Bella’s Italian Bakery
9119 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR 97266
- How did you become interested in your field of work?
- I began working in restaurants at the age of 16. Previous to that, I always enjoyed cooking and baking at home, and felt confident that I would like to pursue a career in the restaurant industry. After high school I attended culinary school and then worked in a variety of restaurants and bakeries in many different areas of the country, gaining valuable experience, before opening my own business.
When did you start your business?
- I started this business in 2015, first at the Lents Farmers Market. The market offered me an opportunity to start my business with much lower overhead costs than a brick and mortar bakery. I was able to develop recipes, do market research, track food cost, and set up efficient systems with a much smaller financial commitment. After 3 years of summer markets, I was ready to look for a space to lease and the bakery as it is today opened in October 2018.
What sacrifices have you had to make along the way?
- There is no way to sugar coat the challenges, both physical and mental, of building and operating a business – especially a restaurant or bakery. Slim margins and a large labor requirement mean I’m on my feet for 12 or more hours per day. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of personal time – weekends and holidays are the busiest days for me, so no family parties or holiday parties, and I often have to miss out on my son’s soccer games. For those who work in the restaurant industry, financial sacrifices are a given – this isn’t a high paying job, no matter which role you play – but wealth isn’t always measured in dollars and for those of us who truly enjoy it the work is often its own reward.
How has the pandemic affected you and your business?
- The pandemic has added layers of stress that I didn’t previously know existed. But, it has also forced me to examine myself and my business through a different and more critical lens. We’ve made changes and adaptations that, I believe, will improve the business and the lives of my employees, myself, and my family beyond the pandemic.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
- Taking care of people, absolutely, I would have always loved cooking and baking, but doing it professionally goes beyond the work in the kitchen and extends to taking care of people. From my employees to my customers, caring for people brings the most joy – whether that’s a warm pastry and a cup of coffee, lending an ear and being a good listener, or helping people achieve their personal and professional goals.
What has been your greatest challenge as a small business owner?
- My greatest challenge is also my greatest joy: taking care of people. Managing employees and providing great customer service is definitely the most difficult part of my job. People are all different; there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to any situation. And just like everyone else, I’m human and make mistakes. Sometimes I say or do the wrong thing – but it feels much worse to mess up with another person than it does to burn a few loaves of bread.
What do you like about your community?
- I love our community. Our customers are, truly, some of the kindest and most thoughtful people I’ve had the privilege of serving over my 25 year career. There is a real sense of resilience and caring within Lents, a love of and respect for family, and a passion to make improvements that are not superficial but rather strengthen the community on a deep level.
What changes would you like to see in your community?
- I would love to see Lents gain the resources to make real and lasting improvements, job opportunities, affordable housing, clean and safe streets that are walkable/bikeable, access to healthy food, and school enrichment. There are a lot of local organizations that I feel are making great positive changes here – Green Lents, ROSE community development, Portland Youth Builders, and Zenger Farm just to name a few. As a local business owner, I’m always looking for opportunities to support that work.
A message you’d like to share with teenagers (to share with other program participants)
- “Small steps can make a big difference”
A message you’d like to share to people in the Lents neighborhood
- “We can meet every challenge with grace, dignity, and compassion for ourselves and for others”