Beginnings…

The Whole Foods Market Experience

Back in 2008 (when the market crashed) I applied, and was accepted, to work at Whole Foods Market.  I felt it was a privilege and an honor – and I was THRILLED!

I couldn’t wait to start.

I had shopped WFMs since they first opened in my neighborhood in Chicago many years earlier.

LOVE. THAT. STORE.

Felt like a kid in a candy shop about the job. Training was awesome. The people were awesome.  The department, bakery – what else? Awesome! What more could a girl ask for in a job? A company? It was perfect.

As much as I loved Whole Foods, I missed my two very small children tremendously! Luckily, I had options; thus, my very short stay: six months.  Three years later I truly cherish that incredible experience and the friends I made along the way – I could have benefitted exponentially on so many levels from a longer stay, though. It was a great place to learn, grow and work. It was a magical time, complete with incredible food, great friends, phenomenal life training and an opportunity that forever changed the course of my career.

Launch Pad

While working at Whole Foods Market, I met the most delightful woman names Chris, who ran the Culinary Studio at the time.  When I shared with her my passion for all things gluten free, she challenged me to create something especially for her. It had to be gluten free, healthy, sugar free and use whole grains.  That’s easy, I cried, would you like to try my pancake mix?

So I brought her some.

And she loved it.

And then she invited me to teach a class on how to bake gluten free – at the Culinary Studio.  Wow.

What an honor!  But… the gauntlet was thrown.  Me? Teach a class? To others? How to bake gluten free?  Uh, sure, I can do that.  (Inside my stomach churned – what in the world would I teach these folks? I only had a handful of recipes at that time that were truly worthy of one of her WFM classes.)  We discussed what would be taught and I was on my way – to dozens of tests, retests and reworks – and gaining 10 pounds in the process!  Sheesh! Gluten-Free Baking was FUN!

That class was a complete turning point in my relationship with gluten-free, dairy-free baking.  I cannot tell you how much I learned and how many people came up to me afterwards and encouraged me to do more.  Some even brazenly suggested I start a gluten free baking company, based on these few products, my passion for baking them, how much fun I had in teaching coupled with the enjoyment in seeing others truly appreciate what I had made.

Moi? A gluten free baking COMPANY?

It was overwhelming, honestly.  You see, in between the time I was asked to teach the class and when I actually taught it, I had already given my 6-week – yes, 6-week notice.  I didn’t really want to leave, but well, there was that freezer, and I and “it” needed to break up, honestly.  There was also the gigantic and most important fact of all:  I was truly missing my 3 and 4-year old children like crazy getting up super early and working long hours!!! Scott was dropping them and picking them up from preschool without me, day after day… So off I went, to be with them again.  I felt lucky.  And restless…

The thoughts began to churn – could I really do this? What would it take? Would people actually buy food I made?  Would they like it?  Would I like it?  Would it be fulfilling?  Rewarding?  Would it be healthy? Taste good? So many questions and none answered.  Someone mentioned The City Market, so I went to investigate.  Yes, looks intriguing. But where do I bake? What kind of permits do I need? Business licenses? Health department inspections? Paperwork? Deposits? How much would it cost? Could I afford it?

A health department official recommended churches, so I started calling them to use their kitchens.  After a dozen or so “no’s” I quite nearly gave up, but then my husband had taken the kids to one lovely little church a few Sundays when I was working at Whole Foods – and he gave them a call.

They said yes.

We were thrilled and felt so incredibly fortunate.  I still feel incredibly grateful to that beautiful little church. I baked there for over a year and was happy.  Thank you, MLLC!

For the past 14 months we have been mixing, baking and packaging our cookies, mixes, pizza crusts and cupcakes at the Ennovation Center in Independence.  My have I learned!  What an incredible facility – it is a dream kitchen with an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and meet other like-minded entrepreneurs.

Be Free Bakers would not exist if it were not for so many factors coming together:  family and friends (even strangers) encouraging and testing my baked goods; our family’s multiple food allergies (wheat/gluten, dairy/casein, peanuts, some tree nuts); a lovely woman named Chris from Whole Foods Market asking me to teach my first class; having a chance to bake out of a sweet little church 4 miles from home for The City Market that was our very first testing ground; and now being able to expand and grow and use this gorgeous, brand new facility called The Ennovation Center to service a dozen local restaurants, health food stores and sweet coffee shops.  Of course, we couldn’t bake a thing if customers didn’t like our baked goods, so we saved the best for last:  our customers.  Big giant hugs to all of you!

I am forever grateful and am still pinching myself that this is real.

jennifer

About befreebakers

Be Free Bakers was started out of love - for family and friends who have food intolerances or allergies. What began as a simple act of baking has turned into a massive attempt to change the way we look at healthy foods - what goes into them, where the ingredients come from, the way food is grown and packaged and how they are prepared with love in the kitchen. We have enjoyed this process tremendously and can't wait to share our journey and love for eating well and loving it!
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