The Amazing Woman Behind Disney World's New Restaurant

Thanks to Erin McKenna, the celiacs, vegans, and nut and dairy allergic people of the world can enjoy baked goods like donuts, focaccia, sandwich bread, muffins, bagels, and beyond. In many ways, Erin McKenna’s Bakery (formerly known as BabyCakes), can be credited with kicking off the gluten-free craze. Erin now has storefronts in NYC, L.A., and at Disney World, and has authored three cookbooks (her newest one is on all things gluten free bread). Her tremendous career is the result of unexpected twists and turns, hits and misses, missteps, and meditation. Ahead, she shares her journey, and some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Photographed by Clark Tolton.
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Your dream job doesn't always pan out the way you expect. 
“My dream job was to become a costumer on Saturday Night Live. I thought that most of the humor of sketch comedy was in the costumes, and I just got such a kick out of it! So, I got into fashion and almost immediately I saw what it was, and it was just not for me. I really missed waitressing.”

You know your dream is real when you're ready to sacrifice. 

“I really struggled, because I felt way too old to go back to waitressing. It felt like a step down, and I had spent so long trying to get this fashion job. It was a really competitive job [to get] at the time, and I had worked my butt off! But, when I got there, I was just unhappy. I saw everyone around me really advancing in their careers, and I knew that my mom really wanted me to have some corporate job, so it was a hard decision to make. Eventually, I decided to quit and went [back] to working at restaurants. Almost immediately, I got happy, and that’s when I had the idea for the bakery.” 

You have to trust your heart and listen to your gut. 

“The feeling that the bakery gave me when I thought about it was like what people describe as falling in love. And, I knew I couldn’t be wrong. I was like, okay, well, I'm just going to go with this. I knew that that strong feeling right in my stomach was pulling me from other space and time.” 
Photographed by Clarke Tolton.
You don't need to know how you're going to get there. 
“I didn’t know how to bake, really. I knew nothing about business. I had never had a credit card. I had defaulted on my student loans when I was 20, like everybody else. All I knew about the restaurant industry was basically service.” 

Sometimes you'll have to figure everything out from scratch.  
 
“I didn’t know about Google at that time, maybe it didn’t really even exist yet? I remember looking so hard for a cookie on the Internet that would not be made of ingredients I wanted to avoid, and that was also gluten-free and dairy-free. There was one cookie on the web, and the site was dead. Also, there were really no cookbooks out there that were gluten-free and vegan.”

Persistence and passion pay off...
“So, I committed to spending every single day doing at least one thing that would push forward the whole business. Figuring out the basic gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan flour base required the most patience, and was the most intuitive of all. I would change it by the tablespoon for the flour and some stuff by the teaspoon. It took me about six months of [testing] every morning before I went to work and after I got home at night.” 
Photographed by Davide Luciano.
...And, make success taste so much sweeter. 
“When I finally nailed a dough recipe that was vegan, egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free, I was just like SO proud — Oh my God! I was at the restaurant where I worked at the time, and I just felt like the richest person on the planet. I was like, I'm gonna be so rich!  You don’t understand how amazing my life is about to become!

Find ways to stay calm and focused, even when it's a challenge.
“I found something called Japa meditation, and I do 15 minutes every day. I still have to force myself to do it — it requires that sort of commitment that working out does, or going to do yoga. I think it takes 10 minutes to really clear my head, and then I just enjoy five minutes of no thought. I don’t try to figure anything out, I'm not there to have inspiration, I'm not there to change my mood, I'm just there to completely shut off for five minutes. And, that really ends up changing my mood and making me feel more connected, open, flowing, and focused.” 

In the end, do what makes you happy.

“I would say find what makes you happy and inspired, and find a way to either intern at it or make money from it. It’s okay to make your money doing something that you think might be boring, if it’s going to support you moving forward in your goals and inspirations. If you have a job that is going to support you financially in painting, or making clothes that you're going to sell on Etsy, or whatever, then it's worth it. And, go to that job not angry at the people. Go with a genuinely good attitude in recognition that this is something that’s helping you realize your dreams.”    
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