SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Jennifer Acuna let out some tears the other day as ovens she rents in the Church of the Ascension’s commercial kitchen remained off for her second week in business in Wakefield.
“There’s no orders this week, so there was no baking this week. Maybe next week will bring a big break,” said Acuna, 54, still hopeful her dream to build a bread, cake and cookie making business will come true.
“I am tenacious,” she said of this recent iteration taking her to a South Kingstown church kitchen. It is ironic that she is making bread, so much a part of the Christian story of salvation, in a church environment that can be a sanctuary providing a safe place to figure out a turning point in her life.
She’s at a financial breaking point for resuscitating her business plans for this bread-making passion. She says she wants to fulfill the dream of being a baker.
Acuna, born in 1967 to a 14-year-old mother, has been a persevering woman confronting many life-altering challenges. In addition to overcoming not-so-good choices for personal health and happiness, they include a near-death struggle last year in Atlantic Ocean rip currents.
This journey for starting a bread-making business began in 2017 when she retired from a well-paying federal job to pursue this dream. However, kitchens she rented in Connecticut shut down. The last needed to close because of tumbling sales during COVID-19, even though she also tossed in free delivery.
Recently she tried to open a bake shop in Westerly, but was turned down for financing. She is pondering her next move. This woman of faith – in herself and in others to support her – won’t abandon the quest just yet, she said.
“For me, baking is an art form. It’s an expression of who I am and how I show my love to people,” she said about making bread, cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, artisan breads and sourdough breads.
“I just simply love it,” said Acuna, who has gusto for life, which she admits has brought thrilling, but fraught romantic relationships, and a desire to ride the waves of life as she does those in the ocean when boogie-boarding.
Excitement of rolling on to the board and catching each wave possible is what brought her to Westerly for many summers. It’s how she got to know Rhode Island and to love it.
After she closed her last Connecticut operation, she came to Rhode Island to stay afloat in this state she now calls home.
“I leased some space in Westerly and had plans for just what I wanted to do there,” she explained. It included ovens for making the hard-crusted breads and soft cheesecakes and cabinets for storing utensils, tools and mixing bowels for making varieties of sweet cookies.
She even planned a bistro-like environment with tables and chairs for new customers and old ones from Connecticut to share and enjoy her passion for cooking.
With a lease signed and ready to go, she sought about $100,000 in financing. However, there was nothing warm about the credit union’s response, she said.
“It was no, no and no. I had no collateral, no two strong years of revenue and no other backers to help me,” Acuna added.
Nonetheless, she remained undeterred. She talked with state and local officials about requirements for renting a local commercial kitchen and inquired about possibilities.
One mentioned the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Main Street in Wakefield had the kind of kitchen she needed.
In the church’s head pastor, the Rev. Rob Travis, she found hope — and someone willing to help for a modest rental fee for the kitchen three days a week.
“We do this to help with the building costs of our church, of course, but we’re also delighted to be a part of local, small businesses getting on their feet, or in Jen’s case, back on their feet,” said Travis.
He said that the South County community, where the church has one of the only licensed commercial kitchens, there are many people out there trying to make a living in the culinary arts.
They fit with the mission of the church, he said, whose members, whether active in the food preparation field or retired, have been working in various related businesses throughout the area through many decades.
“In other words, our helping others in the field is an act of compassion. Outside of renting to small businesses, the main use our kitchen gets these days is when we prepare the free Sunday supper we offer every Sunday at 5 p.m. to anyone in the community,” he said.
For Acuna, the church’s passion for food and hers are linked together in the common bond of giving it to those wanting, needing and enjoying it. Food is the creative way both share a ministry to others, both pastor and baker said.
Acuna added, “It’s my art, some people use paint of textiles, I use food. Losing the opportunity to connect through it would be like taking the air out of my lungs.”
For more information on Loafing Around LLC, or to place an order, visit https://loafingaroundllc.com/