When Jessica Kruger arrived at Vancouver Community College (VCC) to study baking and pastry arts in 2018, she already had an English degree, event planning experience, and some quality baking skills on her resume. Any school would be lucky to have her. Still, Jessica says she struggled to find a professional baking program that would accommodate her wheelchair.
Even after speaking to VCC Disability Services, Jessica says they acknowledged it would be a challenge, but were up for it. “They were willing to listen to me and help problem-solve,” she says.
Thanks to this opportunity, Jessica has gone on to make many peoples’ lives a whole lot sweeter, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an athletic 15-year-old, Jessica had just started a summer job painting houses when she fell from a ladder and sustained a spinal cord injury. She returned to high school that fall in a wheelchair, went on to graduate, earn an English degree, and even play wheelchair rugby, all the while pursuing her hobby of baking and decorating cakes and cookies for friends and family.
In choosing a career path, Jessica eventually decided that professional baking would bring the most joy both to her and to others. “I love helping people celebrate the special moments in life,” she says.
At VCC, Jessica found the baking and pastry arts curriculum thorough and challenging. “I learned a lot,” she says, “not only about baking and pastry, but also about budgeting, safety, and professionalism, as well as working with people and challenging their mindsets.”
After graduating from the 11-month certificate program in 2019, Jessica felt fully equipped to either look for a job or start her own business. Yet she knew that finding a job in a professional bakery would pose fresh challenges. “The pastry industry doesn’t seem to know what to do with someone in a wheelchair,” she says. “I felt like I was being underestimated.”
And so, in late 2019, Jessica launched The Stubborn Baker, working out of a shared commercial kitchen to create unique and eye-catching cakes, cupcakes, and cookies for clients in the Vancouver area.
The name “Stubborn” comes from Jessica’s own mantra of persevering through her disability and overcoming the many related barriers along the road to finding success in work and in life.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and began to affect many businesses in the hospitality industry, Jessica braced for the worst but happily found that orders continued to come in. “As larger parties got cancelled, it seems as though people were more willing to spend a little extra on custom cakes and treats,” she says.
Jessica dreams of one day opening a storefront business, but for now, she continues to be motivated by baking ever more creative goodies and seeing the joy they bring. “There is nothing better than putting your heart into a project and seeing a positive customer response,” she says.
VCC is excited to work with people of all abilities to achieve their goals. Contact VCC Disability Services before starting your program to discover what’s possible.