Although I try not to gear this blog towards "me", I have felt a calling to share with you the OTHERSIDE of my life in hopes you will find encouragement, inspiration or maybe some comfort through hard times.  This is a story about when the second and best part of my life began...when I met my husband. This is about how we met and how we have taken a road less traveled into the baking business. I wrote our story for the business (mainly for our children and future grandchildren to read someday) and thought it would be something fun to post on the Archangel Reflections to show how all of our lives are geared towards building the faith. All of the peaks and valleys truly help shape and mold us into who God is calling us to be. I wrote the story geared more towards customers, so it is not as "spiritual" as my writings for this blog. I am sure some of you will find part of your life in this story and others who are thinking of starting their own business might be completely scared away from doing so! This story is the OTHESIDE of how my faith has grown. Not only through motherhood but all of the hard times of starting our own business as well.
People always ask how in the world did we get into the baking business. It’s long and complicated and I always hate to bore people if they really don’t care; therefore, people can now read our story at their own discretion. I am also writing our story for you to look at the Village Baking Co. bread sitting on your table or on your kitchen counter top a little differently. For one, bread is a beautiful and romantic food that has been nurturing people physically and spiritually for thousands of years. We feel honored to carry on this ancient tradition in such a modern, instant, and processed world. For each pour of water, pinch of salt, cup of sugar, and measured yeast, you will find a developed product full of history, passion and integrity. Little did you know that every step of our journey thus far had you in mind. On this journey of the road less traveled each stop sign, road block, flashing light along with our sweat, tears and fear, you were in the back of our minds. We wanted to share our passion and love for bread with others. So with this story, you will come to know all that has taken place to bring our loaves of bread into your home. So pull up a chair, a crusty baguette, a glass of wine and enjoy reading about a divine intervention, falling in love, chasing dreams, being flat broke, laughing at mistakes, and just being plain crazy.

I grew up on a century old farm and ranch in the Panhandle of Texas. I lived out on the golden Texas plains where I worked cattle on horseback, showed pigs in 4H, drove a tractor in my bikini top and shucked corn during harvest. Little did I know that five hundred miles away was my future husband, Clint Cooper. Clint grew up in Colleyville, TX, which is in the heart Dallas Fort Worth. This was before Colleyville was considered the “burbs”. It was a small town where Clint road his bike everywhere, fished in his backyard pond, played baseball in the pasture and went duck hunting just a mile away from his house. A good old boy and a country girl Texas Tech bound in the fall of 1995. Both having deep roots of a loving family who taught us the basic necessities of life….good morals, a strong work ethic, & most importantly perseverance in all things.

Our story began on a cold Thursday night, January 22, 1999 in Lubbock, Texas. We were both in our senior year at Texas Tech. My friends and I were at our regular Thursday night hangout, Conference Café. We were sipping on $1 schooners of beer (oh, those were the days) and chatting about Christmas break when I glanced at the front door. In walked this dark-haired dream with old worn wranglers, a button-down plaid polo shirt, dirty boots, a scuffed leather belt, and a dirty white cap. To make a long story short, after staring a hole through him, the waitress brought me a beer. I told her I didn’t order it and she went onto say, the guy in the white cap did. He later pulled up a chair and the love story began. He was a dream come true…..a good-old boy who loved to hunt, drove a dirty pick up truck with his chocolate lab by his side, good looking, and a complete gentleman. Funny what us country girls like in a man. If you were to ever tell me that night that he would be a baker some day and I would become a baker’s wife, I would have laughed in your face! Oh, how life is so unpredictable!

After falling in love and graduating in August 1999, Clint landed his first job at Dell Computers with his new business degree. I, on the other hand, took an internship in NYC with an interior designer. We parted our ways but kept the romance alive through letters and email. I was offered a job with Victoria Hagan Interiors but found myself yearning to get back to Texas as I sang Merle Haggard while walking down Madison Avenue. Clint welcomed me home at the Austin airport with a six-pack of Shiner bock and lots of kisses along with a few tears. Hunter, the dog, was happy too. I worked in Austin for a while and Clint thought life in the real world was pretty easy with his six- figured job just months after graduating. We took in every aspect of living in the Hill country. On Saturday mornings we would get us a cup of CC’s coffee and head to lake Austin where Clint, Hunter and I would have coffee in the kayak as we floated down the river. Almost every Saturday night we were at a different dance hall. Dressed in our boots and jeans, we ate BBQ, drank beer and danced the night away to old fashion country music. On Sunday mornings after Mass at St. Mary’s, we would change into our fishing gear and head to Llano, TX, just an hour outside of Austin. There we would fly fish, picnic and read books on the bank of the Llano River. After a relaxing afternoon, we would head into town at sunset and eat at our favorite place, Cooper’s BBQ. We basked in the glow of falling even more in love those several months in Austin.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (in real life)
One April evening as I got home to my apartment after work, I found a yellow rose and two envelopes sitting on the table. I opened the one that said “open me first” and the note read, “Meet me at the top of the Empire State Building at sunset tomorrow night”. The other envelope had a plane ticket and a letter confessing his deep love for me. So I boarded the plane at 6:30 the next morning and was off to NYC! Clint hates it when I tell this story but I will continue…. A limo picked me up and drove me to the Waldorf Astoria. As I arrived in the room, there were was a beautiful golden wheat, floor length, silk dress for me to wear to meet him. The dress fit like a glove! I ran downstairs with my heart racing and my hands shaking. I hailed a cab and finally arrived at the Empire State building after fighting rush-hour traffic. When I reached the top floor, there he was with the most worried look on his face. He embraced me and told me he didn’t think I was coming. He wasted no time and got on one knee and asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes and we wined and dined at my favorite restaurant, Kelly & Pings. We ended the weekend with a game at Yankee Stadium and beautiful dreams of our future together.

A year later to the day, we got married in the church that my Great Grandparents built. It was a small, intimate wedding. After the wedding, we jumped into a 1940’s Packard, which drove us to the ranch. Our one hundred guests dined under a white tent that overlooked the pasture, a red wooden windmill and Hackberry Creek. As the sun set behind the vast plains, we toasted with champagne and feasted on delicious food from the land (beef of course) paired with bold red wine from a vineyard in California. After dinner, the entire Hansford County arrived for the big dance in my Daddy’s red barn. The chuck wagon served homemade peach cobbler and the keg beer was nice and cold. After dancing till our legs were wobbly, Clint and I dashed through the red painted corrals as everyone threw wheat and hollered well wishes. As we waved back through the little window of the 1940’s Packard, we were the happiest we had ever been. Especially since we were leaving for Paris the next day! We honeymooned in France for one week. We took a car to the burgundy region and stayed in a 15th century chateau out in the middle of nowhere. One of my favorite memories of the trip was stopping at a tiny village on our way to Lyon. We were so hungry and luckily found a little bakery in the heart of this beautiful village. No one spoke a lick of English and we didn’t know what we were ordering; however, it was the best sandwich and glass of wine we had ever had! The sandwich was so simple made of a baguette spread with butter and topped with ham & cheese. The drive through the countryside was blissfully romantic as we sipped on wine, held hands, and breathed in the fresh country air. After relaxing and enjoying the countryside at Chateau de Messey (www.chateaudemessey.com highly recommend it!) we took a train into Paris and stayed the remaining of our time eating, drinking, and eating some more. We loved the quaint little bakeries the most and had no idea that just four years from then Clint would be an artisan baker and we would have our own bakery.

The moment we returned from our honeymoon and moved into our cute little duplex in the heart of Austin, our destiny took a turn for the worst financially. Clint arrived back at Dell computers to news cameras everywhere and lay-offs left and right. Clint thankfully wasn’t layed off but he took a dramatic pay cut. This is when the mid-twenties soul-searching began. Doesn’t most everyone experience that? Not knowing what Clint truly wanted to do with his life, we began praying, journaling, and wondering what God had planned for us. I knew very early in our marriage that I wanted a husband who enjoyed his profession. Seeing Clint come home beat down and not happy with his work was anything but what I wanted for Clint. I started to encourage him to do his passion, which was cooking. From the first meal Clint cooked for me when we first started dating, I knew he had a natural God-given talent in the kitchen. He made anything taste amazing….from a simple sandwich to making his own pasta, he just had “it” when it came to cooking. He applied to culinary school and was accepted but we later realized after discerning and discussing that we didn’t want the lifestyle of a chef. We knew we wanted a family, and frankly, Clint is not a night-owl. He likes to be in bed and asleep by 9:00. A consulting job came up in Amarillo, Texas. We both wanted to eventually move back to the Panhandle to be close to the ranch and our family, but we didn’t think it would be this soon in our marriage. With no other option, Clint took the job and we packed our Uhaul and headed north. We moved in August 2001 and just a few months after starting his new job, 9/11 happened and his job started spiraling down hill. So here we were in Amarillo, Texas of all places (not the most happening place when it comes to job searching), a mortgage on our first home and a very grim future. Things got so bad financially that we were scraping to pay our mortgage. NO ONE was hiring and Clint was beating on every door for a job. He finally found a job at Pride Home Center on the other side of the tracks, making 6.50 an hour. I was working at an upscale linen store making $12 an hour. We were barely making it when he landed an interview with an aquaintance who was a Stock Broker. He and is wife owned a quaint little French bakery café a few doors down from where I worked. The morning of the interview, I had a really good feeling about this job possibility. I left a good luck note on the hanger of his suite an anxiously awaited his phone call to tell me about it. As I heard his voice, I asked, “how did the interview go?” He replied, “It went okay.” I immediately asked, “did you get the job?” Clint said, “No, but he asked if I wanted to buy his bakery?” I took a deep breath and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How ridiculous. Buy their bakery? Are you kidding? Clint went onto tell me that he wasn’t interested in buying it at all but he felt like he should meet with him and just look at the numbers. After talking to the owners about the baking business and seeing the optimistic numbers of owning a bakery, Clint and I decided to pursue the business. The bakery hired Clint for 6.25 an hour to start learning the business to see if it is something he wanted to possibly buy. After several months of negotiating and hoping it would work out, we couldn’t settle on a price and had to move on. We were devastated. We wanted to buy their bakery so terribly bad and Clint had fallen in love with bread baking. Back to square one, Clint and I realized that we were not going to get very far in such a small town with limited opportunity; therefore, we sold our home and Clint got a job in Dallas. With the u-haul packed and our hearts broke, we headed south to Dallas Fort Worth.

Part Three:
After the hard times in Amarillo, we decided to treat ourselves to an upscale loft in the heart of the Dallas scene. We nurtured our marriage and had fun cooking gourmet meals and drinking good wine at night. I was working for an interior design firm and Clint was plunging through learning the mortgage business. Not by choice, by neccessity. After several months, the mortgage business started taking a downward turn. “Again”? I would ask myself? “His job is not working out, again?” As I was becoming a little bitter that my husband was not happy (again) with his job, I found Clint watching out the window one morning. He said, “look how cool that is..”. It was an Empire Baking Co. (who now is our competition) delivery truck unloading fresh bread to a café. I thought to myself “don’t you even think about it…”. A week or two later, he was on his way home in bumper to bumper traffic and called me and told me he can’t quit thinking about opening up a bakery. I was hesitant at first but then started praying for God’s will. Several weeks went by and I was on my way to install drapery and Clint was having troubles with his boss and it just hit me like a ton of bricks! What do we have to lose? I called Clint and said, “pack up your desk…we are opening up a bakery!”. He said, “seriously?” And that was all I had to say. Two months later, he was at the San Francisco Baking Institute and we were scheduled to open our very own bakery after his return. We had no idea what we were getting into. The saying holds true that ignorance is bliss. We had four things on our side. A dream, passion, hard work ethic, and strong faith.

We designed the bakery of our dreams and worked hard day and night finishing out the space, laying the hard wood floors board by board and staining the floors on our hands and knees. A 1940’s style bakery with butter yellow walls, warm wood floors, a carerra marble counter with fresh pastries displayed on crisp white platters. Black and white photos of our family from the 40’s adorned the walls along with schoolhouse pendants giving a light glow from the ceilings. Old framed menu chalkboards hung above the countertops with a list of all of our made from scratch baked goods. The smells of fresh bread bellowed out into the dining area from the tiny hot kitchen. Frank Sinatra played as people sipped on their cappuccino and bit into their flaky croissants. The morning we opened our doors in March 2004, Clint had been up all night cooking and baking. We didn’t think we were ready to open but Clint’s dad said we would never be ready and we just had to do it. About an hour before we opened, I found Clint in the bathroom sobbing. He was scared to death. He looked up at me with tears streaming down his face and said, “what if we don’t make it?” I embraced him and told him he was already a huge success by having so much courage opening his own business to share his passion with others. I will never forget that morning as long as I live. This was the beginning of the seesaw of lifting one up while the other one was down through hard and grueling times ahead.

Weeks went by and we couldn’t keep the counters full of fresh baked goods. Long lines spilling out our doors for lunch made us excited and nervous at the same time. We were only a three-man show; Clint in the kitchen and me and one employee up front. How would we ever keep up was the burning question in our hearts. Clint was getting no sleep and we were both exhausted, working 16-20 hours a day. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment where we were only there for a few hours to eat a large pizza in bed and fall asleep watching the Food Network. I remember, as Clint would get out of bed at 1 am to go start breads, my body would ache and my mind was full of worry. How in the world could he keep going?

Every morning in five short hours in the bakery kitchen, Clint would produce, all by himself the entire amount of product we would sell that day. From an assortment of artisan breads such as sourdough, baguettes, multigrain bread, batards, ciabatta, jalapeño cheddar to a variety of croissants done the right way…pain au chocolate &  pain au jambon. These were complicated procedures of mixing, proofing and baking off just right. Fresh cranberry scones, bran and blueberry muffins, cinnamon rolls, granola, three different kinds of quiches would also be made from scratch at the same time. While this was all going on, Clint would have a large pot of chicken stock boiling for a homemade soup of the day. He skimped on no ingredients or procedures and that is why people couldn’t get enough of our product.

Many mornings I would be tying on my apron, walking into the back kitchen while the sun was coming up. I had already drank my coffee and said my fervant prayers, begging the Lord to get us through another day. I will never forget one morning when I smelled the strongest scent of my Grandma Fanny's kitchen as I was walking in. It brought me to tears and I knew at that moment she was with us, helping us get through the dog days of starting a business. For she knew hard times of being a farmer's wife in the dust bowl days. She worked endless hours on the farm and she was my strength many many mornings through the smell of her tiny farm kitchen. I would lift my teary eyes to the sunrise and say, "thank you, Grandma Fanny. I love you."

I felt my ancestors so strong through those tough times. I would sweep the bakery floors exhausted at night while I listened to old music that reminded me of the farm. I would stare at the 1940's pictures of my family and would get an overwhelming feeling of peace. For I knew they were with us, praying for us, and so very proud of us. I found such courage and strength through those photos, for I was reminded of the hard times they endured on the Texas Plains. I felt so blessed I had such strong and deep family roots. I realized what a gift that was and could only pray someday my grandchildren and great grandchildren would find strength and courage through mine and Clint's legacy of what we hope to leave behind. I also have a soft heart for the pregant women who have to work on their feet. I sometimes cry when I see a pregnant woman tired and working. I know exactly how she feels. I worked every day until I was nine months pregnant. Twelve hours on my feet was brutal. I will never forget falling into bed at 3 months pregnant so tired I cried my eyes out. In the afternoons when I was further along, I would sit on a chair and sweep because I just couldn't stand anymore. I would be bent over the kitchen sink washing stacks of dishes and praying that my baby was okay. I have such an apreciation of what the women of the past did...they cared for their families, grew babies in their wombs all while working hard day in and day out. They didn't have a choice, just like I didn't have a choice...you do what you have to do, period. This is the exact reason why the women before us were so much tougher and stronger...I saw this in my Great Aunt Clementine when she was dying. That woman was tough because of what she had to endure growing up in the Great depression. Nothing was easy for her.

We ran into several hurdles each and every day because of starting our business on a dime. We would be so tired and bogged down that we wouldn’t get our inventory list correct and would run out of product right in the middle of the lunch hour. As Clint would have more bread in the oven, we would have a line out the door and he would be dashing to the store to grab more chips and tomatoes. Then he would get back in a hurry and almost a heart attack and our sweet little 18-year-old employee would giggle and tell Clint we were out of ice. That might be one of the worst feelings….people standing there waiting for their drinks when you realize there are no more bags of ice in the freezer. This went on for two years. Somehow we were making money & every time we turned around there was another article written about our business. Things were going well but we were tired and getting a little burned out. We had NO time off…ever. Even on Sunday mornings we would nod off in church as we knew that might be our only tiny nap before we had to go directly to the bakery kitchen to take inventory, clean, and go to the store to get groceries for the week. In the meantime of all of the chaos, Clint had started a wholesale business out the back door of our bakery. Restaurants and delis had come to us needing good bread and we couldn’t afford to pass up the business so that is how our wholesale business was born. On a hot summer day in July, I was riding around with Clint in our white Ford Explorer that had 180,000 miles on it delivering bread to restaurants and hotels in Dallas. I was due any day with our firstborn. I started going into labor while delivering bread and the next morning our son was born! Back at the bakery our sweet employees came up with Ben’s BLT sandwich that was later one of our best selling items on the menu!
As the chaos of our lives continued, we needed more room with our growing family; therefore, we bought a home and renovated it. Clint would get home from the bakery and lay hard wood floors & crown molding as well as paint. We were doing only what we knew we had to do….survive. Balancing a baby and the bakery was extremely hard but we somehow plunged through and didn’t know any different. There is so much wisdom to be learned from the ways of the past. I came to know the reason why people use to live above their business. You live, eat, sleep, breathe a small business (especially a bakery). I still ran the front of the café with Ben in the back kitchen half the time and the other half he was passed around from customer to customer. One morning, I served 45 customers with Ben in a Baby Bjorn. No wonder I thought motherhood was not what it was cracked up to be! Everything I knew, was the absolute hardest way. Through these hard times, our faith and our marriage became rock solid.....as Clint described it, "our roots were growing deep into the ground. And although our tree was new and small, it would be big and strong someday because of the deep roots that were presently growing through a cold and windy storm".

Here is the final four part of our story.....the other side of how God has strengthened my faith.
As days and weeks went on, the wholesale business continued to grow out our back door. Sales were easy, but keeping up with production in our tiny kitchen was tough. Hiring and training employees was exhausting. On top of that, Clint was baking, taking care of books, increasing sales and delivering bread. You name it, he did it all the while keeping up with production of the café. I will never forget one night our head baker that had been with us for 2 years didn’t show up for work. Clint then went on to work 72 hours straight. I knew at that point something had to change….Clint couldn’t keep going on anymore. The balance of the café and wholesale was taking a toll on Clint, our family and our business. The breaking point was when he was asleep on top of flour sacks one morning in the bakery kitchen. I knew at that moment we had to shut our retail doors. In June 2006, with heavy yet peaceful hearts, we closed our café doors. Clint moved excitingly forward with growing the wholesale business. Pregnant with our second baby, I was content to be at home with children and not have the stress of a retail café.

Growing the wholesale the past four years continues to be hard. There were times we thought we needed to close shop and move on. Everyone else getting paid but us continues to wear on us but we have gotten use to it. We have learned to be content in putting money back into the bakery and helping it grow. We have also learned that everything will work out, even when we haven’t received checks from our customers and we have no money to pay our employees. Somehow, someway, the check rolls in just in time and we take a deep breath and keep going. Keeping employees happy, keeping accounts receivable and payable balanced has been a struggle along with Clint continuing to work long hours. But we are hopeful that our business will continue to grow and succeed. The path has been and continues to be more difficult than we could have ever imagined. But we wouldn’t trade what we have learned and been through together for the world. We now have three healthy children (and another on the way) who love to go see daddy at the bakery and get their hands on some dough. We take such joy in knowing everyday that thousands of people are eating our bread. That alone makes it all worth it along with knowing that no matter what happens, we have taken that road less traveled. Is it an easy road? NO! But is it a road full of memories, wisdom, growth, love and lots of tears and laughter? YES! And if we had to do it all over again, well at this point, probably not! We hope to continue to grow the business and touch people’s lives with what our children say is…”goooood bread!”

I like to say that we our pioneers of the 21st century. Clint comes from a long line of French family who settled in Louisiana & Arkansas. They loved to cook and hunt and this is our only explanation for Clint’s talents….it is strictly in his blood. He was given a wonderful legacy of good food from Louisiana ancestors and great duck hunting from his French ties in Arkansas.
I never knew my great grandparents who settled on the Texas Plains in 1904 and who gave me a wonderful legacy; however, I have come to know them ithrough my faith and through our struggles of being entrepreneurs. Although the times are different now and not near as hard, Clint and I can relate to Granddad and Granny Venneman through the hard times of stepping out in faith and going for our dreams, just as they did over 100 years ago. They drove horses and a wagon with their baby girl across the Midwest to Texas. Granddad built a two-room house on the rugged plains for his family, where Granny made their clothes from the flour sacks she used for baking bread. She churned butter on horseback on her way to the mailbox, which was 10 miles away. They faced the dust bowl, where most people packed up and moved away because it was so horrific, but they persevered. Because they went for their dreams and didn’t give up, my family enjoys and holds dear to our hearts an amazing Texas legacy as well as a nice way of living on the 100 year old working cattle ranch. This is our hope for our little family. To give them something that is being lost in today’s times…..roots and a strong foundation. Hopefully our grandkids and great grandkids will look back at our hard times, struggles and perseverance and find inspiration and hope. This is the best gift we can give our children. Little did you know this all ties into baking bread for you.
Thanks for letting us share our story thus far. As the years go on, I will keep on writing……about a divine intervention, falling in love, chasing dreams, being flat broke, laughing at mistakes, and just being plain crazy.