Q&A with The Four Sisters Bakery
Donuts, scones, cookies, cakes and breads are back on the menu for those of us who are gluten-free. This allergy (or way of life) is down right popular these days, and the aisles at the grocery store prove it with “Gluten Free” or “GF” branding all over the packaging.
“I’ve tried almost every gluten free thing that’s out there,” said 28-year-old Bhavatarini Carr, known by most as Bhava. “And to be honest they’re not all great.”
A little more than a year ago, Carr left her post as a barista at Winooski’s Block Gallery — now occupied by Scout & Co. — and approached Trevor Sullivan about baking for the new eatery, Pingala Cafe, he was opening in Winooski’s Chase Mill.
“When I asked him, he just said ‘yes,’” Carr remembered. “I asked him if he wanted any samples to taste, and he said ‘I have a feeling about you… I trust you.’
“When the renovations were done at Pingala,” Carr continued. “I went into their new kitchen and took one look at the oven… it’s tiny. Literally, I said, ‘this is what you make pop tarts in!’”
Not a problem for Carr. She was looking for an excuse to make her home kitchen certified anyway, which she did. “I am eternally grateful for Trevor’s too small kitchen,” she laughed. “It really got me in gear.”
Carr went through the zoning, home inspection and licensing process to launch The Four Sisters Bakery — her gluten-free, baked goods business.
Through Carr herself is not allergic to gluten, she threw all traces of the substance in her Burlington kitchen out anyway. “That way no one has to worry about cross contamination,” she noted.
Originally born in Dallas, Texas, she and her three brothers lived up and down the Eastern seacoast. Her mom, a native of Rutland, homeschooled the children and Carr notes with pride that she was an excellent baker. Carr’s father worked in business. When he retired, he also partnered with a surf retreat ashram in India. At age nine, Carr and her brothers began going to India each year, spending between one and six months at a time there.
After nearly 20 years of traveling to India, Carr spent a year working in an art gallery in Northern Italy and the following 14 months teaching English in Germany.
“Then I decided I had to finish college,” Carr sighed. She earned her BA in Anthropology and Linguistics from the University of Vermont in 2012.
“My mother’s baking, plus my father’s business mind,” Carr mused. “That’s what has helped me succeed with this business.”
Carr recently elaborated on her baking business.
Q: How did you decide to pursue baking as a career?
A: In my last year of college, I saw that I wouldn’t use this degree. I thought a lot about what is it that doesn’t feel like work to me? It was food. I would go into the kitchen and make food to procrastinate. This is the thing I dream about. And I knew I wanted to be my own boss.
Q: As a new business owner, what do you find most difficult?
A: When everything sells and I don’t have the afternoon off, which is such a small first-world problem. The Block Gallery was helpful to learn how to bake in bulk and learning to anticipate demand.
Accounting and finance is annoying. It’s against my nature; I like winging things. But it can also be satisfying.
Q: Why did you decide to make your baked goods gluten free?
A: I don’t know; maybe part altruism and part curious chemist. In the end it is chemistry; a balance of fat, sugar, proteins, etc. Gluten-free baking really shouldn’t be so scary.
Q: What are the challenges of gluten-free baking?
A: Sometimes gluten free things have a mind of their own and inevitably it’ll go “blup.” But I seem to have an ability to fix things that go wrong in baking. I don’t know exactly how I do it. Maybe it’s because I do this work every single day.
Q: What are some of your best sellers?
A: People love the chocolate peanut butter cookies. The recipe is Trevor’s mom’s. It uses peanut butter and peanut flour to get that rich taste.
Donuts sell well too. And cakes. It is super fun to play with frosting.
Sometimes I’ll work at Pingala Cafe and it’s fun to get feedback from customers. Like one day a man walked by one of my cakes; his eyes stuck to it, and he exclaimed “Oh no!” Then he ordered a slice. You just don’t elicit that response from a muffin.
Q: Is your business supporting you?
A: Pingala grew fast and so by default I grew fast. In three months, I was supporting myself with my business. I struck gold. Seventy-five percent of my business is with Pingala. I also have items at Dobra Tea and Healthy Living.
Q: How did you come up with the name Four Sisters Bakery?
A: Corn, beans and squash are often grown together because each plant offers benefits to the others. For example, corn offers stalking for the beans and the bean leaves keep the soil moist. These are sometimes known as the three sisters, the fourth sister in the triad is the sunflower. Not only is it a soil cleanser, but the legend goes that the sunflower sacrificed herself for her sisters so that the crows would eat her instead.
I think it is fascinating that what grows together also eats together. All of these ingredients together [corn, beans, squash and sunflower seeds] make a good blend in baking.
Also, sunflowers are so bright and cheerful. They are symbolic of East — the seat of knowledge and enlightenment.
All this speaks nicely to the way I want to live and run this business.
Q: What is most important to you in running your business?
A: Cooking for people, or nourishment of others, is a huge responsibility that’s often taken for granted. Here in this kitchen I can control that, and help sustain other economies going on like local and organic.
There’s nothing like mom’s cooking, right? Why is that? There’s a subtle transference of energy and I try to be mindful of that in my work. I can do something with love at the cellular level and at a subtle emotional level. I can put love into the world that way. This is what guides my daily feeling; I’m just not going to make angry, or distracted cookies! People can tell.
— Elsie Lynn Parini