Michael Kerrigone thought about postponing the festivities at Hazella Bake Shop in downtown Lebanon on Friday.
He didn't know if it was right to celebrate the shop with a visit from the Lebanon Chamber Ambassadors and a ribbon-cutting ceremony while people were evacuating their homes due to the wildfires just a few miles away.
In the end, Kerrigone, who operates the shop with his wife, Rebecca, and her daughter, Katherine Traeger, decided this was an opportunity to serve the community. So they chose to proceed with the event.
Katherine Traeger, the creative director for Hazella Bake Shop, said they had to scale back some of their planned activities for the celebration. But they decided not to reduce the amount of goods produced by their bakers at this time, even though it was unlikely to all be sold due to reduced traffic downtown.
Instead, Traeger said, they will be donating unsold items to firefighters, to families in need, and to the Lebanon Soup Kitchen.
They are also donating a percentage of their sales during this opening celebration to support families who had to evacuate their homes due to the wildfires, Traeger said.
Rebecca Grizzle, executive director of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, said the opening of a new business during these difficult times is a positive sign.
"It's amazing, with everything 2020 has given us that's bad, it's also given us gifts. So it means the world to see something positive going on down here," Grizzle said.
Michael Kerrigone grew up in the food service industry. His parents ran a delicatessen in Brooklyn, N.Y. and he was trained at the Culinary Institute of America.
But after years of working in the field, he needed a change. He worked in homeless shelters on the East Coast and later moved to Oregon to continue that work. For the past six years he worked at the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) in Salem.
"I served there for six years and they were wonderful," Kerrigone said.
He had worked as a counselor in the homeless shelters for several years, but in Salem he was asked to be the director of food services for UGM. This experience rekindled his interest in the field.
"I cooked for and served movie stars in the past in the hotels I worked at in New York. That was all right, but it wasn't as fulfilling," Kerrigone said.
He found more fulfillment in helping men at the shelter learn new skills that they could use as they rebuilt their lives.
Kerrigone met Rebecca, an experienced cook and baker, at an area church and after they got married three years ago they started looking for a business they could work in together. They struck out in their first attempts to find a worthwhile project and really weren't looking for a business in Lebanon.
But when they had the opportunity to take over the location of the former Kris' Kitchen building on Main Street, they couldn't pass it up.
"I swore I would never have a family business and I swore I would never be a business owner," Kerrigone said with a laugh. "It shows you how much I'm in control of these things."
They committed to opening the bakery in late winter, just before the pandemic led to restrictions on business and many other activities. But they kept moving forward.
One piece they didn't have to figure out was their marketing. They were fortunate to have an experienced marketer in the family. Katherine Traeger worked in the fashion industry in New York and continues to operate her own boutique dress company while handling all of Hazella's social media.
She has found joy in working for the bakery.
"My goal was to make beautiful things and be able to pay my rent. It checks off all the boxes," Traeger said of working with her family at Hazella.
Kerrigone hopes the bakery can benefit the community and its staff by creating a place where people feel welcomed.
"Each of us, everyone on our team, has been through some challenging times in life, even before this," Kerrigone said. "The reason why we really feel passionate about it is we have hearts of service. We'd really love to be able to create a safe environment, a healing environment where people can be refreshed. The driving motive is to serve others and to be a presence in the city."
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