Valeria Taylorowner ofLoba Pastry + CoffeeChicago, IL
I grew up in Mexico, and I moved to Florida when I was 16. Growing up, I had visited the States for vacation and I had all these ideas and expectations of what going to high school in the US was going to be like. My frame of reference was movies and it just never occurred to me that real life would be so far from the truth. I was so disappointed. Imagine the movies at the time—She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. I was literally watching Dawson’s Creek and taking notes on ‘what is high school’ and what I thought I was going to be walking into, but I hadn’t thought about how much of a melting pot the US is. I was really expecting the cliques and the big, beautiful, multi-level brick high schools. I was super excited, wondering what clique I was going to be in. Then I got to Florida with this stupid one-level high school and it didn’t even have a pool. I was like, ‘What do you mean there’s no swimming team?’
I ended up being with the ESL kids and because the group didn’t speak English, they were treated really differently than everyone else. I was so mad. I rebelled and became an emo scene kid. I just wanted to rage. Eventually I moved here to go to the University of Chicago. At the time, a lot of my friends were students there and that’s where I wanted to be, but once I got there, I realized I had never been so far from home. I was very confused. I had to be responsible for rent and work, and I had this job that was pretty good but I worked in the suburbs so I didn’t get the city experience. I had also moved up here for a relationship that wasn’t great to begin with, but I just wanted to get out of Florida. Once I got here, though, it felt like all my dreams and hopes and expectations were falling apart once again.
I rebelled and became an emo scene kid. I just wanted to rage.
I don’t know if you know any people who cook or work in restaurants, but it’s a hard life—similar to a barista’s life.
As a college student in Chicago, I found a way to rebel again. I was looking for another job on Craigslist and I saw that someone was looking for interns for a restaurant and I thought ‘I can do this. Pastry? Sure, I’ve baked before, how hard can it be?’ I didn’t realize it was one of the best restaurants in Chicago. I knew nothing about culinary arts. I just walked into the kitchen like ‘Hi, I want to work for free.’ And they were like, ‘How much do you want to work for free?’ And I said, ‘All of my free time. I’m avoiding going to school right now, so all of it.’ And it just worked out, and I was so excited to not have to tend to what I needed to tend to. It was like, ‘This is great! I don’t have to think about my failing relationship or how I’m not good enough to go to the school I wanted to go to, that I worked so hard to get into.’ All of my intention went into pastry and I just never looked back.
It was meant to be this temporary thing, but a month into it I was like ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I opened a bakery? Maybe by the time I’m 30.’ I just left it at that and continued to work in restaurants and fine dining, continued to hone the craft. I don’t know if you know any people who cook or work in restaurants, but it’s a hard life—similar to a barista’s life. You get paid basically minimum wage for long hours and hard work in a hot kitchen, with no benefits. Even though I really enjoyed it, after five years I was burnt out. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I ended up getting this new, comfortable gig doing project management for a software company. In the beginning, it was great. I was getting paid like $20 per hour and had sick days and vacation time. For the first time in my life I had money in savings and weekends off, but soon I was like, ‘I hate this. This is terrible.’ I was miserable because I was in front of a computer just pushing buttons, reminding grown men that they needed to do their work. One day, I woke up at 6AM and just started to walk to a cafe that someone told me had really good pastries. I showed up right after they opened and started talking to the owner. It took some convincing, but I got him to agree that I’d come in the next day at 4AM to begin working in the kitchen and as a barista. Before I knew it I was working Friday, Saturday, Sunday and I think three months into it I quit my other job. It felt so natural to be back in the kitchen, and I decided I’d rather do this full time and be poor again than be miserable in an office.
Around six months into my job at the cafe, I had basically taken over. I ended up buying the business from the original owner when he decided to leave Chicago, with the help of a business partner whom I eventually bought out. That was over three years ago now, and it just feels insane. I’m not going to lie, there are some mornings where I’m like, ‘Am I still doing this?’ It can be really hard because I’m a control freak, but it’s fun. Every day is a new challenge. There’s always something wrong and there’s always something great. I always feel like I’m playing catch up. I look at what other people are doing and all the money they’re making and it’s funny, but I don’t feel successful—but I guess that’s not what I’m looking for, either. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be rich. That’s not my goal in life. I just want to be comfortable. If success for other people means money and for me it means being able to do something I can be proud of—well, I’m pretty proud of this space.
If success for other people means money and for me it means being able to do something I can be proud of—well, I’m pretty proud of this space.