
“Even if that means that they don’t necessarily come up on top, as long as everybody around them that they’ve supported has been helped, he’s happy, my mom is happy. They’ll do anything for anyone.”
Haller jokes that the reason the Chamber chose him for the award this year is, “They wanted to make sure I didn’t die first before they gave me the award,” referring to his open-heart triple bypass surgery last year.
“I think they felt sorry for me because Mark said I got it unanimously,” he says. “My wife and I felt really honored by that. It was recognition of what we’ve done over the years, but I don’t like that recognition.”
What Haller does like is seeing the kids he’s helped throughout the years moving forward with their lives.
Haller was surprised by the presentation of the award, as he actually received six.
“Four branches of the government gave us certificates,” he says. “We got two from the Federal government, two from the State, one from the County and one from the City.”
His plan is to display each of the certificates at his restaurants as a way of saying, ‘Thank You’, to his employees who he considers part of his family. His immediate family includes, Audrey, their four daughters, 10 grandchildren, with one on the way, and a great grandchild.
“The staff in my restaurants are also my kids,” Haller says. “And I’ve employed thousands and thousands over the years. So, I’ve touched a lot of people.”
Haller is all about helping kids. One of his proudest achievements is the co-founding of Rebekah Children’s Services Culinary Academy.
“You’re talking about the at risk, (youth),” Haller says. “We created this program to give them a skill set. We also created this to be a for-profit entity within a non-profit organization.”
Haller’s goal was to teach the kids a skill in place of needing a handout.
“Don’t be giving them the fish, give them the pole, some lines, a hook and some bait,” Haller says.
“It also builds self-confidence. That was one of my objectives. Learn those skills.”
During the time he created the Culinary Academy, Haller also became involved with San Jose Conservation Corps, which he continued for over 10 years.
“San Jose Conservation Corps is a unique vehicle. It gives kids in San Jose, from 17 to 27, the opportunity to get their high school diploma. These are the toughest of the toughest,” Haller says, adding that they built a kitchen at the facility and taught them how to cook, a skill they could utilize all throughout their lives.
Haller’s list of accomplishments doesn’t stop there. He has and continues to partner with Gilroy Unified School District providing bags of cookies and restaurant coupons for fundraising events.
“We do a couple thousand of those things a year,” Haller says.
“So, kids, or the organizers, have opportunities to learn and to sell.”
Haller’s also actively involved in the Rock the Mock Program where high school students have the opportunity to experience first-hand, “mock” job interviews with local businesses.
Haller provides free lunch for the volunteers who take part in the annual event.
“I want to feed those people that are giving their time.”
Haller’s chosen career is a vehicle for his giving spirit, one he utilizes in the hope he can make a difference.
“It allows me to be able to go do the type of programs like Rebekah’s, and Rock the Mock, and all the years with the schools,” Haller says.
“It gives us that opportunity so we can do a little bit of difference. If we can just change one kid.”
Haller himself was just a kid when he began his career in the restaurant business. At the age of 12 he started work as a dishwasher for an Italian restaurateur named Adrian.
“You got to learn from the Italians’,” Haller says.
Two years later, at 14, Haller walked into a Marie Callender’s and asked the man scrubbing the floors if they had any job openings. That man turned out to be the owner and he told him to grab a mop.
“We scrubbed floors for two hours,” Haller says, adding that that was the start of his 18-year career with the popular restaurant chain.
Haller quickly learned from Don Callender that business is built on product and people, a philosophy he continues to incorporate in his restaurants today.
“I can’t do all this. I create the food, that’s my skill set. I give them the opportunity,” Haller says.
Another lesson Haller learned was the importance of treating your employees’ right.
“You pick the people, and you give them the product, and you teach them the process.”
After moving on from Marie Callender’s Haller joined the famous hot dog chain, Wienerschnitzel’s.
“So, I worked for the corporate office, I was an executive for them and then I went into the franchise business,” Haller says, adding that his career with Wienerschnitzel’s lasted 25 years.
Haller and his business partner, Joe Marques, owned numerous franchises during that time but last year, after his triple bypass surgery, Haller felt it was time to slow down, just a little.
He and his partner sold their franchises allowing Haller more time to devote to his family. Haller and his wife recently celebrated the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary on March 18th. He says their relationship began with compromise.
“In the very beginning we made a decision, are we going to both work?” Haller says. “She knew I wanted to be in the restaurant business, but she also loves kids. So that allowed her to raise our children and stay home, you can’t put a price on kids.”
Audrey is quite happy with how it worked out.
“I worship the ground he walks on, we’re just so in love,” Audrey says with all sincerity and emotion. “I was always able to stay home and look after my girls and there is no money on the face of the earth to replace that. To me that was the greatest gift, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’m telling you he just was the best thing that ever happened.”
Cafe 152 Bread Company, is located at 60 Fourth Street Eigleberry, the hours of operation are: 7am to 3pm Monday-Friday, 8am to 3pm, Saturday and 9am to 3pm, Sunday.

Kimberly Ewertz
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About Kimberly Ewertz
Kimberly Ewertz is a freelance writer for South Valley magazine and Gilroy Dispatch.