It’s bread with benefits.
That’s the catch phrase Daymara Baker uses when describing her business, Rockin’ Baker, a bakery tucked inside a small Fayetteville plaza among a bicycle shop and microbrewery. Loaves sport catchy names like The Grateful Bread Sourdough and Butterfield Trail Mix Sourdough (Baker’s culinary training took place in San Francisco, the unofficial sour dough capital of the world and, thus, there’s a wide selection). Lunch offerings include salads and a variety of sandwiches from vegetarian to beefsteak.
But behind it all is Baker’s drive to help people become self-sufficient through the Rockin’ Baker Academy. They could include victims of domestic violence, those who have been in jail or have special needs – anyone who face challenges integrating into mainstream society, she says.
The idea of combining a bakery with the academy came to her while on a plane, reading a book, as she traveled to see her parents during the spring of 2015.
“The concept was vivid,” she recalls. “It was like a movie.”
She worked out the details, thousands of feet in the air.
“When I landed, it was a little scary – the feeling,” she says.
But she wasn’t afraid to take risks. She already knew the realities of financial loss from her home country of Venezuela, when an economic collapse during the 1990s caused her to lose 64 percent of her savings. She survived and knew if this didn’t work, she would survive again.
Baker consulted an executive coach to brainstorm on potential professional routes to take after working in the corporate world for decades. After sharing her vision for Rockin’ Baker and being asked, “What’s holding you back?,” Baker decided to take the risk and started setting up her business, which included enrolling in the San Francisco Baking Institute in California. When she completed the program, she went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to apprentice at an artisan bakeshop. One of the institute’s founders, Michel Suas, helped her with her shop’s layout and Baker researched equipment. Bill Fox, director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center, assisted with the marketing research and business pro forma to secure a small business loan.
When it all fell into place, she rented space in the Creekside Plaza on Mall Avenue in Fayetteville, hired employees – she currently oversees four – and on Veteran’s Day, 2016, she opened Rockin’ Baker, a play on words that gives her name new meaning.
Baker’s winding journey to Northwest Arkansas from her native La Guaira, Venezuela, began in southern Arkansas when she attended college at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She completed her bachelor’s degree in only two years and then enrolled at the Walton College, where she worked as a graduate assistant for Rita Littrell, director of the Bessie B. Moore Center for Economic Education.
After earning her MBA in 1999, Baker served as an account executive with Thompson Murray, which eventually was sold to Saatchi & Saatchi, a global communications and advertising agency with an office in Springdale.
She made a discovery at the job. “That’s when I realized I was more of a people person,” she says.
A successful career with various companies and positions enabled her to interact with others as she worked on promotional strategies for The Integer Group’s Northwest Arkansas office before joining Chiquita Brands International, a stint that lasted almost a decade and led her to be named Chiquita’s Sales Director of the Year.
Throughout Baker’s busy schedule, she has made time for community service, including co-founding the Community Creative Center, a nonprofit art studio and visual arts organization located in the Walton Arts Center’s Nadine Baum Studios in Fayetteville.
And her schedule continues to be a busy one. A typical day at the shop begins at 4 a.m. and ends often when the sun sets. She bakes and makes goods that are similar to the kinds originally found in Venezuelan bakeries. She incorporates sandwiches, salads, beverages and sweets among her offerings. “People are very appreciative of the lunch that we serve because everything is made from scratch,” she says.
Her routine could soon include cadet bakers – participants in the Rockin’ Baker Academy who learn life skills while gaining on-the-job experience by producing a variety of sourdough breads and other delicacies. The Academy has partnered with Brightwater, A Center for the Study of Food, at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. She also serves and sells products from Arkansas businesses such as Onyx Coffee Lab, Kyya Chocolate, Savoy Tea Company, Patagonia Bee Products and extra virgin olive oils and vinegars from the Raimondo Family Winery.
Through these associations and skills taught, Baker hopes the cadets will be empowered to find a job in the culinary industry or even explore entrepreneurship.
“This is a bakery with a mission,” she says.