The Words of the O'Connor Family

A Little bit of Europe in Kansas -- Interview with Evelyne O'Conner

Victor Lorentzen
December 2011

Question: Why did you want to open a European bakery?

Well, my husband and I accepted the role of "national messiahs" for Luxemburg and we lived there for three and a half years. We had talked about the idea of opening a bakery even before we moved there. But it wasn't until we moved back to my husband's hometown that we really had the opportunity to realize it. We moved to a small town and I knew that I had to find some kind of job, but in order to do that I had to work in the city, which was a 30-minute drive from our house. I wasn't tied to anything so I thought "It's now or never."

Question: What inspires you to cook?

At some point in my life discovered I had a talent for it. I remember on Sundays, when I was a kid, I used to cook and bake together with my brothers and sisters. We used to ask our mom if we could bake something together and then we would try out different recipes. Later in life I took a two-week intensive course in baking in Paris, but I have most of my recipes and skills from my own experiments and experiences.

I enjoy the whole process of baking and especially making people happy when they eat it.

Question: What feelings come up when you think back upon the \ process from when you started your business until today?

My husband and I both feel very grateful to God for guiding and supporting us throughout the years we've been running this bakery. Many might have thought we were crazy opening up this business in such a small town. I was at times overwhelmed in the beginning by all the work that needed to be done. I remember sometimes doubting if it actually was a good idea to take out a loan and start this whole business. But after putting a lot of effort and hard work into it, we're still here.

Question: Was the business successful early on?

In the beginning it was easy to think we could make a lot of money out of this business, but in fact, it is not that simple. I have a friend who owns a coffee shop and we talked once about earning money in the food business. I asked the owner, "How do you manage to make money with all the expenses that come along running a coffee shop?" to which the owner replied "Who said we were making money?" So most of all we are grateful that we're not losing money, but instead have a small profit that is increasing little by little every year. I also, in a way, see our bakery as our service to the community.

Question: I see you are open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Would it be ideal for you to be open on the rest of the weekdays as well?

To be open every day is hard because there is a lot of work to be done, but we used to be open more days of the week than what we are now. However, five years ago I got a job offer to work part time for a technical college in Portland, teaching baking and pastry arts. So that's what I do on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Question: What do Americans think of your French/European delicacies?

I definitely think our bakery has a niche because we are able to sell European, and especially French style baked goods. Even though it does not happen often, we do have people coming from quite far away every now and then to buy our specialties, which is great considering that we live in a small town out in the countryside. We never advertised our shop. It was always a word-of-mouth advertisement. And somehow our reputation over the years reached the local newspapers and TV stations and they came and made a story about us.

When it comes to differences between American and European baked goods, I find that American cakes and pastries are sweeter then European ones. I try to bring out more of a certain flavor of the baked goods and not make them too sweet tasting. My favorite American desserts, by the way, are American pies.

Question: How is it like to be in a business with your husband? And does the rest of the family help out with the business as well?

My husband has his own full- time job, but he helps out as much as he can, especially on Saturdays when he has time off from work. He is very good at taking time to talk with customers and make them feel welcomed. My husband and I have three children together. Our oldest son helps out a lot behind the counter. Our daughter shares the passion for baking with me and helps out preparing the pastries. Our youngest one is also helpful and he loves trying out our products before they're put out for sale.

Question: What are your goals for the future?

Well, at the moment I'm putting in between 40-45 hours at the bakery every week in addition to the 15 hours I teach at school. My goal is to eventually have someone take over the business. I know I'm going to miss it when that happens, but I can imagine that in five years' time I'll be slowly stepping down from having the main responsibility of the bakery to being more in the background.

I always had the idea of developing the bakery to something bigger, because I can definitely see that there is a market for it out there, but I know for myself I'm not such a businesswoman who can do that. I'm optimistic for the future though and I'm looking forward to seeing if the bakery will grow into something bigger than what it is now.

Question: What would be your advice for other people who want to start their own business?

My first suggestion is to have some business experience before starting your own business. Either through studying it or working in one because that was the area of business that took me a while to get in to when we started. Then, it's good to have a clear vision of what you want your business to be like.

In the beginning, I think it is a good idea to go slowly, and not to expect big results or invest a lot of money if you're not sure of the outcome of it. I suggest going forward slowly, but steadily. Later, when you have a certain foundation, you can start working on growing your business and making it bigger. With our business we grew little by little and we're still growing, expanding our business a little more every year.

When it comes to starting a business with your own family, I think the best sign you can have that it is working out is to see if you over all are still enjoying it. Working in the food business is a lot of work and of course there are always ups and downs in our business, like with everything else in life, But if you feel that, over all, it is still very enjoyable, you'll know that it is working out.

Question: Did you have someone or something to look up to or hold on to in the moments when you felt it was tough to keep going with your business?

Whenever I had a hard time and there was still a lot of work to be done, I remember thinking about the wives of the Korean leaders who came here in the early days of our movement, how they were willing to give up everything they had back in Korea and come here, following their husbands, to work for a higher purpose than themselves. I know some of them managed to open up a shop or some kind of a business and it gave me extra strength to think that I could manage to do that, as well.

Otherwise, I never had a clear idol when it comes to food making. There are a lot of famous chefs I admire and can sometimes get ideas from, but I feel I get most inspiration' and willpower to go on from God. I feel we could never have seen this through if we didn't have God's support behind us.

This bakery has given us a lot of enjoyable moments. Last week, for example, the bakery was quite full of people and this one person did not have any place to sit. An older couple saw this and invited the lady to sit with them. They started chatting and got on really well. It turned out that the older couple were ministers for a nearby church and the lady was moved by how much good work they had done for the community. When they were done, the lady came up to me and said, "I want to pay for that couple's lunch," and so she did. Those moments are priceless to me and give me a lot of inspiration to keep going with the bakery. 

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