One Mighty Mission

Alumni13 MIN READ

A gristmill and bakery is feeding students and recharging Lynn, Mass.

By Laura MeaderPhotography by Matt Kalinowski
February 20, 2020

Food justice pioneers Jon Olinto ’98 and Tony Rosenfeld ’97 are on a mission to feed kids. The visionary entrepreneurs who established the successful eatery b.good have opened One Mighty Mill in Lynn, Mass. In their first year, they established a food system that strengthens communities from Maine to Massachusetts, brought on Colby alumni and students, and implemented a business model that’s all about giving back. It’s a simple recipe: organic wheat grown in Maine, flour stone-milled in Lynn, and a company with heart.

“Feeding kids in places where they wouldn’t normally have fresh, healthy food is something that, while it’s hard to quantify the value in the business sense, it’s easy to quantify when you think about culture.”

Jon Olinto ’98, Cofounder

Of all the numbers Jon Olinto ’98 can rattle off following the first year of One Mighty Mill’s operation, the one he’s most proud of is relatively small: eight.

That’s how many public schools in Lynn, Mass., serve kids a nutritious bagel every day from One Mighty Mill (OMM).

Do the math. More than 100,000 bagels served in one school year. Thousands of underserved kids’ bellies filled with a healthy bagel five days a week. All thanks to two visionary entrepreneurs: Olinto and business partner Tony Rosenfeld ’97.

These numbers are making a difference in Lynn, a city they intentionally selected as the best place to build the mill and open a café. Lynn, after decades of neglect and economic decline, is on the rise, Olinto said, but it’s located in what he calls a food desert—a place void of healthy, affordable food options.

OMM is changing that landscape. Neighborhood residents receive a 15-percent discount at the café, making the cost of a bagel and cream cheese cheaper than the fare at the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. Unsold bagels are donated locally. And let’s not forget about those eight schools.

Does their bottom line take a hit? Of course, Olinto said. “Quantifying the business value of feeding kids healthy food … is often hard to do.”

But Olinto and Rosenfeld, pioneers in the food justice movement following the success of their first culinary enterprise, the healthful burger chain b.good, know they must think outside of existing business models. While wholesale drives their model—their products are currently in 42 Whole Foods stores and 30 independent grocers in New England—they recognize the value of staying true to their mission.

The upside? Their culture. Olinto points to the tenure of their workers, more than half of whom are Lynn residents, and their ability to attract young people, including Colbians Catherine Haut ’18, who served as director of partnerships and purpose, Eric Walton ’17, Maine sales lead, and interns Ronan Schwarz ’20 and Helen Watson ’20.

“That’s the magic,” Olinto said, “where you can get great people who are inspired, who definitely aren’t getting paid what they’re worth, but that this is something that they want to be a part of. They want to make sure that this works.”

Olinto wants One Mighty Mill to be bigger than something that appeals to Whole Foods clientele. It all comes down to the mission. “It’s the north star of our company,” Olinto said. “Even if it’s just symbolic, we want to make sure that the community we’re in is a place we can make a little bit of a difference.”

One Mighty Mill is on a mission to bring back local food systems that make communities healthy and thrive.

Baker ready to load unbaked bagels into the oven

“Lynn is our heart and soul, that’s where it all comes from. We’ve had a tremendous impact. We’ve been embraced by the community.”

Catherine Haut ’18, Director of partnerships and purpose
Catherine Haut ’18 smiling and eating a burrito

Catherine Haut ’18 loves food. Eating it, for sure. But her main fuel? Promoting sustainable foods.

As director of partnerships and purpose at One Mighty Mill, she really dug into this issue along with a smorgasbord of others.

“One Mighty Mill has so much of what I love and care about,” said Haut of the mill and café in Lynn, Mass. “Bringing back good food, supporting Maine agriculture, a community aspect, and a socially minded mission. All with people I really believe in.”

Haut first met One Mighty Mill (OMM) cofounders Tony Olinto ’98 and Tony Rosenfeld ’97 the summer of 2016 when she worked as farm director of Hannah Farm, a one-acre, educational farm and summer camp on Long Island in Boston Harbor that partially supplied Olinto and Rosenfeld’s first restaurant, b.good. Their paths intersected again after Haut had graduated, shortly before OMM opened. She was so impressed with the mill’s operation and mission that she joined the team.

Among Haut’s responsibilities: building and managing a field marketing team—ambassadors who spread the word about the company in markets across New England. “Education was really important to me,” she emphasized. “I wanted everyone who works at One Mighty Mill to be super passionate and knowledgeable.”

Haut also led efforts to build partnerships in OMM’s hometown of Lynn. She established the mill’s food surplus program that gives unsold bagels to a local soup kitchen. She also found a local mushroom farm to use the mill’s leftover bran and fiber. Her work elevated the mill’s involvement in Lynn, which she called the heart and soul of the company. “It’s being a force for good in the community,” she said. “We’ve had a tremendous impact, and we’ve been embraced by the community.”

Internally, Haut saw herself a connector between farm, mill, and administration. With her technical knowledge of farming and her environmental policy background from Colby, she was a crucial link between the mill’s wheat suppliers in northern Maine, business-minded Olinto, and Rosenfeld, with his culinary background.

Ever since that first summer, Olinto and Rosenfeld have been her “biggest mentors.” She found the experience of working at OMM a study in versatility and creativity. “I got to see every side of the business. … It was like getting a one-year M.B.A. on the fly.”

Haut recently left One Mighty Mill to pursue another passion: yoga. Even as their paths diverge, Olinto is cognizant of the mark she left. “One Mighty Mill,” he said, “is not the same because of her.”

“I think it speaks to this kind of old-fashioned communal feel that a mill probably always has had. Now we’re trying to rebuild it.”

Tony Rosenfeld ’97, Cofounder and baker

Tony Rosenfeld ’97 thinks the world needs more good bagels.

“I don’t know if it was a midlife crisis kind of thing, but I was consumed with wanting to start making bagels,” said Rosenfeld, head baker at One Mighty Mill, a café and mill he cofounded with Jon Olinto ’98 in Lynn, Mass.

His obsession has made the world a better place.

What makes One Mighty Mill bagels so good? In a word: flour. Using two 1,200-pound Vermont granite stones, One Mighty Mill (OMM) grinds organic northern Maine wheat to produce flour rich with nutrients that industrially milled flour lacks. The result are bagels packed with bran and a flavor, Rosenfeld says, that pops.

It’s wheat you can eat, OMM boasts, while at the same time bringing back the centuries-old process of stone-milling.

One Mighty Mill is Rosenfeld and Olinto’s second culinary venture. Their first, the chain b.good, was established in Boston in 2004 and was one of the very first restaurants to change the fast food landscape by offering healthy alternatives. The socially conscious b.good also participated in initiatives to help feed school children similarly healthy food.

OMM, opened in 2018, builds on that model. Drawing inspiration and wisdom from the coffee and craft beer movements, OMM wanted to source wheat locally and mill it themselves to make the freshest, most nutritious products possible. Using wheat grown in Linneus, Maine, and milled in Lynn, a city hard hit in the last decades, they’re creating a food system that helps communities thrive.

This mission drives everything they do, especially in their Lynn facility, where Rosenfeld has been open to using wheat in culturally relevant ways that speak to members of the city’s Guatemalan and Central American population, some of whom work at the mill and café. Rosenfeld, for example, makes magdalena bread, a traditional sweet bread meant to be shared, following a suggestion from some of his team members.

“Wheat has a cherished part in every culture and in their cherished foods,” Rosenfeld said, “And mills have probably always had a kind of old-fashioned, communal feel. Now we’re trying to rebuild that.”

It seems to be working. On any given day, the café is a busy gathering place, a nexus, Rosenfeld calls it, for individuals, local politicians, and community groups. And almost every day, children are sent by their grandmothers to see if the mill can share its middlings, a byproduct of stone-milling used in Central American tortillas and baked goods.

Working with stone-milled flour has its challenges, Rosenfeld said, because it’s less predictable than industrial flour. He has great respect for making bread, a craft, he says, that requires expertise and artistry, but, more than anything else, science. But he’s done his homework, and the results are mighty tasty bagels.

“I think One Mighty Mill represents us having spent a lot of time thinking and being educated,” he said, “and then getting an opportunity from the start to really try and build it the right way.”

In their first year of operation, One Mighty Mill served 103,800 bagels and 50,148 tortillas to kids in Lynn and Boston public schools.

“What we’re trying to do is grow something that’s not just a company but a movement. When you’re working with us, you’re working with a company that makes people and communities healthy.”

Eric Walton ’17, Maine sales lead

Three days each month, Eric Walton ’17 works a shift at Whole Foods in Portland, Maine, encouraging shoppers to try something new: bagels and pretzels made from stone-milled wheat grown 250 miles north.

A tough sell? Not for Walton, Maine sales lead for One Mighty Mill. “Portland makes it easy,” he said. “Mainers are proud of food made with ingredients grown in Maine.”

Doubly helpful is that the affable Walton has a passion for education and believes in the mission of One Mighty Mill (OMM): bringing back local food systems that make communities healthier and make them thrive. “We want to connect people to what we do, what makes us special, and this revolution we’re part of,” he said of his role with the Lynn, Mass.-based mill.

Walton joined OMM in July 2019 as a brand ambassador. A few months later, Jon Olinto ’98, OMM cofounder, reached out to Walton when the company wanted to broaden its Maine market. Olinto invited Walton to create a business strategy, and together they created a new role that put Walton in charge of Maine sales.

Walton has plunged in, his early efforts working like yeast in dough.

Finding partners beyond Whole Foods is Walton’s mission, but not just any partners. He seeks like-minded companies that support local economies. Companies like Portland-based craft brewery Lone Pine Brewing, which sells OMM pretzels in their tasting rooms, and Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough that carries OMM products.

Other potential partners on Walton’s radar are food co-ops throughout the state as well as the Maine Brew Bus, which offers tours to Maine’s craft breweries and makes donations to the Full Plates Full Potential project to end child hunger in Maine.

The environmental policy major was eager to return to Maine after working as an AmeriCorps deckhand educator for the World Ocean School’s vessel the Roseway in the Caribbean. Also a part time LabVenture educator at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, working with OMM is Walton’s first experience working with a startup. “It’s pretty addictive,” he said. The best part is getting to know the food systems in Maine and meeting others equally committed to supporting the Maine grain economy.

“What we’re trying to do is grow something that’s not just a company but a movement,” Walton said. He tells potential partners, “You’re helping us support people who need support to change.”

With Walton now rooted in Maine, One Mighty Mill has another foothold in the state. “We’re here to be a part of the community.”

One Mighty Mill is a force for good in the community, a model for creating sustainable food systems, and a place for fresh, healthy food.