Nestled in a cozy storefront in East Harlem, New York, there’s a bakery called Janie’s Life-Changing Baked Goods. The bakery is known for its pie crust cookies, created by Janie Deegan. Really, though, the most interesting thing about the bakery is how it changed Deegan’s life.
Just a few short years ago, she was homeless and recovering from an addiction.
“When I was getting sober, I found that my life was so out of control, but baking was… just this beautiful, meditative, very controlled, artistic outlet for me,” Deegan told CBS News. “And I was 25 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I just found that baking helped me reconnect with people.”
At first, Deegan was just baking as a hobby – but her friends showed her she could do more with it.
“The baked good that changed my life was for a friend and she asked me to make a cake. She wanted to pay me to make a cake for a big event she was having,” Deegan said. “And I look back at pictures of that cake like, oh it was so not professional.”
After that experience, Janie decided to start selling her baked goods in 2015. She wanted to open a bakery, but she had gaps in her resume – and admittedly, didn’t know where to start. “I remember looking up the word ‘entrepreneur,'” she said. “I was like, ‘I really don’t know what that is.'”
“I just had this impression that you had to have money to be a business owner, you had to be a man to be a business owner, you had to have business experience to be a business owner,” she said.
Still, she decided to take a leap of faith – or “ride the wave,” as she says – and opened her first bakery on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
She doesn’t just spread sweetness with her pie crust cookies, she helps others who may be struggling to find a job – just like she once was.
“We have an open door policy, which means that if you’re ready, willing, able and enthusiastic about coming to work, we’re not going to look at sort of your past situations or gaps on your resume or if you’re homeless or if you’ve been to prison,” she said. “The person you show up as in the interview is the person we’re looking at.”
Deegan now has 15 employees across two locations – and is looking to open a third. Nearly all of her employees are new to the baking business, but Janie and trained staff members teach them everything they need to know. “I really get to see people grow, they come in timid…and I get to see people flower,” she said.
“I think that the people who do come here really value the fact that you don’t have to have all these credentials or a background of any sort to be invited and welcomed in and come work with us,” she said.
Through baking, Janie and her employees have gotten a second chance at life.
“I wake up every day and get to be like, ‘We sell joy.’ I get to wake up and be at work 100 percent me. I don’t have to hide my past, I don’t have to have shame anymore and it is sweet. “