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New trade school grad opens home baking business in response to COVID

Recent graduates face uncertain future
Recent graduates face uncertain future 10:41

CBS News is chronicling what has changed for the lives of Americans in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

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Thuy Carroll, 37, graduated in May from El Centro College in Dallas with an associate degree in baking and pastry. Since COVID decimated the hospitality industry, Carroll had planned to wait to look for work until the pandemic passed. But earlier this month, faced with a large veterinary bill, she couldn't wait any longer, so she started her own business from home. 

"I've been looking for jobs at the Four Seasons and the higher-end hotels, and they're just nonexistent right now," she said. "It's been a challenge. So, I was like, I'm just gonna pivot and see what happens."

She named her new venture Buster's Bakeshop — for her beloved dog whose medical needs were the impetus for Carroll's new approach to meeting her financial needs. 

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Carroll said that many of her friends in the food industry, like her, were hoping to wait out the virus. But with no relief in sight, their plans have changed. She knows some chefs who have been able to hang onto commercial jobs, but aren't able to clock enough hours due to lower demand. 

"Even my mentor had to start baking from home as well. One of the French chefs I know up in Chicago started consulting on the side," Carroll said. 

Carroll's young business is thriving, though there have been growing pains. She's been so inundated with orders that she's turning customers away. Her home kitchen is cramping her productivity — trained to work in high-end pastry, Carroll's single home oven is no substitute for the commercial equipment that makes it possible to take on large-scale projects. 

"It's a learning curve," she said. "It's so hard baking at home when you're used to the commercial kitchen making a massive batch of this or this."

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Then again, the ongoing pandemic hasn't exactly been conducive to the big events that would demand that kind of order. But even amid a pandemic, there's still demand, Carroll says, for celebratory cakes and pastries. Last week she filled an order for a drive-by parade. 

Carroll admits it's been a "struggle" adjusting, and she's not alone. She's been turning to colleagues and classmates to help grease the wheels of her young business. Carroll's specialty is elaborately decorated cakes and pastries. One friend specializes in "American pastries," like cookies and brownies, while another has been selling pies. Carroll said she and her friends might team up to buy supplies in bulk, so they can keep prices down and compete with commercial bakeries.

Another thing they're hoping to share: customers. With varying specialties, Carroll is hoping her network of chef friends can refer clients to one another. 

CBS News first spoke to Carroll in May. She says her outlook since then has drastically shifted. She's grateful to be working but is getting little sleep because of the pressures of maintaining a brand new business operating inside her house. And her husband is also working from home. 

"I feel like we're all just kind of keeping our heads down and working really hard right now," she said.

Carroll doesn't really know when demand will pick up for her cakes, which she knows are a luxury good, as the country continues to fight an economic downturn. With no COVID-19 vaccine and the threat of a "second wave" of surging cases, Carroll says the future of the hospitality industry is still "up in the air."

"The fourth quarter is always when our industry makes the most money," Carroll said, citing the holiday season. 

"If I get the work, I will be happy for the work and appreciative of that."

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