Babycakes Owner Erin McKenna Sacrificed Time, Life and Exercise to Launch a Gluten-Free Baking Empire, and She Wouldn't Change It for the World

© Tara Donne
By Toklas Society Posted March 17, 2015

Here, baker Erin McKenna—whose latest cookbook, Bread & Butter: Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes to Fill Your Bread Basket, drops today—shares her greatest sacrifices in owning her very popular Babycakes bakery.

F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. Follow the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine). Here, baker Erin McKenna—whose latest cookbook, Bread & Butter: Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes to Fill Your Bread Basket, drops today—shares her greatest sacrifices in owning her very popular Babycakes bakery.

Who: Erin McKenna
What: Pastry chef/owner, author
Where: Babycakes in New York City and Los Angeles, Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC in Orlando; @itserinmckenna

It happens every time, without fail. When I tell people what I do, their eyes light up and they say one of two things: “I would be so fat if I owned a bakery!” or “Do you have to get up super early? Like, when it’s dark out?!” My response to the first interrogator is probably not—you’d be way too busy and worried and excited to eat yourself into elastic-waisted longpants and frumpy sweaters. The answer to the second is yes—but not for the obvious reasons. I knew from the moment I decided to open my own bakery that I would have much to sacrifice, and it turns out the commitment to pure baking hours is actually the least of it. This is not a cautionary exercise meant to frighten, because believe me as a bakery owner you would/will love every minute of every day, just as I do. But here are the things you’ll need to fear far more than the dark:

1. Your time is no longer “time,” and it doesn’t belong to you. Clocks don’t exist, and alarms are worthless. You’re operating on a different plane, and sleep is rare and tortured. Holidays, weekends, sick days, pregnancy, the Barneys sample sale: The emails do not stop, and no flu will take priority over the needs of a bakery that runs seven days a week. (The one exception is actual labor, when you’re splayed out delivering a baby, which in some ways feels more like a vacation.) That wild look that’s always in your dilated pupil—it never really goes away. It’s like fear, but it’s not. If you know what this look is, please contact info@erinmckennasbakery.com right away.

2. Your “life” is actually sidework to your real “life” (which is owning a small independent business). Reading, paying credit card bills, attending cultural events, celebrating family occasions, a peaceful solitary jog, the Bergdorf Goodman semi-annual sale…these things will happen in frantic, unenjoyable, 16-minute intervals, and you’ll be attached to your cellphone putting out emotional and actual fires anyway. So in time you’ll start to skip them altogether, thus unraveling the things you thought were “easy.” The bright side is that the only thing you’ll really miss is having new clothes.

3. Your diet is incomprehensible. I created my bakery and recipes because I wanted desserts that were as high-maintenance, health-conscious and well-crafted as my homemade, intricately constructed breakfasts, lunches and dinners were pre-bakery. Today, my meals consist of scraps of broken bakery items, some vegetables from the prep fridge and packaged health-junk food like kale chips. It will be horrifying and inexplicable to your loved ones, and it will be to you, too, on those rare occasions when you look up and it’s 4:30 p.m., you’re late to grab the kids and you realize all you’ve eaten all day is three handfuls of chocolate chips.

4. Goodbye, Champagne. Maybe this one is because I have two kids, but I’m convinced it applies in some way to all business owners. If I have a drink or two or three, the following day is a barely navigable haze, and there is an overwhelming desire for bed. Your stomach, per No. 3, is unprepared for the fallout, and the hangover food you studied in college would put you in traction if prepared today. Which is fine! That’s OK! I could handle that! Except that one day wasted being hungover puts you five days behind, since you are perpetually four days behind to begin with. 

5.  Exercise: You can’t do it anymore. Too low on the list. Sorry.

PS: Owning a bakery is actually way more fun than this sounds, and I highly recommend it. I love it so much—right up there with the babies and the husband. Do it, and I’ll see you in the padded cell! I’ll be the one mumbling about kale chips.

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