“You can't be what you can't see.”
Today is the birthday of a friend of mine and this week is the birthday week of one larger-than-life hero of mine, Julia Child.
To honor both my friend and Ms. Child, I'd like to share the first episode in a new series of ours called Badass Women.
The show celebrates women who have inspired and continue to inspire other women to do great things with their lives.
This first episode features a former colleague and friend of mine, Laura Raposa. I'd love if you took some time to check out the episode - and please, let me know what you think!
A big special thanks to my team at MEDIABOSS for making this show happen. Ian Barrett; Paul Bouley; Monica Duque; Nick Clarke and our amazing team of interns.
Erin: No one works harder than Boston Herald Inside Track columnist turned foods with proprietress Laura Raposa. She throws herself into her work with a tenacious passion some find intimidating. Personally, I find it inspiring. I met Laura in 2005 when I became her and her long time Inside Track partner, Gayle Fee's, assistant. She and Gayle were my bosses from 2005 until 2008, when I came on as a producer for their TV show, "Track Gals." The show ran through 2011 and we still keep in touch. I recently visited Laura at her Duxbury Massachusetts bakery, the Foodsmith. I wanted to ask her about her two passions, writing and cooking, and how she transitioned from one to another.
But first, I wanted to ask how she got into the whole writing thing to begin with.
Erin: "Tell me about how you started at the Boston Herald."
Laura: "When I first started out at the Herald, I was in college. And I came in at 6 o'clock in the morning. And I kind of ran the desk until the city editor came in. I would assign people. I'd assign photographers. And in fact, Andy Gully, who was the managing editor of the Herald, when he first started as a reporter said he thought I was the boss."
Erin: "Oh, really?"
Laura: "He had no idea I was just the editorial assistant. So when I graduated in '83, I had a job. And I was at the Herald for 30 years."
Erin: "I mean, you did come up to be one of the most powerful columnists in Boston. I mean, you went from being an editorial assistant and then-- "
Laura: "And then I wrote for consumer problem column, called "Sound Off," which I really loved. And then I was a business reporter. And Norman Nathan died. And Norman Nathan was-- talk about a powerful columnist. I mean, Norman was the pinnacle. And so Gayle and I took over. And we had the biggest smiles in the newsroom. And they put us together, Ken Chandler, smartest man. And we were together for 21 years. We were very powerful at one time. "
Erin: "If I remember correctly, one of my favorite headlines of all time, "Those Boston Bitches Will Totally Cut You." "
Laura: "That was something, if you Googled me, prior to the Foodsmith, that's the first thing that came up. I was horrified at one time, but now I was quite proud of it. Now I'm quite proud of it.
Erin: Laura's self-deprecating, but her and Gayle's Inside Track column was so popular sometimes even sports news had to take a back seat. And they did that all by coming up in the ranks in a male dominated industry. Their success was inspiring. And trust me, nothing was more impressive than watching the two of them flesh out a story. They were absolutely fearless.
Being here at Fenway Park was--
Talking to me at Fenway Park.
Talking to you. You're part of it. I wouldn't say you're the biggest part of this story, but you're one part.
Erin: Although Laura loved her job, her first passion was cooking. She comes from a long line of determined, passionate, culinary entrepreneurs. And she shared her story with me.
Laura: "My family is in the baking business. My grandfather started my family's company, which is a bakery supply house, out of the garage. And now it's this huge company and it's still run by my father. It's run by my mother and my brother. So I've always been in bakeries. My grandparents owned a bakery. My grandmother, during the Depression, they owned a bakery in Fall River. And I had a Suzy Homemaker, the complete Suzy Homemaker kitchen. And I made those little light bulb cakes and frosted them in that neon pink disgusting thing. And my father-- God love him-- would come home after calling on the best bakeries in Rhode Island, and come home and eat my light bulb cake. And that was really the start of my career."
Laura: "But then when I was at the Herald, my outlet was cooking and baking. And I went to the Culinary Institute of America. And I'd go up to King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont for weekends. I wanted to know the right way of doing everything. I didn't know what the hell I was going to do with all this knowledge, except feed my husband. It was fun. I really enjoyed it, but then there was that other thing that got in the way. And then when my real job was starting to affect me, I decided, you know what? What makes me happy? I'm 52 years old. What makes me happy is feeding people. And I fed my family and I fed my friends for so many years. I'm going to open up my own place. "
Erin: And now, we've come to the part of Laura's story that truly makes her bad ass. She had the courage to walk away from her successful career and completely changed her life course in her 50s. Laura had an inspiration of her own. The late, great, culinary genius, Julia Child. Child made a similar late decision that changed the direction of her own life. I'm a big fan of Julia Child myself, so we had a lot to talk about.
Erin: "I think you're quite badass. And I think what you've done is quite bad ass. But I can't think of you without thinking of another woman I find quite bad ass-- Julia Child."
Laura: "Oh, Julia Child."
Erin: "How did she inspire you?"
Laura: "Well, I always watched Julia. I mean as a kid, I would watch Julia on PBS. And anyway, I got to go to her house. And she had an event at the house on Irving street in Cambridge. And I was invited. And I went to the powder room and she had these French posters. And they were very interesting, very Toulouse Lautrec. And so I do my business and wash my hands and go back out through the dining room, into the pantry. And the caterer said to me, Miss Raposa, I don't think your skirt should be up like that. And so I began-- well, actually, she did because I was so horrified. She began taking my skirt out of my pantyhose. And so I had gone through the dining room, past Julia Child by the way, Jasper White, Lydia Shire, with my ass-- and that's bad ass, my friend-- into the pantry. And so I thought, well, do I stay here the rest of my life? Or do I grab champagne and walk out like nothing else happened? And that's what I did. "
Erin: The strongest comparison, aside from passion, that I make between Laura and the French Chef is their shared drive for what Child called self-education.
Erin: "Going back to her starting, quote unquote, late in life, I mean, so many people in their 30s are like, oh, I wish I could have done this, but I can't because my ship has sailed."
Laura: "No. Your ship has never sailed. "
Erin: "I agree. I don't understand that mentality, that OK, well, I'm 37, so therefore I'm not in my 20s, so I just have to be miserable for the rest of my life and not do what I want to do. And it's just an impractical approach. And that's the opposite of Julia. "
Laura: "It's opposite of me. Yeah. I was always a fan of hers, because she started late in life. When you're 54 years old, you're pretty much winding down of your career or whatever. And I started a whole new one. I started a whole new one. And I, like Julia, for instance, I went and interned at Flour. And I worked there. And I was the oldest person there. And I did the most menial of jobs, which you do. But I learned so much. You just soak up. And whatever we did that day was very important. It was very important. It was the foundation of what I do."
Erin: Like Julia, Laura made her own dream come true. Both women heard a lot of no's from people and responded by saying yes to themselves.
Laura: "It's very difficult to get production experience when you're in your 50s. So I decided, well, I'll open my own bakery. But I knew nothing about business. And what really helped us was the winter of our discontent. Remember? We got 900 inches of snow. It kept us inside on the weekends doing our business plan and looking and pricing things and checking out prices and sitting out here, counting cars that were going around the rotary. And I mean, we did-- talk about due diligence. I mean, we counted every car that went around the rotary on a Saturday between noon and 2:00."
Erin: "And so now that you're open, what is your approach to this now? "
Laura: "It's very customer service oriented. I don't want to disappoint anybody. I want them to come in. I want them to be happy and leave happy. That's my goal. When we started out, I thought it was really going to be more of a traditional bakery that served sandwiches. And it became the exact opposite, where lunch business has surpassed the breakfast. And plus our menu changes every day, just trying to every day come up with a new menu of lunch items and a fresh soup is very difficult."
Laura: "But I didn't think about that. It was like, hey, we'll change the menu every day. It'll be so cool. Like what? It's really been an education. And I've got to say, I love it. It is so un-glamorous. Well, first of all, I get up at 3 o'clock in the morning. And I start right in. I start right in on my baking. And then we're off and running. And then we close at 2:00. But what happens at 2:00? I don't leave. I have to plan for the next day and wash the floor, wash the dishes. "
Erin: "So that's why you have to have the passion, otherwise--"
Laura: "That's passion, my friend. I was passionate when I worked at the Herald. I mean, I was a loyal, devoted employee and very passionate about our column and beating the competition. I was very passionate."
Erin: "I know. I worked for you.
I know how passionate you were. "
Laura: "But now, I'm my own boss. And if you don't have passion, forget it."
Erin: Laura's bakery is a big success, collecting awards and accolades from virtually everywhere. The ingredients to Laura's success aren't on her shelves. They're a part of her-- passion, dedication, courage, tenacity, and a great sense of humor. Put them together and you get a whole lot of delicious, along with a smile, because you know she loves what she does. And so do I.
Erin: I'm Erin Hayes, and this has been Badass Woman.