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Friday, August 8, 2008

A Recipe for $ucce$$ Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Cassandra Lee

Six A.M.
Time to make the donuts.
I spring out of bed with a smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach. This morning my parents are meeting with me to discuss Cassandra’s future. They’ve been talking about retiring lately and I think they’re finally going to give me the bakery.
I proudly look up at the series of family portraits displayed on the wall above the dresser before getting a change of underwear out of the top drawer. The first shows me as a fussy toddler in my father’s arms as we stand outside of a small rundown Downtown Brooklyn corner shop in 1974. As Cassandra changes, I grow from a child into a confident woman leading her staff of twenty employees outside a Fulton Mall staple. Today everything they taught me will come full circle.
I choke back tears and march down the hall into the bathroom. After brushing my teeth and taking a quick shower, I streak back into the bedroom to stand in front of the full-length mirror hanging on the closet door. I quickly get dressed in a neatly pressed pink broadcloth blouse, khaki twill pencil skirt, and shined burgundy loafers. When I take the five-carat platinum and diamond engagement ring out of the jewelry tray and slip it on my finger I proudly admire the reflection of the polished professional black woman on the closet door.
Mmmmmmmmm…the sweet spicy aroma of my bakery’s warm cinnamon buns swirl in the air as I step out into the hallway and head downstairs. It looks like Gerald hasn’t left for work yet. I’ll go say good morning to my fiancĂ©.
I rush through the living room into the kitchen and find my chocolate colored man dressed in a charcoal pinstripe suit, white shirt, and lavender tie. He stands behind the center island counter in front of a half eaten cinnamon bun and cup of coffee typing an e-mail on his Blackberry. Gerald gives me a kiss when I walk up to him; the traces of white icing on his lips makes him taste even sweeter.
“Good morning Cassie.” Gerald greets. “I thought this was your day off.”
“It is, but I’m supposed to meet with my parents regarding Cassandra’s future.” I say. “I think they’re going to give me the store.”
“Well, you should finally own Cassandra. It has your name on it.”
“My expansion plans for Cassandra are going to get us a whole new set of customers. The catering service I’m planning is going to be better than the bakery.”
“If they give you the store I’ll invest a little leftover money in it. I think I can persuade the senior partners to hire you to cater some of their events. All the parties they have they can give you some business.”
“Thanks.”
“Did you call the travel agent to confirm the details of our Honeymoon?”
It just pops into my head after he mentions it. “Oh- I forgot. I’ll do that today.”
Gerald rolls his eyes. “Cassie…”
“Well, the shop gets hectic. It’s hard for me to get out of there sometimes-”
“I’d think our wedding being this Sunday you’d take some time off from work to actually plan it. This is your day more than mine.”
“I know. But I just love baking. It’s in my blood like it was in my father’s blood. You cut me and I probably bleed red icing.”
“As the manager, you can delegate some of that responsibility of yours to your employees. Just something to think about.”
“I’ll take your suggestions under consideration counselor.” I flirt.
Oh no it’s 6:35. I’ve got to get going. “I’m going to see you tonight right?”
“Yeah. We have to go over the seating arrangements for the reception. Again.”
I steal another sweet kiss from Gerald’s lips before rushing out of the kitchen over to the front door. I get my backpack out of the foyer closet and bump the closet door shut with my butt. When I open the front door I smile as I inhale the sweet dew in the morning air from the trees that line the sidewalk of Pierrepont Street.
Trotting down the gray concrete stairs of the red brick brownstone, I pull the remote keyless entry out of my purse and point it directly at my pink Cadillac Escalade parked out front. Anxiety builds inside me during the twenty-minute drive from the brownstones on the quiet tree-lined streets of Brooklyn Heights down to the busy shops of the Fulton Mall.
I smile as I get out of the truck and see my name written in black script letters on the store’s pink canvas awning. When I open the door and walk onto the sales floor most of the regular customers waiting on line smile at me. I smile back at them and say good morning as I make my way through the crowds over to the employee entrance.
As I approach the sales counter next to the door, I notice a stack of green flyers for Perch near the registers. The new ads for the DUMBO seafood restaurant list different lunch specials than last week. Molly is here. I definitely have to say hi to my girl before I go to work.
I look around the crowd of customers and see Molly’s purple Perch baseball cap across the sales floor by the cake display. The tall trim bronze colored woman waits while one of my workers ties red and white string around each of the six pink hexagon shaped cardboard boxes containing the order of desserts for her restaurant. Her eyes light up when I tug the sleeve of her white chef’s shirt.
“Hey Cassie.” Molly greets.
“Hey girl.” I reply. “Everything in your order the way you wanted it?”
“Yeah. Why you coming into work on your day off? I thought your pops was opening up the store.”
“I have a meeting.”
“Work never ends for you.”
“Hey, that’s the way it is in the restaurant business. We never rest so the customers won’t rant.”
“I hear you. Running Perch is like that. I’m going over there to wax the floors once I finish up here.”
“Did you and Sara get your bridesmaids’ dresses?” I inquire.
“Yeah, we got the ugly pink things.” Molly sighs. “Why they got to be so loud?”
“Well, you’re only going to be wearing it once. Want me to help you carry these to your car?”
“Nah, you don’t have to go out of your way. Michelle, the employee who you graciously pay ten dollars an hour to work for you can continue to help me by carrying these boxes to my car.”
“I’ll see you at the rehearsal Saturday night.” Molly says as Michelle picks up the six pink cardboard boxes and walks towards the front door.
After Molly and Michelle leave the store I walk back over to the sales counter and open the white door next to it marked employees. The wonderful aromas wafting in the air from the fresh baked goods put me in a euphoric state as I gracefully maneuver myself through the maze of baker’s racks, workstations, and mixers in the bustling kitchen. I say good morning to the members of my hardworking crew on the long journey to the front door of my office located just a few yards across from the giant rotating baker’s oven in the back of the store. I overhear my parents talking on the other side and check my watch. I’m on time.
I open the white door of office and to find my parents sitting in front my glass-topped desk with anxious smiles on their faces. There’s a white canvas tote bag is under Dad’s chair. Dad doesn’t usually carry a tote bag to work, so whatever is inside must have something to do with Cassandra’s future. Perhaps it’s the deed to the store.
“Good morning Mom, Dad.” I greet. “What’s up?”
“It’s big news Cassie.” Dad says. “You better sit down.”
I slide into the black leather chair behind my desk as Dad closes the door. When he sits back down my Mom is so eager to share their news she’s about to burst. I try to remain calm.
“ITC FOODS IS GONNA BUY OUR BAKERY!” Mom exclaims giddily.
Hold on- did I hear that right? Did they say they’re selling Cassandra?
I let the words run through my head again and my heart stops. When it starts beating again I catch the smiles on my parents’ faces.
THEY’RE SELLING CASSANDRA!
No- I’ve got to convince them that this is wrong. Ever since I was five years old I knew they built this bakery for me to take over when I got older. They wouldn’t have put my name on it and taught me everything they knew about baking if they were planning to sell it out from under me.
“When did they make us an offer?” I ask nervously.
“One of their guys called us a month ago while you were out at lunch.” Dad says. “He asked for a rundown of the business. Now a big corporation doesn’t do that unless they want to buy you out.”
“Did you send them anything?” I ask.
“I sent them everything.” Dad says smiling.
Oh God.
“They sent us a proposal saying they want to turn our cakes and pies into a brand!” Mom exclaims. “We gonna be like Entenmann’s. Our stuff is gonna be in the supermarkets!”
“You guys should have talked to me about this before you did anything.” I sigh.
“What’s to talk about?” Dad says. “When a big company offers to buy you out, you take the money.”
Take the money- I can’t believe how shortsighted they are. “Dad, they could be thinking about setting up shop and pushing us out of business. Big companies do that all the time. They get your information and then use it against you to put you out of business.”
“Cassie, that’s not the case.” Mom says. “ITC already has products like ours in stores. Now they probably want to use our recipes to make some of those products. I wouldn’t mind seeing a box of our cookies on a store shelf.”
The more I listen to my parents talk the more my heart breaks. Perhaps if I tell them about my dreams they’ll change their minds. “Mom we’re making money. We don’t need ITC to sell our products for us. I’m doing that for you.”
“Cassie, you’re getting married.” Mom continues. “You don’t need the burden of running the store in addition to taking care of Gerald-”
“Mom, it’s not a burden to me. I wanted the business.”
“Focus on your wedding baby.” Dad says. “Your life is going to change in a couple of weeks.”
“The store is as much my life as Gerald is. I thought you opened it up for me to have when I got older.”
“Cassandra was our life.” Dad continues. “We opened it up so we could take care of you. Now you’re grown and you deserve to have something of your own. With the money we get from ITC you could open up a better Cassandra in the city.”
“Why would I want to open another store someplace else? Cassandra’s customers are here. I mean I practically grew up here. This place is like my home-”
“Come on Cassie, you can do a lot better than this old place. Everything you’ve done here shows me you have what it takes to run one of those really swanky downtown coffee houses with the books and the sofas in them.”
Commuting into Manhattan and being just another baker in some tiny high-rent Upper West Side storefront selling overpriced coffee, bagels, muffins and cinnamon rolls is not my vision of a successful future. My vision of success is building on our thirty-year legacy of sharing Cassandra’s lovingly crafted baked goods with the people of Brooklyn who appreciate our products. I’ll try to explain what I want to do.
“The way I see it our business can still take care of us all. That’s why I went to culinary school and double majored in pastry arts and restaurant management. I wanted to take over the business. I want to continue selling our products here to our customers and share the profits with you.”
Mom shakes her head. “We never wanted you to stay here.” “We wanted you to have a better life than this. You can do so much better than us.”
“Well this is the life I want for myself.” I say. “I have plans for expanding Cassandra-”
Dad shakes his head no. “Cassie, we want to sell the store to ITC. It’s too big a break to let pass.”
“Dad let me do this.” I plead. “Let me have my bakery. I’ve got some money saved up-”
My father laughs at me. “How are you going to pay for your wedding then?”
I glare at him. “You’re paying for my wedding. My savings and the loan I get from the bank will be more than enough money to retire on.”
“Cassie, I know you want to do right by us.” Mom says. “But this deal could be for some real money. For what ITC is probably gonna offer us for this place we can pay off the mortgage and get a house in Florida.”
I look to my father for support and realize how alone I am. “I want a Lexus to go in the driveway myself.” He chimes.
I fight back the tears in my eyes. I don’t know what’s worse having my dream taken away from me or finding out my parents who raised me right are just as greedy as everyone else when some anonymous corporation glances at them with promises of a truckload of money. I hate seeing human nature manifest itself in the people that I love. I thought they were better than that.
Since they want to sell I’m going to be a good daughter and honor my parents’ wishes. I’ll oversee the selling of the store so those fast talking suits at ITC won’t cheat them in the deal.
“If you want to sell the store let me represent you.” I sigh. “These suits can be shifty.”
“Cassie this isn’t like running the store.” Mom chides. “These are big businesspeople. You don’t have the experience working with corporations-”
“I can do this Mom.” I insist.
“Cassie can do this Helen.” Dad interjects.
“Carlton-”
“Cassie’s been to college. She knows more than we do about business.” Dad says. “With her college education I know she can get us a better deal than we could get on our own.”
Dad pulls a black binder out of the tote bag sitting underneath his chair and hands it to me. “This is the proposal the ITC guy sent us a couple of weeks ago. You can look it over.”
“Okay. I’ll get right on it.” I say.

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