There’s a phrase used in Portland, Maine “from away.” Katherine Slevin, founder of C. Love Baking Academy is “from away,” but not nearly “from as far away” as others. Roughly, the phrase refers to a population that has relocated to the Northeastern shoreside town but simply as an informative adjective rather than an ‘othering.’
This population in the strikingly quaint, windswept town of Portland, Maine is made up of domestic relocatees, transient 20-somethings, and more recently: thousands of displaced persons fleeing international conflict. Slevin decided to take action in the resettlement process by launching her own business that trains and certifies young women who are refugees and asylees. “I want them to know someone sees them.”
In 2017, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, Katherine Slevin, a recent college graduate from suburban Illinois had moved to Maine to pursue a career in pastry baking. Through a local faith group, Slevin began to make connections with other young women, some of whom were volunteering with the burgeoning and much in-need refugee population in the town. Slevin had an idea: a small business whose sales would directly benefit resettlement efforts. She would call it C. Love.
Her company was launched and quickly ramped up the production of its baked goods with a focus on high-quality, delectable cookies and donated nearly one-quarter of all proceeds to local organizations assisting in the resettlement of newly-arrived refugees and asylees from the Middle East.
Slevin hired employees, sourced the finest raw ingredients, and developed a cadence of production, wholesaling, and donation whose impact on the thousands fleeing conflict across the world may never be fully actualized. On the side, she was running baking classes as well. In May 2021, the young entrepreneur took the business to the next level and launched C. Love in its second iteration: C. Love Baking Academy. “This is C-Love’s future,” she told me with an audible smile in her tone. “It started out as ‘I want to support the immigrants in Portland, and then it organically grew into ‘I really want to lift up immigrant women…I want them to find success here, and I don’t want them to be afraid or looked down upon.”
C. Love Baking Academy focuses on helping single mothers who are part of Portland’s refugee community learn baking skills through a formalized training program and certification to help poise them for a career in culinary arts.
“This new [program] is C-Love’s heart and mission,” says Slevin, “which is to welcome women into the kitchen space and create a welcoming space for immigrant women to thrive.” In August 2021, C. Love’s first graduating class earned their certifications.
“The Academy is larger [in] scale and has the potential for multiplication,” Slevin says. Designed as a standalone, registered non-profit, the C. Love Baking Academy is able to contribute directly to the humanitarian needs of displaced persons, as opposed to C. Love’s in its original form, which was donating through other non-profit organizations. The direct involvement, Slevin says, brings a whole new meaning to the company and the impact that it is able to make both in the way of training and beyond the kitchen. “It is a step off the original form,” as the organization’s founder puts it.
Towards the end of the pastry training course, the students also engage in a resume-building workshop, where they can learn how best to market themselves to future employers in the pastry baking industry and beyond, no matter where in the country the graduates will find themselves.
While many towns and cities have vibrant and innovative culinary scenes that lend themselves well to small business launches, Portland, Maine is at the top of the list, having even been named Restaurant City of the Year by Condé Nast’s Bon Appetit in 2018. Independent food businesses, many of which are multigenerational, are the backbone of Portland’s economy and the fingerprint of the eclectic, almost village-like town. For example, Portland’s Farmers Market, which continues today, started in 1768 and predates American independence itself.
“It’s the perfect place for C-Love,” the founder proclaims, “not only to grow [but to] thrive.”
When asked what she has gained most from teaching, Slevin gave a heartwarming response. “[I] use the word learning,” she told me, “We’re learning from each other. I don’t feel like I’m actually giving them anything,” says Katherine. “I feel like there’s this mutual relationship and it’s all about getting to know each other…and that’s how change happens.”
More information about C. Love Baking Academy and the individuals whose lives it has impacted can be found on their website here.