“Meet the Vendor” Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery

Tell us a little about what makes your business different.

My bakery is unique because it is free of gluten, eggs, dairy, and nuts. Soon we’ll be soy-free and corn-free too.

When did you start your business?

I started this business when I was 17. At the time, I was going to drop out of high school, but a business class with NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) helped me stay in school. When I was 20, I was named “Global Entrepreneur of the Year” by Goldman Sachs, and I was going to open up a bakery in Providence, but it didn’t work out, so I moved it back here to Boston. Two years ago, I fell at work and broke my neck– I had a seizure and I blacked out. When I was recovering, I started breaking out in hives. The doctors told me that I was allergic to gluten and dairy.  After several tests, it turned out that luckily I wasn’t allergic to these items, but the whole situation made me think about how drastically my life could’ve changed if I had food allergies. This inspired me to help others, so I turned my bakery into Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery and decided to help people with food sensitivities.

What’s your favorite thing that you sell?

My mom’s banana bread. She made it all the time when I was younger, and it’s vegan naturally, so making it gluten-free was difficult as hell! The smell of it takes me back to being a child.

What has been your biggest career accomplishment or proudest moment?

I guess I have two proudest moments. Winning the Goldman Sachs award was a big deal for me at age 20. But the more recent accomplishment would be the customer experience here.  Last week, a little girl came up to me and it was the first time she’d ever been able to have a cupcake in her entire life; the look on her face made me want to cry! Its no fun being labelled as “not normal” because you can’t have a cupcake like the rest of your class, or you can’t participate in anything because of your allergies. I feel great being able to help so many little kids who don’t even realize why they can’t eat something.

Why did you want to join the market?

I was here in January as a pop-up vendor, and I literally had customers here on my last week saying “You can’t leave” and demanding that I come back! And it made me feel great, so I had to stay.  At the time, I heard all of my other entrepreneur friends saying how great the market was, so I finally applied and got in!

What’s the hardest part about being a small business owner?

Doing everything myself. It’s a lot to be wearing so many hats in the business– a delivery driver and a baker and a salesperson, etc.

What do you like to do outside of the market?

I like to hang out with my dog Cooper.  He is so adorable. He’s our “accountant” on our Instagram and our Facebook; he wears ties and everything. I like to take him up to the White Mountains to go swimming and hiking.

What is your favorite Boston restaurant?

I would say it’s Red’s Best. I became a pescatarian about seven months ago, and I eat so much salmon and tuna from Red’s Best, and it’s amazing. Oh god, and their clam chowder!

What’s the first thing you learned how to cook?

Baking-wise, it would be the banana bread. And I would say food-wise, it would be steak tips that I learned from my dad. I make mean steak tips…even though I don’t eat them.