Tarboro bakery receives state award

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Steve Gilbert makes pretzels for a local brewery Thursday at Alimentaire Wholesome Breads in Tarboro.


Staff Writer

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The state Rural Center recently recognized a small business in the Twin Counties during a two-day event in Raleigh.

Franca and Steve Gilbert, owners of Alimentaire Wholesome Breads in Tarboro, were honored as the 2018 Rural Entrepreneurs of the Year at this year’s state Rural Assembly held on Nov. 15-16 in Raleigh. The annual Rural Assembly is the state’s premier event that focuses on major issues facing the state’s rural communities.

Rural Center President Patrick Woodie said the award recognizes entrepreneurs who are making a significant difference in their local economy by serving as mentors to other local entrepreneurs and taking leadership roles in their rural community. The Gilberts, who moved from the Wake County area to Eastern North Carolina, opened their small bread and bakery shop in January at 600 Trade St. in Tarboro.

“Franca and Steve embody the determination and dedication of rural small business owners,” Woodie said. “They understand the health of their business is dependent upon the health of their local community and that for the business to thrive, the community must be thriving as well.”

In their previous occupations, Franca, who hails from Belgium, was a French instructor in Wake County Public Schools. Steve said he worked in various capacities in the logistics industry. The Gilberts met while they were both U.S. Army paratroopers stationed at Fort Bragg. 

Steve Gilbert said he was surprised when they were notified about a month before the event that they would receive the award.

“It’s a wonderful recognition, especially someone in the food business that’s offering a wholesome food like bread that’s in a rural part of our state,” Gilbert said. “We’re very proud to be recognized for the work we’re doing and trying to bring what is a very old staple back into a community where today you only find that staple in bigger metropolitan cities.”

As rural food entrepreneurs, the Gilberts are driven by the idea of using food for a purpose. Steve Gilbert said their next step is getting their products in underserved communities mainly in Eastern North Carolina. Gilbert said Alimentaire Wholesome Breads values quality over convenience and price.

“There is a negligence in food distribution that is happening,” Gilbert said. “A lot of cheap food is not necessarily healthy food. The main source of food in any community isn’t necessarily what you find at the local gas or convenience store and a lot of cases at a grocery store. Those businesses are driven by profit only and they don’t take into consideration the stakeholders. When I mention delivering wholesome bread, it’s delivering a product that’s not just good, but good for you.” 

He added that winning the award also enhances how Tarboro helps and supports small businesses and demontrates that someone who may be looking to start something in a rural small town would benefit from relocating to Tarboro, just as they did.

“Bringing this recognition to Tarboro shows that it’s growing and it points to what the town is trying to do to encourage new businesses to come,” Gilbert said.