The Sweet Success of Carolina Cravings

Yera & Iliana from Carolina Cravings
Yera & Iliana from Carolina Cravings

February 13, 2024 marks three years since Chatham Literacy students Yeraldyn (Yera) Martinez and Iliana Jesús Escalante-Palacios opened “Carolina Cravings”, a popular bakery in downtown Pittsboro. Many young businesses struggle in their early years, but their business has thrived — thanks to elbow grease, personal sacrifices, and the Financial Literacy program at Chatham Literacy. This program is made possible due to the overwhelming generosity of our donors. In a recent interview, Yera reflected on how Carolina Cravings came to fruition.

Yera was born in Mexico and came to the US at 11, settling in Chatham County. She got into cooking and baking in high school, earning her Servsafe ServSafe certificate. After graduating, Yera worked hard, juggling multiple jobs to support herself while exploring her interests. “A semester after high school, I landed a cashier gig at The Phoenix Bakery in downtown Pittsboro. I later worked as their grill cook and dishwasher.” Little did she know, this was just the start of her bakery journey. At the same time, she worked at a daycare and considered working at a dentist’s office. She eventually quit dishwashing and daycare and abandoned the idea of working in a dentist’s office. Instead, she took a job working in a food truck in Chapel Hill and began taking culinary classes at Central Carolina Community College.

Similarly, Iliana Escalante-Palacios was born in Mexico, in a little town called Guerrero. Iliana immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 10 and grew up in Sanford. She took a job working at Carolina Cravings, working for the (now) prior owners. Yera’s mother worked at the Phoenix Bakery in Pittsboro, Carolina Cravings’ cousin company, and taught Iliana a few recipe tips.

The idea to purchase a business was ignited when Iliana and Yera met in 2019 at Pittsboro’s only Hispanic church, Iglesia Bautista Misionera Roca Fuerte. There they began talking and dreaming of a future in business cooking and baking together.

As the pandemic persisted, the previous owners of Carolina Cravings decided that keeping the business open was unsustainable and offered to sell the business to Yera and Iliana. Both 22 at the time, the women leaped at the risky opportunity to buy the bakery in the middle of the worst economy in the history of the United States. Their concept was unique: to bake bicultural foods and to serve a bicultural clientele.

“It was rough with all the downtown construction and the pandemic,” Yera says. But with family support, they powered through. Knowing she needed money management skills, Yera took a “Money Smart” class at Chatham Literacy to level up her financial abilities. “I learned how to save, track expenses, understand how our upbringing affects our money mindset, and how to make short and long-term money decisions.”

Applying those lessons has paid off for the bakery. “We opened a savings account and established an emergency fund,” Yera explains. Savvy money management allowed them to hire more staff, offer benefits, take well-deserved vacations, and make big purchases like a new vehicle – all while keeping the business booming. Most recently, they made the educated decision to purchase a new industrial refrigerator for their kitchen.

Now Yera and Iliana have their sights set on the next 5 years, with plans to expand seating, launch a lunch menu, get new equipment, potentially open a second store, and maybe even buy a food truck! Yera credits the success of Carolina Cravings to hard work and her classes at Chatham Literacy. She is living proof that you can turn any dream into reality with grit, support, and financial know-how.

Your continued financial investment in our programs and students, gives aspiring entrepreneurs like Yera and Iliana the tools to succeed in business and life. If you are interested in becoming a tutor, please contact us at 919-742-0578. Programs like Financial Literacy create opportunities that keep on giving for generations to come. If you are interested in becoming a tutor, please contact us at 919-742-0578. Now, let’s raise a glass (or cupcake) to more sweet success stories like this one!

The Sweet Success of Carolina Cravings
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