Photos and story by Jeffrey Harrell/ Contributing writer
“Ding, ding,” the timer sounds, signaling the first batch of blueberry muffins are done. Chantell Kennedy-Shehan resets her timer for another batch. She has two more before she switches to cinnamon rolls. Her iPhone dings again, this time to tell her it’s 5:30 a.m., an hour before opening. There is still so much to do in so little time. Macaroons and croissants still have to be baked.
The sun may just be peeking over the horizon, but Chantell and her mother, Katrina Shehan, are hard at work preparing fresh treats for their ever-growing clientele.
At 27, Chantell, her last name being a combination of her mother’s maiden name and her father’s last name, finds herself the owner/operator of her new enterprise, Simply Pure Sweets in downtown Murfreesboro, which opened last March.
Katrina said Chantell showed interest in baking at the early age of five. At the age of 11 she placed first in a regional 4-H cooking competition, where the idea of becoming a baker and pastry chef came into being. She advanced to the state competition where she won second place. Her potential was obvious to her parents.
After graduating from high school in 2007, Chantell enrolled at Johnson and Wales University in Miami. She graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition. During her five-year tenure at Johnson and Wales, Chantell spent a semester in France interning at Ecole Nationale Superieure de Patisserie, a renowned pastry arts school known for being one of the toughest.
“My instructors made me cry, but I learned real quick to read recipes in French,” Chantell admits with a little smirk on her face.
The American girl proved herself and soon became the top student of her class.
“Ding, ding,” the timer goes off once again. The aroma of fresh baked croissants wafts through the crisp, 6 o’clock air inside the industrial-style shop at 118 North Walnut Street.
“I really didn’t think I would be here yet,” she says, meaning she didn’t think she’d have her own shop so soon. As she talks, the slender woman pulls back her blonde hair into a ponytail, except for one strand that just doesn’t seem to want to stay behind her ear.
“I was working as a chef at a hospital in Atlanta when my mom had a proposition for me.”
Katrina saw something missing from her daughter’s life and decided to help change it. “I called her and told her that I and her dad had been thinking. The economical growth in Murfreesboro was booming and now was the time to take this opportunity.” Call it mother’s intuition, but Katrina saw the creative spark was missing from her daughter’s life. “While she was in school, she would call home with such excitement for the food she was preparing. Working in the hospital as a chef was good money but that excitement in her voice was gone. Her creative spark was gone.”
“My husband and I want to help our children out as much as we can. We knew that her dream was to one day open a bakery; we had the extra money to invest, the Murfreesboro economy was booming and we wanted to see our daughter’s talent put to use. So I called Chantell and made her an offer.”
At the age of 26, Chantell had a life-altering decision to make. Stay in Atlanta with a job that had great benefits, 401-K, health insurance and paid vacations, continuing to live independently like most 26 year olds dream of doing but living a repetitive life with a repetitive career.
Or, she could move back to Tennessee to live with her parents and take out a personal loan from a bank, along with her parent’s investment, and open her own bakery. No health plan, no paid vacation.
After a month, she made the courageous decision to leave Atlanta and so far she hasn’t looked back. She might work six days a week, 5:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but to Chantell it’s just part of chasing her dream.
“Ding, ding,” the last timer of the morning chimes. This time it’s her loaded biscuits coming out of the oven, a customer favorite. Spicy chorizo and pepper jack cheese oozes out of the cooling biscuits.
Chantell’s bakery just opened in March 2016, but she already has regular customers that can’t wait for the “Closed” sign to be turned to “Open.”
The only obstacle Chantell constantly encounters is time. There never seems to be enough time in the day to do all the baking on top of the routine clerical work. The bakery might close at 4 o’clock but this young entrepreneur neglects a social life to grow her business. There is paperwork, product to reorder and the mental preparation for another day “Open.”
“Ding, ding,” the last timer of the day signals it’s closing time. “I’ve got my spark back,” Chantell says proudly, her sentiment punctuated by a glimmer in her bright blue eyes.