Keeping It Fresh: Work-Life Balance in a Small Business
When she first opened Rachel’s Bread 30 years ago, Rachel Shenk and her husband, Jim, were committed to making the business work with their family.
“Our plan was that our family time would not be hampered by the business,” Rachel says. She would make it work by closing the bakery for 15 minutes in the afternoon while she went to pick up one of their daughters at school. They’d tend the bakery together until close, and then pick up the other daughter, who was busy with extracurricular activities. When the girls had their spring break, Rachel says, “It was only logical that I would take that time off as well so I could spend time with them. Many of my customers were out of town with their families, so it coincided well with my schedule.”
Growing up in Belgium, Rachel experienced the local bakery as a vital ingredient of a quality life—not only a source of fresh, delicious and aesthetically pleasing breads and pastries, but a neighborhood hub for news and conversation. Rachel also noticed that these small businesses would close for several weeks each year to give the families who owned them time for renewal.
Rachel’s regularly planned vacations from her now-mature business evolved over the years and still coincide with school vacations, including those of her college-student workers. “As long as I gave my regular customers fair warning, it worked,” she says. “They would order and buy bread to tide them over. And when I came back, there were always stories to tell about bakeries in other places.”
Of course, the downside of closing your business to take a vacation is the loss of revenue—and the fear of losing customers. Careful planning, savings and a loyal customer base can help to offset those risks, Rachel says. Sharing new recipes from her travels with her customers kept them anticipating her re-opening.
“What I have discovered is that taking a break has made me a better owner: It improves my energy and creativity, it helps me distance myself from my business and see it with new eyes, it makes me realize that I run it, it doesn’t run me. Whether you can take time far away or close by, it is a boost to your health and is a way to take care of yourself before the business. Your life will continue beyond the business, so taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do.”
After 30 years, Rachel is ready for the next chapter in her life. She recently sold her thriving business to Anna Mast, a mother of two young children who has worked for Rachel for eight years. Anna plans to carry on the traditions, including the practice of taking regularly planned and announced vacations from the business to keep things fresh. Rachel will focus on her new business, a specialty cheese shop named The Wedge, at its location in the Goshen Farmers Market building just behind the bakery.
Anna hopes to continue “the spirit of reverence toward food” she observed in Rachel’s approach to her business. As a longtime employee and apprentice, she has seen firsthand the value of regularly timed personal and professional development holidays. Anna notes that “every time Rachel returns from Europe, I feel she has renewed passion for what she does and so many new ideas to tweak her current offerings. We’ve messed with the baguette recipe, offered lunch ‘formulas,’ brought in new cheeses and perfected a fruit tart that, if you close your eyes while eating, will transport you right to Paris.”
Says Rachel, “Though we never had much money, we learned to budget and make some sacrifices so that we could take this time away. Living simply is living richly. I highly recommend it.”