For 29-year-old Kimberly Wolfe, being a single mom to a preschool-aged daughter can be a daunting and challenging daily ordeal. Being a first-generation business owner as well could be seen as an impossible task. However, Wolfe says she’s living her childhood dream.
“I was a kid who stayed up late watching the Food Network and just thinking that baking is the coolest thing anyone could do. As I got older, nobody seemed to do that here. The first time I had even heard of anyone going to pastry school was when I was in college.” she said.
Wolfe, a 2015 graduate of Western Washington University, described how the lack of successful bakeries and pastries shops in her inner Harbor hometown discouraged her from pursuing her dream and made her feel like it was an impossible task.
As a result, she and her daughter moved back in with her parents in 2019 and decided to pursue an education in psychology during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was during the pandemic that Wolfe says the drive to fulfill her lifelong passion “put a fire in her heart.”
“To see and live in this area my whole life, the thousands of people, my classmates, my neighbors, myself, go through food insecurity, I just saw that there was something I could do,” Wolfe explained. “We don’t have any bakeries here besides Safeway, Walmart, or Swansons, and those are not locally owned and operated. They do employ people, but they’re not here to build an economy.”
Wolfe pointed out that with the moral support of her friends and family, she committed to the idea of making a bakery. Wolfe wanted a place where people could “have a safe space to enjoy a cup of coffee and have a fresh loaf of bread.”
As she began to build her business, which resides at Vasa Hall in Hoquiam, Wolfe paid for most of the bakery equipment and interior decorations out of pocket. On July 7, Wolfe opened Boulevard Bakery to the community.
She was met with overwhelming support from loyal customers and began to build relationships with several wholesale clients, as well as helped supply food to the Wishkah School District. However, her next month of business would put her to the test.
“The second week of August, I went to deposit our August funds and it wouldn’t let me. After days and days of trying to get it resolved, (the bank) told me that there was nothing they could do to get my transactions back and that they will not deposit them,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe declined to name the bank, but said an employee’s mistake is what led to 109 transactions worth $2,100 being lost for the entire month of August. She said the bank admitted in writing that they were at fault, but after consulting legal advice, Wolfe determined it would cost more to arbitrate or file a lawsuit than it would to accept the financial loss.
“In week seven to be told there’s no money and there’s no way to pay your rent and buy ingredients was really hard,” Wolfe said emotionally. “I really thought we were going to close because I’m a mom, and I live with my parents, and there is nothing left to keep us afloat financially.”
After having some customers come back to pay for their purchases or tip heavily, Wolfe was encouraged to start a GoFundMe. On Labor Day, she wrote a detailed GoFundMe explaining her ordeal and asked for $1,900 to help pay for rent and pay the two employees that work with her. In the first 24 hours, she was met with $1,300 in donations and as of Sept. 8, currently has more than $1,600.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the support of the community. I know this area is extremely generous, but I have a hard time feeling like I deserve their help,” Wolfe said. “I think it’s nice that people in the community see that we worked really hard for a really long month and just want to repay that.”
Wolfe says when the GoFundMe reaches the $1,900 goal, she will close it down. She appreciated that people wanted to know more about what was going on and didn’t want people to think that the ask for help was anything but genuine. She also said her business has switched to another financial institution that makes her feel more valued and works to support her.
Wolfe said the support of the community will allow her to continue the dream of being a first-generation business owner as a “third-generation Harborite.” She said she wants to build her business into an organization that helps combat food insecurity in Grays Harbor County, something that affects more than 14 percent of the county, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
As for now, Wolfe wants to educate people on avoiding issues, such as the one she went through when they dive into the small business realm.
“Things are too good to be true sometimes, unfortunately. I think in general, as a business, if you have business values make sure every part of your business aligns with the institutions that want to work with you,” Wolfe said. “Looking back on it, after this situation especially, I just wish I would have asked for help more for what I needed to be successful.”