When Serena Zendejas moved to Portland from Bend in January, she was feeling optimistic about her new adventure.
“I was so excited to explore this new city, and go try all these new restaurants, and go exploring. And then all of this happened, and it was kind of like, what am I supposed to do now?”
Zendejas is a baker. She’s been at the craft for over a decade. When “all of this” happened — the coronavirus pandemic ramping up in the Pacific Northwest —she’d recently gotten a new job baking at a local vegan donut shop, Doe Donuts.
But with the new realities facing restaurants and the food service industry following Gov. Kate Brown’s emergency orders in response to COVID-19, Zendejas was laid off for the foreseeable future.
In those restless days following, unsure of what exactly to do with herself in her new down time, she started baking. A lot. Too much for her and her partner to eat themselves, in fact. They were sharing with friends and neighbors, but: “My partner was just like, ‘You know, you could really be selling all these things that you’re making!’”
The idea struck her as intimidating at first. But Zendejas sent up a trial balloon on Instagram, asking if anyone would be interested in a delivery service for baked treats.
“The response was so overwhelming that I figured, ‘Well, I might as well do it!’ So I went into the kitchen that night to work on recipes, and then the rest is history, I guess.”
Zendejas found herself with a new side hustle, a way to tap into her specialized food skills and her passion: Baked PDX. An Instagram page advertises a new fixed menu each month. Pay a set price, and soon find a variety box of baked goods at your door. Word of mouth spread quickly on social media. And it's been keeping her busy.
She’s been fortunate that her partner works at a local bar with commercial kitchen space. The bar’s been using it to prepare takeout food in the evenings, but Zendejas has an arrangement allowing her to use the commercial kitchen during off times to bake.
Zendejas does three baking and delivery days per week. She often heads into the kitchen the night before a baking day, getting as much prep work done as possible, weighing ingredients, preparing mixes and glazes. The next morning, she comes back in the early morning (bakers keep early hours), finishes the baking, packs it up into boxes for each individual buyer, and loads it into the car.
Ironically, her delivery service has allowed her to do something she intended to do before Oregon’s stay-home order: explore her new city.
“It’s fun to go drive around and see all the different areas of town. But sometimes when it’s just me and I have to go to Gresham, and then Southwest [Portland], and then Northeast [Portland], it’s a lot. But it’s been fun,” Zendejas said.
Sometimes her partner keeps her company; other times, podcasts do. And she’s out meeting new people! Well, kind of. Every safety precaution is taken to ensure that deliveries are made with little contact.
“I try to get as much detail – like if it’s an apartment building, what apartment number they’re in, like any special instructions of where [I can] leave the boxes. I prefer to leave them on porches, or hidden somewhere on their property, and then send them a message,” Zendejas said.
With all of the anxiety and loss that’s come into people’s lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, Zendejas said it’s felt good to share what she’s making with the community, to “bring people a little joy with baking.”
It’s a positive outlet in her own life, too. In addition to baking, Zendejas also works part-time at a residential foster home for youth in state custody. Before she moved to Portland this year, she worked at a domestic violence shelter.
“I love that type of work, and that really fuels me, and it is my passion. But I like being able to use baking as a physical and a tangible outlet. It’s nice to be able to use my hands to make something out of nothing,” she said.
News of the gradual reopening of businesses in the food and hospitality industries in Oregon, though, has Zendejas feeling nervous and uncertain of how she’ll proceed when COVID-19 public health measures are lifted.
“I have mixed feelings about it. My job at Doe was mostly back of house… but still just being out around other coworkers that are more hands on with customers seems a little daunting. So I’m torn. I do enjoy doing this baking thing by myself, it’s a nice little break from people, but I do miss my coworkers and my friends … so it’s bittersweet,” she said.
For the time being, she’s happy to be connecting with new people in her new city, one Instagram post, one sweet tooth, at a time.
“Food,” Zendejas said, “is definitely my love language.”