The Pastry Project: Meet the Women Breaking Down Barriers to Becoming a Pastry Chef in Seattle

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There are undoubtedly obstacles to some people breaking into industries ranging from media to food, business, and beyond. Emily Kim and Heather Hodge, who met while working together at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle, quickly recognized this while trying to hire ice cream makers and wanted to actually do something about it. What they came up with was The Pastry Project, an organization based in Seattle that teaches those with obstacles to employment in the pastry industry not only the pastry techniques needed to land the jobs they want, but also the soft skills needed to succeed in any professional setting.

We connected with Emily and Heather to learn more about how The Pastry Project came to be, what it was like to build something from scratch, how to get funding, and the biggest lessons they’ve learned so far.

 

Names: Emily Kim, Cofounder + Community Impact Director and Heather Hodge, Cofounder + Culinary Director
Ages: 34 and 30
Location: Seattle, WA
Education: Emily: B.A. Journalism and Political Science, University of Washington; J.D. Seattle University School of Law, LL.M. George Washington Law School
Heather: AOS Baking and Pastry, Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park

 

 How did the idea for The Pastry Project come about? Why was it so important to you to start something like this? 

 

The Pastry Project was born out of seeing a need in the community that wasn’t being met. We saw through our jobs at Molly Moon’s that it was really hard to be able to offer our ice cream maker jobs to individuals with barriers to employment. We worked with nonprofits to make our scooper jobs accessible to applicants with minimal experience, but to work in a fast-paced kitchen making ice cream, you needed more specialized training. No programs in Seattle offered this kind of free pastry training to people with barriers to opportunity, so we created our own program to offer training and job placement assistance for free.

We also felt that Seattle was missing an educational pastry workshop space for the community. We decided to build a kitchen not just for training, but to host pastry workshops for the public—which will in turn help fund our free training program.

 

No programs in Seattle offered this kind of free pastry training to people with barriers to opportunity, so we created our own program to offer training and job placement assistance for free.

 

 

 How long did it take to go from the idea to actually welcoming your first cohort and getting the program off the ground? 

 

It took us a little over a year, from when we first decided to build this program and social enterprise to welcoming our first cohort into the kitchen. We spent the year writing curriculum, finding a kitchen space, applying for grants, building our hiring partnerships and working with nonprofits to recruit candidates who would most benefit from our program.

 

 You both work at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle. How do your roles there (and roles previously) influence your work at The Pastry Project? 

 

We each hold similar positions at Molly Moon’s to our roles at The Pastry Project, so it was an easy transition to fulfill our roles within this new venture. Emily is the Social Impact and Community Relations Director (previously the Marketing Director) and Heather is the Head Chef and Manager of Culinary Operations. At The Pastry Project, Emily works on our partnerships, community engagement, and marketing, and Heather creates the curriculum, teaches students, and develops our pastries. Previously, Emily worked at Seattle City Council where she built relationships with nonprofits and worked on public policy. Heather has worked in pretty much every facet of the food industry, from front of house to catering to being a private chef, which has been so helpful in opening a culinary-focused company. Our previous roles have given us the perfect background and partnership to build a social-impact-focused pastry company.

 

 

 How did your team at Molly Moon’s react to your new plans? Did you have help from any of them (or anyone else)? 

 

Our team at Molly Moon’s has been so supportive. When we sat down to tell Molly, she immediately wanted Molly Moon’s to be a hiring partner—and wanted to hold ice cream maker positions for our graduates each year. Our Finance Director and HR Coordinator are a part of our advisory board at The Pastry Project and have been so helpful in advising us this year.

 

 How did you decide what to include in the curriculum? Was there anything that you wanted to include, but couldn’t, or anything that you’d like to include in the future? 

 

We knew that we needed to teach students the in-demand skills that would make them competitive candidates in the industry. We looked at our hiring partners and the skills used in their businesses. We started with how to organize their station and basic methods, like the creaming method to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and entry-level lamination in the form of biscuits and pastry crust. Students worked up to more advanced skills, like how to layer and frost a cake and how to make choux batter for cream puffs and eclairs. There is so much more we want to teach, and hope to have a longer curriculum for our next cohort. We’d love to include pastries that are multi-day processes, like croissants, and even more time to focus on soft skills.

 

Our team at Molly Moon’s has been so supportive. When we sat down to tell Molly, she immediately wanted Molly Moon’s to be a hiring partner—and wanted to hold ice cream maker positions for our graduates each year.

 

 

 What has it been like to build out a permanent space from scratch that can house the program moving forward? 

 

It has been hard, but really fun! We knew we wanted our kitchen space to be in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle for a number of reasons. Not only is it a beautiful, historic neighborhood with amazing restaurants, but it’s on a ton of public transit lines so that our students can easily commute. It is also in the heart of the city close to a lot of nonprofits and local government.

We are in the beginning stages of building out our own training and workshop kitchen. We’re working with an architect right now to configure the space and solidify the budget. We want it to be beautiful and also functional. We’ll teach our students there, host workshops and events, and also invite baking residents to rent and share the kitchen. It’s going to be a mix of home and commercial space because we will likely do some catering, and we’ll also have a walk up window for the community to try our treats! We knew what kind of a space we wanted, and it took some time to find the right place, but we’re super happy with the location.

 

 

 How did you go about getting funding for this project? Do you have any advice for anyone who needs to get funding for something? 

 

Because our company is a Social Purpose Corporation and its focus is social impact and providing free training and job placement assistance to individuals with barriers, we were able to get grant funding to help us start. Our first grant was a neighborhood grant from the Alliance for Pioneer Square. We received $12,000 from their Inspiration Fund to run our first cohort. This helped cover the cost of equipment, ingredients, curriculum materials, and student uniforms. We were also lucky enough to have really great partnerships, and The London Plane let us borrow their kitchen for free every Saturday for three months to teach our students.

Our second grant, from a different neighborhood organization, gave us funding to help with the build out of our first permanent space. We worked every day for a month on the application and did an oral presentation as well, and we received the amount that we asked for—which was over $100,000!

In order to apply for this grant, we needed a fiscal sponsor, since we are not a nonprofit. This was a bit of a process, but we found one, and this allowed us to receive this larger grant. Our advice for finding grant funding is to research grant opportunities. There are tons of companies that give out grants to businesses, especially to women-owned and/or POC-owned businesses. Look into companies that have local ties and that share your mission and values. Also, research nonprofit grants that are for community development. If you are bringing something to your community that will have a social impact and benefit, you may be able to receive nonprofit grant funding if you secure a fiscal sponsorship.

 

 

 What has been your proudest The Pastry Project moment so far? 

 

Graduation was one of our proudest moments. We hosted our students and their loved ones for lunch. We presented them with a dessert we made and a certificate of completion, as well as a cookbook we picked out specifically for each student. In that moment, it was really hard to hold back our tears of pride for what our students accomplished and where we imagined they might go. Another proud moment was helping one of our students secure a job in the PCC Community Markets deli. It has been a relief to know she has had a job during this time. Other moments that we have to include are receiving our grant funding and being written about in The Seattle Times—and now The Everygirl!

 

 What was the biggest lesson learned with cohort #1? 

 

We need more time with them! We worked with students every Saturday, six hours a day for three months. When we have our own kitchen space, we plan to work with students up to two full days a week so that we can spend more time on certain skills, techniques, and recipes.

 

Graduation was one of our proudest moments. In that moment, it was really hard to hold back our tears of pride for what our students accomplished and where we imagined they might go.

 

 

 Why is it so important to partner with businesses in the community (both as hiring partners and places like India Tree, who donated supplies)? How did you get businesses to support you and how did they react when you reached out? 

 

Partnering with businesses in our community has been so important. When we first started planning, we sat down with owners and hiring managers of local baking and pastry companies who we knew would have good kitchen jobs for our students—places like Hot Cakes, PCC, Macrina, Hello Robin Cookies, and Trophy Cupcakes. Everyone was so supportive of us, and ultimately we are helping one another. Many times it is hard to find good entry level candidates and they know that a graduate of ours will have great baseline skills for their kitchen. We are a social enterprise, which means we spend about half of our time on work that is not-for-profit, teaching our students and assisting them with job placement. This means we have less time to put into earning money to keep the program and business going. Donations from places like Theo Chocolate, India Tree, and King Arthur Flour have been instrumental in helping us to get started and allow us to focus on our free training program.

 

 You also make sure to support your cohort as they prepare to navigate the job search. Why was it important to you to make sure that you included professional skills in addition to pastry skills? 

 

Heather has been a hiring manager for years and has trained a lot of people for jobs in the Molly Moon’s kitchen. To her, professional skills are #1. Employees need to show up with a good attitude, on-time, in the required uniform. They need to use professional and effective communication in order to be successful in their job. We teach technique and skills, like how to use a kitchen scale to measure and how to read and scale a recipe, but a lot of bakeries will train you on the job in their specific way of doing things. It is harder to teach those soft skills, which is why we work on them so much. Going back to our proudest moments, one of them has been seeing our students grow professionally.

 

We teach technique and skills, like how to use a kitchen scale to measure and how to read and scale a recipe, but a lot of bakeries will train you on the job in their specific way of doing things. It is harder to teach those soft skills, which is why we work on them so much.

 

 

 You run a Goody Box program for your local supporters. How did you come up with this idea and what has the reception been like? 

 

We knew that as a social enterprise, we needed to fund our program in a sustainable way. The Goody Boxes came about because we thought they would not only be a way to generate income to support our free training program, but they’d allow community members to be a part of The Pastry Project in a fun way. Members get to stop by once a month and pick up their box filled with items students have been learning to make. Our Goody Box pickup days also allow students to practice high volume production skills, as if they were working in a bakery. Goody Box members love getting to come by to say hi to us and the students, and of course, love trying new baked goods each month!

For those that aren’t in Seattle, we just launched Pastry Kits that we mail nationally. These kits are a way you can support The Pastry Project, and make our goodies at home!

 

 What do you wish you’d known before you got started? 

 

From the experience we gained in our careers, we felt confident and secure in taking on this project. We knew it would be a ton of work, and it was! We both still worked full time at Molly Moon’s and worked on the The Pastry Project on nights and weekends. There was so much we wanted to accomplish with our first cohort—we could have used even more time. We are looking forward to spending more time with our second cohort this fall.

 

 What has been the biggest challenge thus far? 

 

One of our biggest challenges has been working in our business partnership. We’ve both been so autonomous in our previous positions that building something together from scratch where both of us need to be a part of every decision (because we are in the beginning stages) has been hard. We work a lot more than we anticipated on communication and being respectful and supportive of each other’s feelings. But we take this challenge very seriously, because we know it is building the foundation for our very long partnership, and that it will ultimately make our business more successful.

 

We both still worked full time at Molly Moon’s and worked on the The Pastry Project on nights and weekends. There was so much we wanted to accomplish with our first cohort—we could have used even more time.

 

 

 What’s next for you and for The Pastry Project? 

 

Our big next thing is building out our training kitchen and workshop space! We are going to be working on that this summer and hope to open our doors in the fall. Our second cohort will start out of the new space. We’ll also begin hosting in-person pastry classes for the public, which will help fund the free training program. We’re excited to host resident bakers in our kitchen as well, and to have a walkup window where we can sell our baked goods! In the immediate future, we’ll be doing online pastry classes. Our summer schedule is posted on our website!

 

 What advice would you give your 22-year-old selves? 

 

Emily: To calm down and take everything as a learning opportunity, because each experience you have will lead you to where you are supposed to be.

Heather: Take better care of yourself and give yourself grace the way you do for others.

 

 

Emily and Heather are The Everygirl…

 

Favorite Seattle spot that’s not Molly Moon’s?
Emily: General Porpoise Doughnuts
Heather: McCoy’s Firehouse—all of our proudest Pastry Project moments have been celebrated there.

Your favorite book/movie/TV show to recommend?
Emily: The Great British Baking Show and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
Heather: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. There’s nature, female resiliency, and hands-on learning—everything I love. It is beautiful and powerful.

Your go-to coffee/tea order?
Emily: Half-caf quad espresso over ice
Heather: Fruity or floral iced tea

Breakfast or dinner?
Emily: Breakfast for dinner
Heather: Dinner

Your favorite part about living in Seattle?
Emily: Being in a city that has everything. We have so many great restaurants and businesses in the city, yet are also so close to beautiful water and the mountains. There’s also such a huge sense of community here.
Heather: Proximity to fishing and mushroom foraging

If you could have lunch with any woman, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
We’d choose to have lunch together with U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ellen Bennett of Hedley & Bennett. That way we could talk for hours about social justice, food, and running a values-driven business!

 

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