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Clif and Lauren Brown
SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson
Clif and Lauren Brown

2020 Economic Impact Awards 1-7 Years in Business Winner: Neighbor's Mill Bakery & Cafe

Breaking Bread

Posted online

Community is important to Clif and Lauren Brown.

The husband-and-wife duo behind the local Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Cafe restaurants have embraced the Springfield community since opening their first store four years ago, and Lauren Brown says they often spend most of their time working alongside their employees.

“We’re definitely big proponents of living, working and playing in the same space,” she says, adding they live just a few minutes from the East Sunshine Street store. “It’s important to us that we’re invested in the community ourselves; we pay taxes here and we care about bettering our community.”

Brown says this desire comes from the couple’s eight years living in New York City before moving to the Ozarks.

“New York is so communal, and it’s very neighborhood-oriented,” she says. “Where you live becomes your area. You eat in the same neighborhood, have friends there and go to school there. We wanted that feel wherever we moved as well.”

The Browns moved to Springfield four years ago to expand the family business. Lauren Brown’s parents started Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Cafe in Arkansas 20 years ago. She and Clif own the local stores, where they mill wheat, bake bread and prepare cafe items such as sandwiches, soups and desserts.

The company also wholesales the bread to almost 30 restaurants, grocery stores and country clubs in the Springfield, Ozark and Branson markets, Lauren Brown says. Among them is Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, MaMa Jean’s Natural Foods Market and Farmers Gastropub, and the wholesale agreements make up roughly 20% of sales.

“It’s definitely been a game changer for us the last couple of years and has helped to get our name out there,” she says.

The restaurant also is very involved in Ozarks Technical Community College’s baking and pastry program. Brown says she holds a seat on the advisory committee for the culinary arts program and work with baking instructors to hire graduates. Over the years, she says the company has hired 24 OTC graduates, many of whom are still employed.

Neighbor’s Mill also hosts a class each semester from OTC to give students the opportunity to meet the bakers and see how a kitchen works, which also has led to talent recruitment for the company.

“We see skills training and employee recruitment/retention as one of the biggest challenges for the Springfield area,” she says. “But by getting into the baking-industry pipeline while students are still in school, we have been able to retain some of the most talented bakers from the OTC program and keep them in our community instead.”

Neighbor’s Mill also donates toward food-insecurity efforts in the Springfield area. One of its partnerships is with Ozarks Food Harvest. The cafe and bakery raises money every holiday season for the nonprofit, the September Hunger Awareness Month and the annual volunteer appreciation event in the spring. She says Neighbor’s Mill has donated more than 36,000 meals to OFH. The company also is involved with Harmony House, Ozarks Public Television and Care to Learn.

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