Happy, content and kind are the only words I want to use to describe Rachel. There are so many others but I’ll stick to these three. I met Rachel during my interview at WVON. she was also featured on the show and I was very inspired by her story and wanted nothing more than the opportunity to tell it.
Who is Rachel?
She begins, “That’s a loaded question. I would describe myself as a wife, a daughter, a sister, an accountant and a baker. I think that’s the quickest way to sum up who I am.” A self-proclaimed weird girl who instead of dressing up as a princess or playing with dolls as a kid, she wanted to dress up as Madam C.J. Walker and Oprah. [Laughs] “One year I was actually Oprah for Halloween. I made my own microphone out of materials I found at home and would interview people as they knocked on our door for some candy.” Being the oldest of six kids, Rachel quickly realized she could not depend on her parents for an allowance and decided to figure out how to make her own money. She would sell the cookies she baked in her grandmother’s backyard. She also made candles and pot holders and taught her siblings to make them as well. With her ability to do this at such a young age, it’s safe to say her entrepreneurial skills developed relatively early in life. As a child, Rachel was home schooled along with her siblings and she recalls having very little interest in math and assuming she won’t be good at it. Her mother used a curriculum which used a brownie recipe to teach fractions and it wasn’t until that moment Rachel realized math may not be so boring and she might be good at it. Both of Rachel’s parents have engineering backgrounds and several of her siblings were good at math so she often felt left out of the ‘equation’ until her brownie recipe epiphany.
Rachel was homeschooled from the second grade until she went back into public school for high school. I ask her what made her parents homeschool her and her siblings and she explained, “As a kid, I could not sit still for a long time and I would always get into trouble. I was told I was a distraction to the other kids since I was very inquisitive and I was always looking for something else to do.” At some point, she was told she had a speech impediment because she read too fast and she would stutter. She was placed in speech therapy which she found boring because she did not have the issue the other kids were being treated for. To pass time, she would bring in little airplanes her grandfather who was in the Air Force would give her and she would work on that. Again, she became a distraction as all the kids would gather round her desk to see what she was putting together. She would continuously end up at the principal’s office. She said, “The principal’s office became my home and I didn’t like it. It didn’t help that she would always call me Raquel instead of Rachel and it irritated me to no end.” Her memories of the first two years in public school were not great so switching to being homeschooled was a welcome development for her. She attended Homewood Flossmoor for high school and then University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (U of I) for College. Rachel attended a summer business program at U of I after her junior year of high school and this experience made her realize she wanted to become an accountant. During her time at U of I, she would cook and bake she recalls, “The dean would hire me to cook Thanksgiving Dinner for alumni of the business program that I attended who also were attending U of I and they would come to my apartment. I would make a full Thanksgiving dinner from scratch each year.”
While in college, Rachel interned for one of the Big 4 accounting firms with one of my best friends, Kendra Payne Hardy which led to a full-time job post college for both. One summer after they wrapped up the internship for that year, Rachel went to visit one of her best friends at Hampton University for her birthday and it was during this trip she met her husband Jaryd Bernier-Green. Rachel remembers the moment she met him and recalls everything that happened after that, “The day after I met him, he asked me what I thought about long distance relationships and I laughed and I told him those don’t work. He took it in stride and then asked me if I would at least try and I thought, ‘what is wrong with this man?’” Rachel said that the following day, they spent 13 hours together just talking and she realized he was special because she had never done that with anyone. As she describes their relationship, “we have been joined at the hip since then.” Her husband was a business major who did sports management for a while and then moved to corporate training. He has since left his job in corporate America to help Rachel build the business. Rachel credits her husband for having the ability to put her in ‘check.’ She says, “I am someone who wants to take over the world tomorrow and that is very much how I approach everything and he is able to bring me back to reality reminding me that the takeover doesn’t need to be complete by tomorrow.” While her formal training is in accounting, finance and engineering, Rachel switched to the creative side of things and opened ‘Laine’s Bake Shop in 2013 while still working a full-time job.
In July of 2015, she got very sick and had to take a leave of absence. She was working 120 hours a week while running her bakeshop full-time and It took a toll on her body. She had every intention to go back but after a couple of months of getting her health back and running her bakeshop, she realized she didn’t want to go back to corporate accounting. She was not happy being an accountant, and to her, it was very ‘soul sucking’ in many ways. During this time, Rachel was approached by Whole Foods and told that if she met certain requirements, they would carry her treats in their stores. For Rachel, she wanted to be impactful socially and struggled with the possibility of not being able to do it without a non-profit. When she started the process of working on her business full time, she realized she could accomplish her social mission through the business. In November 2015, she quit her job and made the decision to run her bakeshop full-time and she has been doing that ever since. Her whole family has come together to help with the business. Her goal for ‘Laine’s Bake Shop is to ensure they are in neighborhoods they can improve by providing jobs to the community. They are located on the Southside of Chicago and will be opening additional locations soon.
The transition from corporate America to business owner has not been easy for Rachel. I ask her what the biggest challenge has been and she says, “Access to cash. We had an investor who we had about three meetings with and he said he would invest in us. He came with his checkbook and was ready to write a check until he saw where we were located and changed his mind. He asked why we didn’t open stores in Lincoln Park or Hyde Park and we had to explain to him that our store locations are driven by our social mission.” In some cases, they’ve had to walk away from money based on principle. They are often part of competitions where they see businesses that have been open the same amount of time as they have but seem more advanced and upon further research, they realize those companies have more access to capital which does not always come from banks. ‘Laine’s Bake Shop is a capital intensive business and they’ve realized that socioeconomic realities impact their options for raising capital to expand the business. As a business, ‘Laine’s Bake Shops’ Social mission- to become a catalyst for revitalization in urban communities beginning with the Southside of Chicago.
They focus on creating careers for people who have a hard time finding work or have been out of work for a long time either due to incarceration, substance abuse or life changing challenges they found difficult to bounce back from. They make it their duty to source from like minded businesses that are socially conscious and not only out to make a profit. Rachel admits that when she thought about opening a bakeshop, she thought she would be able to maintain her career in corporate and run her business until she could break even but throughout this journey, she has realized that while it is important to have a plan, it is also important to understand that we plan and God laughs. She’s grateful for her best friend Simone Erskine who is always there and ready to help. She recalls a time where they had a limited time to turn their current location around to be able to retail their products, she says, “Simone showed up randomly and saw what was going on and asked if I wanted to go to Ikea. She drove me to Ikea and bought furniture I needed to turn the store into a retail space.”
Laine’s Bakeshop is currently sold at all Whole Foods stores in Illinois except for the West Loop store, and ten select Starbucks locations on the Southside. A wide range of their products can also be purchased at Lakeview Kitchen & Market. An updated list of locations they sell to is always available on their website www.lainesbakeshop.com. They do custom orders / catering for events with a breakfast menu and box lunches. They also have a few different treats they sell daily at the shop.
What’s next for Rachel & Laine’s Bake Shop?
Short term, Rachel wants to move their production space somewhere bigger, hire more people and increase partnership with Starbucks, Whole Foods and Amazon. She would also like to have more local retailers of their products so their customers can have access to more of their treats. Furthermore, she wants to Increase the size of their Bakeshop so customers can come in and enjoy treats with friends. Within the next five years, her goal is to be national with their whole sale partners and build ‘Laine’s Bakeshop into a national but Chicago centric brand like Garrets Popcorn or Giordano’s. They want to always remain a brand focused on doing good and show people that you can run a business and do good within the neighborhood because they are not mutually exclusive. The ten-year plan for ‘Laine’s Bake Shop includes developing their employees to the point they can run their own store and possibly franchise. She believes her and her husband will set up a small business consultancy where they can help small businesses grow in the same way people have helped them to develop.
As we round up our interview I ask Rachel how she maintains everything and she says, “It’s literally by the grace of God. I knew that when I came up with this plan and I wanted to do this business, God was going to make a way for us because this is my purpose. What I didn’t realize is it’s never simple. What he did was introduce me to the right people and the right opportunities. He always provides but not in the way that we expect. People literally show up to our house with groceries and ring our bell and leave. My family has been extremely supportive from my grandma and mother cooking some food and bringing it for us to my aunt writing a check and sending it just when a bill is due or my friends texting to ask if they can bring some food over.” This process has made her realize that God may not always show up when we want him to but he is always on time and He will be there when you need him. She says, “On paper, this does not all make sense but I’ve learned His ways are not our ways.” Her journey during this time has led her to meet the CEOs of Starbucks and Whole Foods and many times, she pinches herself to see if it’s real when they pause to ask her opinion on things. She says, “I suffer from an anxiety disorder and there are times I want to break down and I don’t know what next or I get overwhelmed. I don’t know how we are going to get to that conference or be part of a competition or how I am going to finish something. And each time an order comes through right on time and is exactly how much we need to make everything happen or I get the exact kind of help I need. I get to meet decision makers and a lot of times I have to stop to take it all in.”
I was deeply inspired by Rachel and her journey so far. Her passion for her work, her gratitude to those around her and her genuine need to always pay it forward. The journey may not be easy but it has been worth it and I have a funny feeling she’s just getting started. Her story reflects the importance of staying the course and being consistent. Find your passion, and don’t be afraid to follow through with it. Even if you’re afraid, DO IT ANYWAY!
I hope you enjoyed this rant about Rachel.