I grew up in the Bronx, a tough neighbourhood. I never let it change me, though. I still knew when to be tough and when to be human. I was determined to make something out of myself, so I became a naturalised US citizen at 23, four years after graduating with a degree in accounting and law. I grew up in a troubled household, but I never felt suicidal because I knew I had a future ahead of me.
My parents were loving and supportive, but they also had their off days, too. It was a mess. My mother’s dad was abusive and her mother wanted nothing to do with her; they lived in squalor and poverty. I saw it all: my brother growing up in a constant state of drugs and unemployment, my mum getting sick and poorly – she once froze to death in our back room in the winter because she couldn’t afford to heat the house. My dad broke my mother’s nose, as well as the mirror in the living room. He didn’t understand how to do things, which is why he left. At least he was there to crack some jokes.
Part of me didn’t want to take care of anyone else because it would be draining. I always enjoyed the attention my parents gave me, and I thrived on attention, but there was one part of me that was scared and worried that others would judge me. Even now, when I tell people that I wanted to open a bakery, sometimes they say, “Oh, please, just keep it a secret from your parents.” There’s only one and only one way I can do that: be honest. It wasn’t always easy to be that honest, but I didn’t care. I put my career before everything else. The consequences of doing what I wanted to do, the responsibility, would be one I’d have gladly taken.
Once I graduated, I worked for a big Wall Street firm, and it took me five years to climb the corporate ladder. I applied for every single jobs that were available, but they still weren’t interested. They didn’t even want to know about me, because they didn’t even see me as “our people”. I started looking for a new career path – different and exciting, that would serve to better me and them.
As a middle-class kid, I didn’t have to worry about money. Now, with my earnings, I can pay all my tuition. I’m also paying my mortgage. All this was a great privilege, but it also provided a strong source of motivation. The culture of my neighbourhood wasn’t as helpful as it could have been, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I have my own family now.
I don’t have a religious background, but I make challah bread (very Jewish) for my kids and give them a big diapered pillow to sleep on so they have a peaceful place to fall asleep. If I’m celebrating a special occasion, I like to use meat on challah so it tastes yummy.
Most people approach a bakery the same way they approach a bank or a store: I get people like an accountant and a lawyer, who want a coffee and a croissant or a muffin. They see the brochure or come into the shop and say, “I want to try this.” It’s only in the past year that I’ve been introduced to people from just about every walk of life. I’ve done lots of book signings, I do interviews with media outlets, and I meet so many different people who keep asking me about my day and how life has changed for me. Then I hope that they ask me the same question of themselves: “Have you never experienced the feeling of, ‘Wow, I could do something amazing with your life’?”
Big break: Bailey is author of Funky Cinnamon Roll with a Heart of Cornbread
Bailey is founder of Newman’s Own bakery. She lives in New York
What I ate for breakfast
A croissant made with a light butter and cinnamon topping.
My guilty pleasure
Minty Welsh brown ale
How I get out of bed in the morning
Some sort of coffee. I feel so alive when I wake up.
My weekend routine
I eat pancakes in the morning, so it’s no surprise that Sunday night is obviously going to be breakfast time.