Fearful that my lack of direction, once again, diverted me down the wrong path, I was enthralled by an enticing aroma that led me right to 1st Street Bakery. Upon my arrival, I was quick to realize I was not the only person mesmerized by the smells of rising dough. The line in front of the register spanned out the door and approached the entrance of an adjacent building. Naturally, I was intrigued by the seemingly high demand for such a common commodity; my curiosity turned to eagerness as I wanted to see what all the commotion was about.
As I entered the building I noticed what seemed like a family (a man, woman, and two children) scurrying rampantly as they attempted to satisfy the order of every customer. I became overwhelmed. I felt I should come back at another time when they were less busy, yet, as soon as I had made up my mind and was about to turn back I heard my name called. I turned to see my mother’s friend, Claire Acken, the owner and founder of the 1st Street Bakery, removing her apron as she walked around the counter to approach me. She responded in laughter after I asked if it was a bad time. To my amazement, she stated, “we’re actually slow today,” and walked me to the backroom to conduct the interview where she would enlighten me of not only entrepreneurship but life philosophy which has given me an entirely new outlook on my own desires.
In her early 20’s, Claire decided the pursuit of a college education was not her destiny. She was not interested in mathematics, science, history, or any other subject she claims to have already been forced to take in high school. She had a passion for baking. She had always aspired to open her own bakery yet never actually believed she was capable of such a feat. Instead, she decided it was in her best interest to attend a culinary school which would help her “fine-tune” her baking skills and better prepare her for her future goal. Upon completion of culinary school, she was eager and anxious to take on any role she could to illustrate her proficiency in the art of baking. She worked for a number of high-end restaurants working as a baker and enjoyed her position. She professes, “I enjoyed the baking aspect, but would always cringe at the sight of my boss.” Claire says she was never one for adhering to authority. Her confidence, though as she says “cockiness,” in her abilities and capabilities clashed with her boss's totalitarian ruling over every aspect of the workplace. It was at this realization that she knew she needed change, and fast. In a hasty, and most likely tempered, decision, Claire quit her job in pursuit of independence.
Now on her own the uncertainty quickly became fear. Her now stagnant income worried her in that she would not have enough money to accomplish what she wanted to accomplish. Times were not easy for Claire at this point in her life but her determination and desire to never be bossed around again propelled her to actuate her dream; she opened 1st Street Bakery.
If her objectives were a checklist, step one would be complete but the remaining steps were not only unfinished but unknown. Though opening the bakery was a symbolic gesture in the development of her independence and identity, she still felt entrapped both financially and in uncertainty. Most of her money was spent on opening the small business and acquiring the essential tools she would need as a baker; however, the majority of the work required to run a business was still a mystery to her. Claire had no knowledge of advertising, pricing, or balancing her finances to make a profit. The stress was daunting and she became self-conscious and doubtful of her ability to sustain such as business over a long period of time. She advises me to continue with my education and learn the skills of running a business as she professes to her biggest regret.
In seeing Claire through this new light I have been enlightened by her desire to achieve her dreams. She quotes Thomas Jefferson in illustrating her true belief of the idea “with great risk comes great reward.” Clair acknowledges her rash decision-making was probably not the wisest response to her situation, but contests that notion with the realization that if she did not act swiftly she may not have acted at all.
1st Street Bakery may not be a huge moneymaker due to its large competition with the low prices of supermarkets and chain goods, but it is a store for the community. The regularity of returning customers is the most cherished attribute according to Claire because “money isn’t everything.” In understanding the need for money to maintain some form of stability she also realized the need to satisfy customers and finds more wealth in the happiness of customers than in the attainment of wealth in its monetary interpretation.
At the conclusion of the interview, Claire provided me with some useful tips for my future endeavors as an entrepreneur. First and foremost, she claims that marking is everything, “people need to know you exist.” Her first issue was her inability to attract clientele, and very quickly learned the necessity of advertisement.
Secondly, do not place work above relationships. At the onset of her venture, she worked long, sleepless hours which kept her away from her family. It was hard on her husband because he was forced to bear the grunt of the work at home in taking care of the children while simultaneously working full-time.
Lastly, I found it interesting when she claimed the goal of entrepreneurship is not the acquisition of money. She declared wealth is an arbitrary state of being; wealth is not something that is communally defined, but, rather, something which is individually, or personally defined. She also urged the need for passion and desire, “happiness is found through passion,” she said, “grasp your passion and run with it and you will find happiness.” This wisdom came as quite a surprise as I had never before seen this side of Claire, a family friend who I have grown to know over a number of years. Her insight into the realm of entrepreneurship was, if nothing else, invigorating. Her approach to the independent field of entrepreneurship was rather unorthodox which I believe provided the foundation for her unique, and presumably, inimitable ideology.
I believe I have learned more than I was expecting from Claire. Her success as the owner and founder of “1st Street Bakery” may not be noted in the traditional sense of the term, yet she has taught me one thing: success is my own, I do not need to adhere to the customary ideology of success, the ultimate goal is internal happiness achieved through passion. In entering the bakery I had hoped to leave with some fresh bread and an interview worthy of a good grade; instead, I left with fresh knowledge and a fresh outlook on my future aspirations.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, I have been fretting over the concept of failure. I had believed failure to be one’s inability to achieve monetary success; instead, I now realize failure to be one’s inability to achieve happiness. I believe this opens a number of new doors for me in my future. I now am able to realize, if not at least visualize, many of my desires as possible avenues toward my career. Though I do hope to make a comfortable living as an entrepreneur I believe the desire to make an infinite sum of money is not my goal. I have come to believe I want what Claire has achieved. She has reached a measure of happiness that is achieved through a balance of work and familial relationships. She understands the importance of work, but also the more important – family. My desire to work is to support my family not my wallet. I believe I will keep in close contact with Claire for mentoring and advisement as I continue my own venture into an entrepreneurial business opportunity. She sees life in a unique and interesting light which noticeably shines bright as a beacon, illuminating her joy and happiness, her desire and determination, and passion for baking not only for herself but for the many returning customers standing in line, eagerly awaiting their chance to taste what their noses can smell, a fresh loaf of 1st Street Bakery bread.
C. Acken, personal communication, February 28, 2014.