What sparked your interest in baking? Do you remember an important moment early on in your journey here?
My mom was a great baker, gardener, artist…a great everything! We lived in a very small town in West Virginia and entertaining ourselves was the only way to be entertained. I made my first loaf of yeast bread when I was five years old and was forever under my mom’s feet in the kitchen. When I was in 7th grade, my brother and I went on a school trip to Paris—I was totally entranced by all the bakeries and gorgeous pastries. All’s I wanted to do was eat! It was Easter, as well, and the chocolate eggs were magnificent, such works of art (and tasted delicious!).
In your bakery, I noticed a handwritten recipe that's framed and attributed to Jenny, 6 1/2 years. Did you really know, all those years ago, that you wanted to be a pastry chef?
Ahhh, yes. That piece of memorabilia was my first original recipe. What I love about it is that, even at that young age, I was putting color into the icing—I must’ve been hell bent on creating art out of sugar even then! To answer your question—yes, I always knew. Always.
What do you love most about what you do? What most excites you about going into work every day?
Feeding people is one of the greatest gifts we can ever give, because, in doing so, we receive so much. Not only does food feed the physical body, but there are the smells, the sounds (mixers running, dough being rolled, chopping), and the conviviality that makes it all a complete sensory experience. And it hits our hearts in a truly pure sense. Paradox was conceived as a business version of my mom’s kitchen (where we always gathered—I don’t think anyone knew we had other rooms at our house!). It’s open so that there is a seamless transition between customer and worker (I call my peeps Sugaristas and Sugarmeisters. “Baker” is soooooo boring!). It’s important for us, as the bakers, to see who we’re creating for, welcome them into our “home,” and in return, we don’t feel quite like we’re at work. We aren’t shoved into some secret back room. It’s also a great way to keep us on our toes—our customers can see everything that goes on. Everything. And I think, because of all of the above, we have THE best customers on earth. They are just wonderful!
What jobs have you had other than working as a business woman in the food industry? How do you think one of these may have helped shape you as a entrepreneur?
I’ve always loved to work and create ways to generate income—from wrapping Christmas presents for relatives as a youngster, to hemming clothes for people, to having “real” jobs as I put myself through college, it was all such great training for the endless list of requirements of running your own business. I was also in the fitness industry for over 26 years, most recently as a personal trainer here in Charlottesville and was a teacher at both the elementary level (P.E.) and high school (French—but don’t ask me to speak a word of French, it’s been way too long!). I think the focus and stamina that goes with fitness has been essential in constantly moving forward in business. Always take one more step even when you don’t believe you can…because you can if you choose to do so. And the experiences I’ve had with people from all walks of life has been exceptional. Does being an army wife for 16 years count? We traveled ALL over the place in the U.S. and Europe. I considered it an amazing training ground for all the food experiences. Wow!
Was there any feedback you had to discard when you began Paradox Pastry? Also, if you experienced any discouragement, how did you handle it?
Oh, wow. There is a LOT of stuff you have to discard. You truly have to have already built your vision, carefully execute, and stick to your gut. If you’re not solidly working from your center, the chances of being pulled away onto an errant path or someone else’s ideals is pretty huge. And from the beginning, I had so many people try to dissuade me, tell me “No, don’t do it.” That included my parents and a now ex-boyfriend (who all now apologize for having doubted). But there were so many others who said, “Go for it!” Funny how we get to choose what voices we hear and which we ignore. :-)
Is there an individual who helped you in a transformative way at some point in your career?
When I was living in Paris, I was facing a change in life path (divorce and a transatlantic move) and I was mulling over future employment possibilities, what I would do once I was in a new place, single, etc. I was curious about the Cordon Bleu cooking school, but once I investigated it, I thought it was too expensive and kind of backed off. My long time friend, Shannon, said, “No, you have to do this. I feel this for you.” She’s one of those woo-woo people you listen to when she gets adamant about something. My mom gave me part of the money to go and I followed through. Shannon was right, it was the stamp of approval I needed for myself to push through. Also, while personal training, I began to get antsy and bored, looking for something more expansive for my life. I had started my bakery at home and was pushing it forward while working at a fitness and wellness center (I was pretty exhausted all the time! LOL). Finally, one day, I'd had it with a client and recognized that the problem wasn’t with that person, but rather something within myself was insisting that I move on. I handed in my resignation the next day.
What do you wish you knew about work when you were first beginning your career? What would you do differently?
No, I can’t say I would do anything differently at all. I was raised with a stellar work ethic, pushed to succeed in school, and encouraged to do what I love. Always. ALWAYS. My parents were always pretty firm in the conviction that they didn’t care what my brother and I did, as long as we tried to be the best at whatever it was. Average and mediocre didn’t cut it, you know?
What other job would you like to try?
Gosh, I can’t think of anything I’d want to do other than what I’m doing now. Maybe something outdoors-y like working on a dude ranch in Montana or going on a cattle drive for a month!
Do you have any advice for young people thinking about meaningful work?
Just as my parents told me and I tell my girls, do what you love and the money will come. Be willing (huge concept) to go above and beyond and don’t complain. If something isn’t working for you, change it, don’t complain about it. Complaining never solved anything. Never compromise who you are and only work with and for people who respect you and treat you well. Give the same in return.
What do your wildest dreams look like when you think about your business ten years from now?
I am always looking forward, but it’s curious—my wildest dreams have a lot to do with personal satisfaction, not so much traditionally defined success. I’d like to continue to build Paradox Pastry into an entity that continues to engender community through a home away from home atmosphere, creating joy through our products and service, and—perhaps—inspiring a person or two to follow their dreams. I do have some pretty amazing goals up my sleeve and I have ultimate faith that they will come to fruition. I’ll get back to you on these. :-)
A version of this interview first appeared on the website HAPPY AND HEARTWORKING on July 31, 2014.