A Baker’s Journey

A Baker’s Journey — Angeline’s Bakery is the current stop in the long journey that is the life of Angeline Rhett
(by Bunny Thompson, Bend Bulletin U Magazine, winter 2007, pdf)

It’s January, 3 a.m., and it’s dark outside; the streets of Sisters are empty and only a few soft lights are visible.

Twenty-eight-year-old Angeline Agre pulls on her coat, trudges through the snow to a small storefront, and unlocks the door to her next adventure in life.

Whether you fast-forward or rewind the tape from that cold morning in January, 1997, when Angeline’s Bakery opened for business on West Main Avenue in Sisters, you’ll find a an amazing woman with a pioneering spirit, a scrappy nature and a will to experience life to the fullest.

Her story seems to transcend her years, and, though she’s modest about her accomplishments, it’s a story that challenges other young women to test their fates and seek their own destinies.

Graduating from high school in 1987, Angeline said she tried classes at the University of Oregon “for a minute,” but she was restless and bitten by a travel bug. She found a job teaching at an outdoor school in Oregon during the spring and fall months, and she planned to travel during the summer and winter. Her first destination was Montana.

Several huge wildfires had erupted in the Bitterroot Mountain Range that year and, since she had an entire six months of outdoor experience from her job at the outdoor school, the plucky 18-year-old drove to Missoula, Montana and found a job catering meals for firefighters.

“I grew up baking, so this was a natural,” Angeline said. “During my off times, I made sandwiches and sold them to the guys in the local bars. It was a great gig. I saved a little money and decided to go somewhere far away from Oregon.”

Not surprisingly, the money she saved didn’t go far to buy an international airline ticket. She returned to the outdoor camp for another season.

“A hurricane plowed over Jamaica that fall,” she said. “The country was so devastated and no one wanted to go there that summer. The airlines were selling roundtrip tickets for $99.

When the outdoor school ended, I packed my sleeping bag in my backpack, bought a ticket and flew to Jamaica.”

She camped on the beaches, helped with the cleanup, and discovered the Jamaican people were kindred souls with free spirited determination. They eagerly hosted the tall, skinny 19-year-old American, sharing what little they had to offer.

That uninhibited free will and determination molded the young adventurer and would follow Angeline when she ventured into business later in life.

But until then, she once again found herself broke and returned to the outdoor school for another season. When summer approached and the traveling bug bit again, she decided to go for the big time. The sleeping bag went into the backpack and, once again, she headed to an unknown place to look for an unknown job. She drove to Alaska, camped on the beach, and looked for a job on a fishing vessel.

She worked as a short order cook making cinnamon rolls for the early-morning fishermen until she got a lead for a job on a tender, a large vessel that offloads the catch from fishing vessels. The captain asked if she could cook; in particular, he wanted to know if she could cook meat. Catering to hardworking men who expected hardy meals, the captain didn’t want a vegetarian hippie as a cook.

“I tried to hide the Birkenstocks on my feet,” she said. “I was desperate for a job. I acted like I was insulted and said, ‘Yes, of course I can cook meat.’ In reality… my mother rarely served meat. I could bake, but I had no idea how to cook meat.”

She did what any red-blooded American would do in this situation — she called her grandmother for help.

“My grandmother told me how to cook a roast and add potatoes, and how to fry pork chops. I was standing at a pay phone madly taking notes the night before we were scheduled to leave on the boat,” she said.

As a cook on the tender, Angeline earned $100 a day, and by the end of the summer, she had saved $6,000. She was rich. She took her savings and bought a roundtrip airline ticket to Africa. With her well-worn sleeping bag back in the backpack, she flew to Nairobi, the capital and largest city in Kenya, with the intentions of traveling throughout Africa for three months.

“I was overwhelmed when I landed in Nairobi,” she explained. “I was only 20 years old, a minority in an impoverished country. There were so many dangerous sections in the city, and the culture was so different than Jamaica.”

She managed to connect with other backpackers and hikers and traveled to the coast of Kenya, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, took a train down to Zanzibar, a bus to Malawi, and finally made her way to South Africa. After three months, her riches were spent and her return ticket home left from Nairobi not South Africa. She took a job as a waitress, found a small room to rent and decided to stay in Africa. The original three-month plan became a one-year experience of growing, learning discipline, fighting malaria, and grasping the diversity of the culture, the people and the economic range of Africa.

Angeline returned to the states a mature and worldly woman of 22. She returned to college, finished her degree in cartography, and found a job with the Forest Service in Sisters as a wild land firefighter.

“It was a great job ,and I loved living in Sisters. I’m like a lizard — I love the dry climate,” she said. “But, after one summer fighting fires, I realized I didn’t save any money to pay off my student loans and get through the winter.”

She went to Cash n’ Carry, bought some lunch meat, made an arrangement with a small bakery in town to buy bagels and use a portion of his space, and sold sandwiches and homemade baked goods from a basket going door-to-door to local businesses in Sisters. Support from the citizens of Sisters was tremendous.

“Some people bought extra sandwiches just to help me out,” she said.

Angeline eventually bought the small bakery, remodeled and opened in 1997 as Angeline’s Bakery & Café. It was a success from the beginning. Her firefighter friends came in for an early breakfast, and regulars from the lunch route showed up for their bagel sandwiches.

Two years later, Angeline married Henry Rhett, a man she calls “her best friend in life.” When Angeline and Henry started their family and two little boys came along only 16 months apart, most people thought Angeline might slow down. After all, the 3 a.m. morning pace of baking and preparing lunches would occur just an hour after the 2 a.m. feedings. But a woman with a pioneer spirit and a love for baking cannot be deterred. With Henry’s help and “a lot of great employees,” Angeline not only persevered, she expanded.

Last year, she took her popular gluten-free baked goods to Portland, acquiring corporate accounts like Fred Meyers, Whole Foods, Wild Oats and New Seasons. She found an old warehouse space in Portland that was once a bakery in the late 1800’s and began the arduous process of transforming the space into a certified gluten-free bakery.

Angeline and Henry Rhett recently bought land across from the bakery in Sisters. They plan to build a new bakery that will include retail office space for Henry’s home design business and other local businesses.

“We want a place where people not only want to come and eat, but they want to just hang out and visit,” Angeline said.

Today, you’ll find Angeline digging in the community garden with her sons, 4-year-old Simon and 3-year-old Oscar, on her days off, or digging through piles of paperwork in her office when the boys are at school or daycare. How does she stay calm, find the time to organize music events at the bakery during the summer months, and keep two businesses running while raising two young boys?

“I have a lot of awesome employees and a husband who probably does more laundry than I do,” she said, still rebuffing those accomplishments in her modest fashion.