The Baker’s Daughter was established in 2012 by Beth Ann Holdridge. She produces vegan and gluten free baked goods with the freshest and finest ingredients and the highest of standards for every product. Beth not only lives gluten free but she has a chronic invisible illness so it was essential that I interviewed her to share her story. I am thrilled to have Beth be a part of the 540WMain family.
Check out Beth’s interview with us below:
When did you begin your career as a baker and what inspired you to pursue baking?
(BH) My path to a career in baking was not a straight line, but a curvy road. My mother had a bakery attached to our home from the time I was four years old; my sisters and I grew up helping her with that business as soon as we were old enough. I spent my growing years watching, learning, and admiring her work and techniques, hence my business name, The Baker’s Daughter. I went to school for art, but ended up working for Dinosaur BBQ right out of college as a baker.
I moved to the Binghamton area and stumbled into another baking job as a pastry chef at an upscale restaurant. Baking seemed to follow me everywhere I went, which is not surprising since it had always been such a large part of my life. While there,, I decided to start The Baker’s Daughter with an accompanying Etsy account to make some extra money. I may have left the job as a pastry chef but my business was my own and here I am now.
Do you have a chronic invisible illness?
(BH) Why yes, I do! My condition is called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE). It is an autoimmune disease where the white blood cells in my upper digestive system react to certain allergens and build up in my esophagus, causing issues with my ability to swallow. Chronic pain and fatigue, which may or may not be related to EoE, is another obstacle that is an ongoing battle. My conditions, particularly EoE, served as my inspiration to focus and develop gluten free and vegan products, as it pushed me to remove gluten and animal products from my diet.
What lead up to your diagnosis (symptoms, dr visits, etc) and how did you find comfort through being creative?
(BH) Although I had some symptoms since childhood, about a year or so leading up to my diagnosis eating and swallowing issues had become more prominent in my daily life. I had seen several different doctors and specialists, and finally landed with a G.I. doc that gave me the diagnosis of EoE. That doctor put me on a very strict exclusion diet, which entails reducing or eliminating foods that could possibly be triggering my symptoms, then reintroducing them after a few months so we could properly identify the culprits, which were then eliminated forever.
As a baker, no longer being allowed to use or consume eggs, dairy, or wheat, among a few other things, definitely provided an enormous challenge. However, I had to play the hand I was dealt; I took this challenge and ran with it. For starters, when I purchased grossly overpriced and barely edible items that fit my strict parameters, I knew I could do better. I turned to my knowledge of baking and my creativity to make food that was not only edible and safe, but most importantly, delicious! I restructured my business, after I confirmed that gluten and animal protein were issues for my condition. My sensitivity is such that it is unsafe for me to even handle these ingredients. And there you have it, my business turned into a 100% gluten free and vegan bakery.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of your career as a baker?
The most challenging thing for me at this point is finding the proper balance between high and low volume production. I have a full time job outside of baking, so time is precious. In the past year, I’ve also transitioned from a wholly made-to-order business to selling on consignment with local business and participating in local markets, like the pop-ups with 540WMain. It is difficult to predict how much product I need to prepare, what will sell, and how much will sell. It is a gamble worth taking, and something that time and trends will help to inform me on.
How does chronic illness impact your process and your career?
(BH) EoE impacted my business in the most primal sense – the reinterpretation/development of recipes, and a complete rebranding of the business mission, vision, and goals. EoE impacts me daily as I sometimes have to push through even if I am generally not feeling well, have had a reaction to a food, ingredients, etc. or if I am just having a high pain/low spoon day.
What (if anything) have you found/ done that has improved your symptoms?
(BH) Maintaining a strict gluten free and vegan diet is the biggest thing, followed by drinking enough fluids and getting enough rest – two things I’m admittedly not the best at. For pain management, rest is important but so is physical activity, so I participate in low impact activities such as stretching and Yoga (both which are also good for the mind and stress management).
How open are you with friends & family about your illness & symptoms?
(BH) Probably a little too open sometimes! I think it is really important that the people closest to you are informed, when you have a condition that has such an impact on your life. Although I am able to maintain my condition more effectively these days, the occasional or unexpected flare-ups do happen. People should know what is happening and how they may be able to help, even if it is just for a glass of water or caring support.
What was the worst advice that you followed?
(BH) I don’t know that it was expressly direct advice, but a few years before my diagnosis I made some dietary changes. I went gluten free for a while, and didn’t see much improvement since there were other severe triggers still present in my diet and lifestyle that I was not aware of at the time. Some people said it directly and others hinted “if you’re not feeling better, why bother keeping to this ‘ridiculous’ lifestyle.” Unable to answer them or myself, I ultimately went back to eating all foods for a while and got sicker and sicker.
Outside of baking, what is your favorite way to cope with your life as a spoonie?
(BH) I also enjoy cooking, and developing other vegan recipes – I’m obsessed with making vegan cheese. I also like being outside, I also like going to shows and spending time with friends. My best friend and I have a movie night once a week where we get together, make dinner, and watch a movie, often something kind of weird or old.
What is it that inspires you to keep going, despite your illness?
(BH) The little things in life inspire me. My parents are amazing. My mom worked her butt off pursuing her dream of her own bakery, and though my bakery is very different, I inherited that passion. When I was a teenager I often said “I want to save the world by making cookies!” Although that specific mission statement, and scope of impact has changed a bit, I still feel like I can impact the quality of life for many individuals through baking. I can provide a safe option for people who must or choose to restrict their diets for whatever reason, and that option is delicious. Another bonus is no animals are harmed in the making of these pastries, and that has an important impact too!
What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself since starting your career?
(BH) I knew going in that I did not have the best time management skills, as I am a little scatterbrained. But with dedication, drive, and persistence I have become better able to manage my business and my life.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone interested in starting a bakery?
(BH) Make sure that you make something you believe in, put your heart and soul into it, believe in your product and your policies that you are performing at your best. People will see that and respect that.