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  • Writer's pictureTrish Bentley

Baking All the Way to Freedom

Be Inspired is a column where inspiring women are interviewed and showcased for their ability to go after what they want. The realities of their journey towards success is what is fascinating and inspiring. 

 “We’re here again and loving every minute, of course we are in the best place in the world to have bagels.

Imagine walking into a quaint little bakery and seeing two women behind the counter with bagels over their ears, wearing long white gowns. At Seventh Sister Bakery, this was just another theme-driven day. When they aren’t paying homage to Princess Leia, owners Elisabeth Lang and Penny Stuss are welcoming customers by name. Yes, by name.

It shouldn’t fascinate me so much, but it does. They know family members, job titles and even get postcards from their customers away on vacation. “We miss you 7th Sister”, one of the post card says. This one, along with others, is tacked up to a wall alongside trinkets brought in by loving customers who want to contribute to the décor of a place they feel at home. And at home they feel.

Lang, actually the seventh sister in her family of eleven siblings, didn’t exactly set out to create such a place. When she walked past the ‘business for sale’ sign on Roncesvalles in 2010, she thought of it as a place to grow her catering business. She had been working at Chapters for seven years while baking cakes and goodies on the side, and now, with her husband pushing her along, she thought of something bigger.

I sat down with Elizabeth and Penny (who partnered with Lang in 2011) to ask them the question that led to the idea of Be Inspired: what separates you from the person who wanted to do something but was blocked by fear?  

As it turns out, Lang, in her mid thirties, wasn’t plagued by the fear of financial risk because as she puts it, “I hoped I couldn’t make less than I already was!” What concerned her was leaving a job that she loved. “I really loved working in a bookstore. I was afraid that I would never have that opportunity again to connect with customers and hear their stories.”

Lang learned this fear was to be futile (as all of them are), as she has now become ‘the bartender of the morning’, as one of her customers put it. Looking back, she recalls writing herself a note saying that she would give this venture two years. Two years to build it and if she wasn’t enjoying herself, she’d sell it or build it and then keep on having fun. Thankfully for the people in the hood she is still having fun.

But between baking and chatting with customers there were times when Lang felt lonely. She missed kibitzing during the workday with friends and realized she didn’t have that anymore. Enter Penny, her good friend and neighbor who had just left her job at a high-end women’s lingerie store. Even though, she only planned to work there for a few months to help out, she stayed and decided to partner with Lang.

“My heart, head, and gut said yes to partnering with Penny,” Liz says passionately. And as we all know, timing is everything. Struss realized, after thirteen years of working as a General Manager, she didn’t want to be just an employee anymore. She wanted to invest in something that she could build and nurture. And as it turns out, Stuss’ ambition and creativity was to be the perfect balance for Lang and the bakery.

So, in going back to my original question about what separates the doers from the non-doers, I notice something in Penny and Liz. As Liz speaks in her gentle, sweet voice and Penny flashes a bright smile stretching to her big green eyes, I see two women who simply just went for it. They didn’t think too much, they weren’t plagued by fear. An idea was sparked, and a plan was made. It was as simple as that.

And even though opening a business involves business plans, bank loans, balancing numbers, it’s also about taking a risk in order to be passionate about what you’re doing. People, women specifically, who go out there and make their dreams come true, no matter the trials and drama that they face, spark inspiration. As Lang puts it, “Suddenly you are focused on something that is totally your own.”

This of course brings an immense amount of pressure and stress, but I can’t help but feel the power in this sentiment. I’m sure Lang didn’t think she was going to have such a positive effect on other people’s lives when she sold her first croissant (absolutely delish btw). And I don’t think Stuss knew how much her leadership and creativity was going to enhance a business that she had originally just been ‘helping out’ with.

This is the beauty of taking risks. What starts out as a business plan and sleepless nights wondering if success will be a reality, becomes something much bigger: a contribution. Your creation isn’t totally your own at all. In 7th Sister’s case, addressing patrons by their first name and connecting with them the way these ladies do has created a community. And in a time when we all have our heads down and thumbs drumming, this couldn’t be more important and inspiring.

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