The pandemic has caused many people to do a lot of soul-searching, leading some to make life-altering decisions. A biochemist from Seattle quit her lab job to follow her passion for baking.
An industrial-sized mixer makes noise as it whips up chickpea water that will turn into meringue. Once puffed, it will stand on the citrus pies waiting on the counter.
While the meringue whips, Lara de la Rosa packs the cookies, conchas and other treats. She recently opened lazy cow bakery in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, offering vegan baked goods. She and fellow baker Phoebe Katz have been working in a rented commercial kitchen since early morning.
“I get all these cuts and burns,” de la Rosa said, with a laugh. “So I become a real chef.”
De la Rosa is 23 years old and has no professional baking experience. She worked in a lab at the University of Washington and earned a regular salary. When the pandemic hit, his lab hours were drastically reduced. The downtime made her realize that she no longer wanted to continue doing this job. Protests for racial justice and political upheaval in 2020 have also caused her to question the purpose of her life.
“I wanted to do something more in tune with activism,” she explained. “There’s activism you can do in biochemistry, but I really wasn’t interested in that. I kind of wanted to work more directly with the community.
De la Rosa has always enjoyed cooking. She’s also been a vegan since she was a teenager and has noticed a big void when it comes to plant-based sweets and pastries. So she started cooking and posted her creations on Instagram. Orders started coming in.
What started as a hobby has become a vehicle for social justice, she said. In addition to Lazy Cow, de la Rosa started a self-help organization called Casa del Xolo, which focused on the needs of the Latino community. The goal is to provide resources to people through a more direct donation system than traditional charities.
“Charity is often given by a more privileged group to a less privileged group. Whereas mutual aid is people who are often part of the same community that they are helping,” de la Rosa said.
For now, there is a community fridge and food pantry inside Lazy Cow, funded with proceeds from the bakery. Others have also started donating non-perishable foods for the pantry.
Lazy Cow is one of a growing number of small businesses trying to do good while selling services and things.
Laura Clise is CEO of intentionalist, an online guide that helps consumers who want to support businesses that match their values. She said many small businesses have always supported their local communities, even if they weren’t founded as a social enterprise. But there has been a change in attitudes and expectations.
“I think increasingly we live in a world where the younger generations, in particular, are acutely aware of our shortcomings and want to address them,” Clise said.
And it’s not just small businesses. Clise said consumers value local shopping and have supported immigrant or women-owned businesses for decades. But in recent years they have become more aware of or want to know the stories behind their local businesses. And the numbers back it up.
“If we look at the Saturday 2021 numbers from small businesses, consumers spent $23.3 billion in a single day, which is an 18% increase over the amount spent in 2020,” Clise said.
Clise noted that more and more people are also using the intentionalist’s website, another indication of their desire to be more deliberate about their spending.
“The reality is that the decisions we make about where we spend our money and what we buy shape the world around us.”
Clise said it was easy to take that connection for granted. But over the past two years, we have learned and seen what happens when store windows in our communities go dark.
At Lazy Cow Bakery, de la Rosa unboxes boxes of pastries and desserts. She is assembling a sample plate that will go in the pastry case. She starts a coffee maker and tidies up the counter before the bakery opens.
Behind her, a curtain covers the kitchen still under construction. There’s so much to watch out for that she doesn’t have time to dwell on the anxieties of starting a small business.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t even think it will fail. I don’t even entertain the idea in my mind. Because I really don’t have an alternative to that.”
What’s been difficult about opening a business, de la Rosa said, is that it takes up most of your thoughts.
“I spoke to other business owners,” de la Rosa said. “I say to myself, I cook in my dreams! I can’t turn off my brain and I don’t know what to do about it!
De la Rosa Sera at the bakery until it closes for the day. Then she will return to the commercial kitchen for the night shift and cook.