Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

We are now beginning to wrap up the first semester and it has been a huge shift to adapt to a kitchen that fosters a learning environment versus a production kitchen. I am learning so much in terms of my skills and how to utilize those skills in a team environment. Most importantly, I have learned that not everyone knows what I know and I certainly don’t know everything. (Funny story… I recently had friends down and they thought I knew how to make perfect pancakes…. boy did I show them) 

Everyday there is a new task to grapple with and a new technique to master.  For the first 6 weeks, I was in a Hospitality Studies class before transitioning to the kitchen.  This encouraged us to look at the person we are and see what may be aiding or hindering us in the process of becoming the leader and chef we aspire to be. This career goes much deeper than being able to create elegant desserts or decorate cakes.  In the culinary industry, success centers around the person that you are, the integrity you hold yourself to, and your interactions with the world around you.

I am learning that culinary arts requires a team (this is a somewhat foreign concept to me).  While working at the school bakery, Layers, I have been forced to adjust to sharing my space with other people.  The most difficult variable in this equation is that the people I am sharing it with are nothing like me. Most of them haven’t worked in a production style bakery, or a bakery/ coffee bar/ high school hangout (AKA Aspen). I have never truly understood the phrase, team work makes the dream work, until now. 

It honestly does take a village to raise a bakery (or something like that) and I am beginning to see that we can accomplish so much more as a team than as individuals.  What started off as the biggest frustration is teaching me more and more every single day. Only 7 more class days in Layers…but who is counting?!

Tilt-A-Whirl Gone Wild

So you haven’t heard from me in a while… You’re probably thinking what happened to her, did she fall off the face of the Earth, where did she go? Honestly, I’m not sure about any of those questions, but I am absolutely positive about this: Life. Has. Been. Crazy. Sometimes I can’t believe this is truly my reality, other times I wish I was in NYC, other times I wish I had Aspen back. A rollercoaster of emotions is quite an understatement. 

*Jump on and strap in.  Keep all hands and feet inside the cart at all times.

We will pick up where we left off….  Things were just getting good! Or so I thought.

I evacuated for hurricane Dorian the Monday before it was supposed to “tear through” the eastern coast of the United States and though I missed the opportunity to fight my way through, I was excited to have some time to hang out at my favorite coffee shop (Aspen, of course), decompress, and visit family and friends.  While I was home, one question that I received over and over again was in reference to my new normal.  Of course I made small talk and pretended everything is as perfect and glamorous as it should be, but to be completely honest, it is hard. 

After a week of being home, packing my car and saying goodbye on that Sunday afternoon was like moving away all over again. During that week I spent so much time with my favorite people- the ones who love me for me.  The ones that after a long day in the kitchen or at work I wish I could have around to laugh with me (and at me). Those are my people. I lived my life for a long time without making time for these friends, but each day I am realizing more and more how important they are. 

Going back to the beach meant leaving all this behind….again. But, it made my realize that I am lucky.  Having true friendships is a luxury that not all people are afforded.

I guess my reason for telling you this little snippet is to advise you to hold the people you love close.  We all get ready at the threat of a hurricane on the radar, but we do very little to prepare ourselves for storms in our lives.  Love the people around you with everything you have. You might not know when life will pull you in a different direction and the waves will come crashing in.

Ain’t It Funny How Life Changes?

Wow, life changed so fast. It feels like just this morning I was in Reidsville turning the wheels at Aspen and waiting for the next big thing. Little did I know, the next big thing was happening all around me and I didn’t even realize it.  That brings me to today as I sit here in the beach house (s/o to Mrs. Collins… I know, I know- LAURA). 

A couple weeks ago, I went to Thomas Rhett’s concert in Raleigh (10/10 recommend, he puts on a phenomenal show) and he sang his song “Life Changes”. He makes the statement, “you make your plans and you hear God laughing.” I was today years old when I truly understood the accuracy of that statement.  Were not for God’s laugh, I very well may have been writing this from my apartment in Manhattan while getting ready to start school on Monday.  Today, I am choosing to be grateful for God’s laughter.

I am a firm believer that everyone at some point causes God to chuckle… and here lately I’m pretty sure he is belly-ache, bent over his chair, cannot breathe, tears in His eyes, laughing at me as I try to navigate this newfound adulthood. My first few weeks in North Myrtle Beach (we will say NMB from here on out), have been spent applying for jobs, though I had one in my mind that I thought was going to be perfect for me. I had been in contact with the employer for quite some time and we worked out a time for an informal interview.  They hired me right on the spot. BUT as I went through the interview there were 1000 red flags that shot into the sky like fireworks, and I left feeling devastated. I had planned on this being my place. Somewhere I could hone my skills and perfect my craft. My plans came crashing down in a matter of 2 hours. As soon as I got back to the car, I called Mom (because if Mom can’t fix it, no one can. Right?) She advised me to calm down, go print off my resume, and take it to every coffee shop, bakery, and cafe I drove past. So simple, yet it was the BEST ADVICE EVER. When life kicks you down, wallow for a minute.  Then get your tail up and keep moving!

As I drove up and down the coast of South Carolina I had both encouraging and discouraging encounters. Right as I was about to call it a day and return home, the last place I stopped hired me after a firm handshake and a quick glance over my resume (oh don’t worry, I was slightly skeptical too). 

Fast forward a little and I am a week and a half in and I am convinced that this is where I am meant to be. My employer and coworkers are the sweetest and kindest people to work for. They even brought me coffee this morning! It’s like they know me or something….

Aside from working part-time and scrambling to make my life somewhat resemble a new normal, I’ve had two weeks of time to do the things I love.  Many of the hobbies that were hidden away in the busyness of running Aspen have become a reality in my life again. I’ve been able to truly relax and actually read books past the first two chapters. I’m signed up to take a tap class.  I’ve got a pretty nice tan and enjoyed time with family too. It’s been a beautiful ride thus far.

I started training for the bakery on campus this past Monday; it is very similar to an externship where I would attain real-world bakery experience (which you can always use more of, haha). I am enjoying and learning so much. I’ve met some nice people and some not so nice (there’s one in every bunch).  Mostly everyone has been incredibly welcoming. As of today, I have made breads, cookies, and biscuits! It has been an adjustment having 12 other people in the kitchen with me, but I am working through it. I also started my UNCG online classes again, we’re down to single digits…. only 9 left!! 

To get to the real point of this blog post, besides updating you on my journey, I am here to tell you that just when you think everything is falling apart, calm down, call your mom, and try again. Things may actually be falling into place. We can make our own plans but there is no guarantee they will be kept, but there is a guarantee that God is laughing and waiting for you to knock on the right door.

Wrapping It Up

I’m choosing not to cry because it is over, but to smile because it happened.

Aspen Bakery and Coffee Bar, originally 309 Aspen Bakery, has been one heck of a ride and I owe it all to my parents. I began this business not knowing what was going to happen. I was going into my senior year of high school, 17 years old, and taking 19 credit hours. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I did. I’ve graduated high school, seen friends come and go, lost loved ones, traveled to new places, took on a second job, gained new friends, and so much more in 2 short years. Life has been far from calm. I always find it humorous that I had a Pinterest board called “My Future Bakery” years before I ever knew Aspen would come to be. It had been a dream forever. With that being said, all good things must come to an end. 

I have so many people to thank, but the most important are my family. People who know my parents know how amazing they are and I am lucky enough to experience that 24/7. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, they listened to me rant and rave about things that irritated me, they comforted me when I was down, and most importantly picked me up when I needed it. If I had been able to hand pick my parents, there’s no way I could have picked any better two. You’ve both done so much for me that I will never be able to repay you. We haven’t always seen eye to eye and we’ve disagreed often, but no matter what they always had my best interest in mind and have been my biggest supporters since day one. Thank you for that. 

To my sister, thank you for being my biggest fan. Even though we disagree often, I know that at the end of the day, you have my back. You have supported me in all of the major life decisions that have happened in the last few years. We’ve been there to see each other graduate college, became business partners, and start new adventures in life. Thank you for all you have done.

To our family friends, you know who you are, you guys knew my dream before anyone else. You helped to renovate and get things ready for opening, all in exchange for birthday cakes and coffee, and you’ve always been one call away if mom or dad couldn’t get there. For this, I can’t thank you enough. To the family friends we have picked up along the way, you will never know how much it has meant to me that you chose to support me and encourage me along this journey. I am forever grateful for this. 

To my customers and the Wentworth community…wow, you guys have been amazing to my sister and I. I am so humbled by the love and support you have shown us. We have so many people we have grown to know over the past two years and even met some life long friends. I have met customers that can turn any bad day into a great one and ones who say exactly what you need to hear! I am forever grateful for the relationships Aspen has brought me. 

Although my face will no longer be the one behind the counter, Aspen is in good hands. I can’t wait to embark on this new adventure, but I will never forget the people who have helped me get to where I am today. So, here I go again….chasing dreams!

A Bittersweet Goodbye

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

My time at RCC has been nothing short of amazing. I began here last October, knowing it was only a year long position, but what I didn’t know was that I would gain an entire new family! 

Each one of these amazing individuals have impacted my life and taught me so much that I could never even begin to return the favor. They never looked at me as young or inexperienced, they viewed me as an adult and took the opportunity to teach me life lessons that  I would never have learned anywhere else. I can truly say that if it weren’t for these people, I would not be making this leap and chasing my dreams. As soon as I began working here, they took me into the family and below is a list of life lessons that they have painstakingly taught me:

  1. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t become so consumed with making a living that you forget to make a life.
  2. No amount of money can account for happiness, but the people you spend your time with can.
  3. Never take life for granted, everything can change in the blink of an eye.  Always take the time to count your blessings and most importantly, enjoy the life you have been given.
  4. Take note of those who are encouraging you and those who are discouraging you and surround yourself with only those who push you to be the best you can be.
  5. Don’t spend your time trying to impress others, it doesn’t get you anywhere.
  6. Never miss the chance to try something new, it could be life-changing!
  7. You are right where you are supposed to be in life, even if you don’t understand why.
  8. Don’t burn the bridge if you don’t have to; you never know when you may need to cross it again.
  9. Enjoy the little things in life, one day they will hold a heavier meaning. 
  10. Invest in getting to know the people around you.  Who knows, they might be as hilarious as the ones I have had the pleasure of knowing.
  11. If you spend your time doing something you don’t want to do, you’re only wasting your time.
  12. Don’t let the small things in life worry you. They won’t matter in 10 minutes and you won’t even remember them in 10 years.
  13. No matter where you go, be unapologetically yourself.  People will love you for you, not a fabricated version of you. 

Although it is a bittersweet day to be saying goodbye, I know that it’s not really a goodbye, more of a see ya later, friends! You guys will always hold a special place in my heart and no matter where I go in life, I will never have a work family as amazing as you all. 

Decision Time…. Again

So if you read blog post #3 and #4, you’re probably thinking why the heck is she doing another decision blog post…..well, long story short, my war of three schools was actually a war of four schools…..

With this new decision, I will be able to travel, come home when I want, and work while in school; 3 important things to me. You can ask anyone that knows me personally, this decision was one took an enormous emotional toll on me. I am a family gal who enjoys traveling, concerts, new adventures, and working so I can do these things! Going 12 hours away was going to turn my whole life upside down and if you read the last post, the lifestyle of NYC would have been a little bit of a culture shock for a southern girl like me. 

 Don’t get me wrong, NYC has my heart and I know it would have been an amazing experience, but looking 10 years down the road, it just wasn’t the option that ended me closest to my long term goal. I toured The International Culinary Institute at HGTC in Myrtle Beach, SC roughly one year ago, and though it was an amazing school with all new classrooms, state-of-the-art equipment, and great faculty and staff- I had my mind on NYC and nothing else.

I sat down and talked with a good friend of mine when I was really having a hard time making this decision and he really put things into perspective for me. NYC would have easily cost $80,000 plus including housing. HGTC costs under $40,000 including housing and living expenses. While the money is not the deciding factor, what changed my mind was that neither come with a guarantee that I will be outstanding in the pastry field…. that part is all on me. After explaining my pros and cons list to him, he said “once you get out of school, people aren’t going to come pay $3,000 for a wedding cake because they know you went to a prestigious school in NYC, they are going to pay that price because they know your cake is of good quality and your decoration is beautiful, it has nothing to do with the school, but the amount of work you put in.” This one simple statement put my whole decision into focus. It wasn’t the education that was going to get me there, it is how hard I am willing to work. 

Now you’re probably thinking, but NYC would be such a cool experience and you’d meet so many people and you’re missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. Well, yes, it would be such a cool experience and yes I would meet so many people and yes, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity….. but, sadly, the cons outweigh the pros in this situation and looking down the road, the life I lead outside of work means so much more to me and this option will allow me to explore both. 

I am 100% satisfied with my decision and it has taken me quite a bit of time to come to terms with the change. This also means that I will be back in town more often, I will have an amazing tan, and experience life in a different way. I am so excited and cannot wait until August 8th!

A War of Three Schools

In late March, this journey became real… Real quick.

I was on a plane headed to NYC to tour my top three choices for school: #1 The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), #2 The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and #3 The International Culinary Center (ICC).

Let’s start with the school that slid into last place… the CIA (cue creepy spy music) in Poughkeepsie, NY. The cost was around $45,000 per year and it was 2 hours upstate from the city. Here, I would spend a very small amount of time, around 3 weeks, learning to professionally decorate cakes, which is what I am most interested in. The school is the #1 school in the U.S. for culinary arts and their attitudes make that status well known (if you’re picking up what I’m putting down). In their Baking and Pastry Arts Program, you take a wide variety of classes in a relatively short period of time, leaving little room to do each discipline justice. The teacher to student ratio was much higher than the other schools which truly affects the outcome of learning in a culinary atmosphere. On to the upsides.  The campus is seated comfortably with a stunning view of the Hudson River. That view is only complimented by the train ride from the city that boasts gorgeous views of the Hudson and the numerous small towns between NYC and Poughkeepsie. The CIA has so much to offer the student who is aspiring to learn every single aspect of baking and pastry arts as in depth as they can. They have an excellent campus with many resources for students to flourish and discover what they want to do in the industry. At the end of the day- the CIA just wasn’t for me.

The ICE had immediate turn offs because of the process just to enter the school. Follow me carefully. You walk through the main doors, up the escalator, around the corner, sign in, through security, and down several halls to find the right elevator, up the elevator, down the hall and congratulations you’ve just made it to class! The school was an accelerated program, meaning you could take the entire Baking and Pastry Arts Program in a matter of 6-9 months. The views were gorgeous; one side looked out over the city and the other over the Hudson. This school was much smaller and more personalized, but I didn’t feel at home. Again, despite the beauty of the institution and the quality of learning, the ICE just wasn’t for me.

Now on to the good stuff! The ICC (where I will be attending very soon). As soon as I began the tour it felt like home. This sense of connection with the staff and the instructors truly made a lasting impression as they went above and beyond to welcome me. One of the pastry instructors was in his classroom helping students with their projects outside of class time. This is also the teacher who invited me into his classroom to show me what it looks like to be a student there. The student to teacher ratio is much smaller and you enter and exit with the same class of students. The factor that truly pushed me over the edge, head over heels, deep in love with ICC was that I would be in the kitchen from day 1. This is so ingrained in their mantra that they don’t even have lecture halls. The Professional Pastry Program is a 6 month program, Monday through Friday, with over 600 hours of hands-on time plus an externship.

At the ICC, Ron Ben-Israel is a guest instructor, who is known for his extravagant wedding cakes and artistic capabilities. Having professionals of his stature within the walls of the school helps the students to make connections within the industry. The ICC also offers many services to assist students in making the transition from home to NYC such as helping them understand the financial aid process and finding externship opportunities. Leaving home will be hard, but the ICC already feels like where I belong.  

Really… NYC?

Ahhhh, my most asked question. Why NYC? Here goes nothing….

For starters, it is truly the city that never sleeps. The last time I was there, I fell asleep every night listening to a saxophone player on the sidewalk below. You only find that culture of spontaneity in New York City. Where I come from, good ole’ Reidsville, NC, no one walks around playing the saxophone during the day, much less midnight. NYC truly has it all! From breath taking sites and music to drugs and being robbed on the subway- you can really take your pick of experiences, haha! In all seriousness, it is one of the most amazing places on earth- but certainly not for the faint of heart.

My soul longs for that city constantly. I can taste the chicken parmesan from Carmine’s Italian Restaurant right now. Hand breaded chicken breast atop any fresh pasta of your choice all smothered in homemade tomato meat sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese. Anyone else up for lunch?! Your mouth is probably watering, right? I didn’t even scratch the surface of all the food NYC has to offer. You have an endless amount of choices at your fingertips.

How about dessert? It’s the sweetest part of the meal! When I say the words delicious banana pudding I bet you think of your granny’s traditional banana pudding cooked over the stove and topped with meringue, right? Wrong! You haven’t had banana pudding until you’ve tried Magnolia Bakery’s (FYI….they ship this stuff, it is that good). Alright, alright, alright, maybe banana pudding isn’t your thing…. how about ice cream? Little Italy has a heavenly assortment of gelato, better than anything you will find within 100 miles of North Carolina. This stuff is the real deal.

So why is their food so amazing? Many of the restaurants and deli’s you enter in to have been in families since the 19th century when they immigrated from countries all over the world. Many still use the same recipes that their family was using 6 generations ago- and they would rather die than compromise the quality of one single plate that leaves their kitchen. The varying cultures and pride in their work is the DNA of New York City. In 7th grade social studies we learn that the United States is a melting pot of various cultures, but I never understood it fully until walking down a street with people from every ethnicity and language I can imagine within reach. (side note: melting pot made me think of mac and cheese. The Herald has the most expensive and the best mac I’ve ever tasted- it will honestly change your life for the better).

Reason #458 I have fallen in love with NYC: You don’t drive anywhere! You hop on the subway or if you’re feeling fancy, take an Uber to anywhere you want to go. There is truly no limit to what is available. From Broadway shows to live music I believe I could live the rest of my life there and not even scratch the surface of what all is available in a 10 mile radius.

So, why is New York on the list? Simply put, it’s the city that never sleeps, never stops growing, never stops entertaining, and never turns away someone who is chasing a dream.


I assume, based off the series of clicks it took you to get here, that you have the slightest little bit of curiosity about what I, Abbey Carter, am up to. Say no more….

These past two years have been crazy. Nope. Crazy is an understatement…. Insane might be more accurate. None the less, here I am getting ready to make my next move (possibly the biggest one yet- see subtitle above).

Let me back up a little. I’ve always enjoyed baking (funny free of charge side story: when I was younger I had a Pinterest board called “Future Bakery”… if I had only known). Anyway, I didn’t discover it to be my true passion until around my sophomore year of high school. I had planned to go to culinary school in the spring of 2018, but I backed out (again… if I had only known). Instead, I enrolled at UNCG for Business Administration. I am almost finished with this program, but it hasn’t created much personal fulfillment (hence, the damn thing I will be doing as mentioned earlier).

This past April, I traveled to Ashburn, VA, (right outside of DC) to take a private class with Erin Schwartz who owns Stacked Custom Cakes and Classes. While studying under her, I fell in love with the industry even more. I decided that going to culinary school was the right move for me and shortly after touring schools I settled on the International Culinary Center in New York City.

Fast forward a few months and here we are today, sitting at work, writing this blog (don’t tell my boss). All theories say I should be really good at this given the number of blogs I have been reading in attempts to figure out where I should live and how close the subway is to every apartment complex in NYC.

What a whirlwind it has been. Quite literally, some days I think that this big of a jump wasn’t cut out for the girl who hasn’t left Reidsville for more than a week at a time, but I am doing the damn thing anyway. Not because it makes sense, or because it will be easy… but because it simply makes me feel alive. I hope that you’ll stick with me through this bitter sweet journey as I pack my bags and head towards the City of Dreams!