By Codi Darnell
August 31, 2021
How many people can look at their chosen career and say “I chased my dream”? For someone with a disability, breaking into the working world can be a challenge at the best of times, but chasing a dream that’s been labelled “not for you” has the potential to truly break someone. However, there is always that first person who paves a unique path to a career that’s seems out of reach. Jessica Kruger is one such person.
Jessica Kruger is the creative force behind The Stubborn Baker, an online custom bakeshop based out of Vancouver, BC, and she knows all about the difficulties of chasing a dream. While a quick look through her Instagram and website will show you the scope of her talent and creativity, getting to know her story is what reveals the true uniqueness of her brand.
From her custom designs to her quirky business name, there isn’t much about The Stubborn Baker that isn’t unique. The name itself is rooted in Jessica’s journey, both in her personal life and her career. Because for Jessica, being stubborn was a necessity.
Fourteen years ago, a two-storey fall left her a quadriplegic. Just 15 years old at the time, she made a choice to be stubborn in her goals. She set her mind to believe that she could do whatever she wanted. At the time, she didn’t know that would be a career in the baking industry.
Like many children growing up, Jessica spent time baking with her mom and grandma, but it was never anything more than a beloved family pastime. After her injury, she turned to baking and cake decorating to fill the “void” of the time that used to be spent playing numerous sports. That was when she truly fell in love with the craft.
Still, she didn’t see it as a career and proceeded to get her English degree in the hopes of becoming a teacher. When she did finally decide to pursue her passion, roadblocks arose – not because of her talent, but because of her disability.
After two rejections from schools who saw her disability as inconvenient, it was Vancouver Community College (“VCC”) that opened their doors to Jessica, and she soon graduated from their pastry program. Now she fills orders for cookies, cakes and cupcakes at the workstation she rents in a local commissary kitchen.
I connected with Jessica and asked her some questions about her journey into the baking industry.
What barriers did you face in finding a pastry school that would accept you as a student?
I was turned away from two schools before finding one that was willing to take me on. Neither of the two schools that turned me away had any obvious reasons to reject my application aside from the fact that they thought I would be an inconvenience to them. The second school I applied to said I could take a class if I paid for two spots because I would take up more room than the “average” student.
I live a lot of my life trying to access spaces that weren’t designed for me and therefore, feeling like an “inconvenience” is something I’m pretty familiar with. It’s a tough pill to swallow and an even tougher mindset to combat, but ultimately, I’ve reached a place where I don’t see why I shouldn’t be given the same rights as an able-bodied person, and that means that sometimes people might have to go out of their way to be a little bit open-minded. Tell me I can’t do something and I will put every ounce of my energy into showing you I can.
How did Vancouver Community College accommodate your disability?
Bracing myself for another rejection, I met with Ron Kee from VCC’s disability services department when I first expressed an interest in their pastry program. To my pleasant surprise, his response (and I’m paraphrasing) to my inquiry was, “It’s never been done before, but l don’t see why you can’t be the first.” We toured the kitchens so that I could see for myself what areas I might struggle in and decided together that the only real modification I was going to need was an adjustable worktable. VCC arranged to have that station made for me, and from there I was just another student enrolled in the baking and pastry arts program.
Was there ever a time you wanted to give up on this dream? What helped you to stay stubborn?
The short answer is, yes. People think that it’s exhilarating to be the “first”, but what they fail to acknowledge is that before you receive the recognition or praise, you face a whole lot of challenges. It’s exhausting to be surrounded by people that think you shouldn’t be there. It’s painful to hear from someone within your field that they don’t think there is a place for “someone like [me]” in the pastry industry. It’s devastating to work your absolute hardest and still sometimes come up short; but dang, does it ever feel good to watch the look on someone’s face as you slash their preconceptions in two. I was raised to believe that I could do anything, and with the exception of walking (or running if you’d like to get granular), I continue to believe that’s true. I remain stubborn because it’s who I am to my core and it’s a big part of the reason I have been able to accomplish anything since my accident.
What advice would you give someone who is coming up against roadblocks when trying to pursue their dream career?
If you truly believe that you are doing what you are meant to do, just keep pushing. There will ALWAYS be someone telling you “you can’t”, or something suggesting “you shouldn’t”, but ultimately, it’s only you who gets to decide when to give up. There is always another way to push forward.
That being said, I offer that advice with one small caveat: there is also absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that something isn’t for you and choosing to step away or follow a different path.
I have lived a lot of my life believing that walking away was giving up, and that giving up was the ultimate evil. With a little bit of time, and a whole lot of therapy, I’ve come to believe that choosing to walk away when what you’re doing no longer serves you takes just as much strength as pushing forward would.
What’s your goal for The Stubborn Baker?
The dream is definitely to have my own storefront. A little bakeshop with a cafe and extra room for parties/classes to be held; an accessible space that is inclusive to all.
Or to get my own show on the Food Network. That would suffice too. 😊
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