Baking has always been part of Jacalyn Bohman Race’s life. She started her business in a tiny Central Wisconsin shopping mall coffee shop.“It was the smallest place in the mall; a hole in the wall,” she says. The coffee was made from low-grade beans and the snack items were pre-packaged. It wasn’t the quality Bohman Race was accustomed to, having been raised in an Amish and Mennonite community, the second oldest of nine children, where she learned at an early age how to bake with quality ingredients. That prompted her to began baking and selling her own items at the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. “I was baking in a toaster oven. I had to bake the layer cakes in two batches, one for each layer.”
As the shopping mall began to decline and she paid off her original loan for the tiny coffee shop, Bohman Race sought to move and grow. She had previous experience with SCORE at an Amish furniture and bulk foods store so she was pleased when her SCORE mentor found her as she began her new coffeehouse chapter between 2012 and 2014; Higher Grounds Bakery, a free-standing bakery and coffeehouse that features on-site baked goods and coffees and teas from around the world.
“We added large convection ovens and now we make 35 flavors of breads including several different ryes and multi-grain breads.” Higher Grounds also offers sandwiches and salads and soups during the Wisconsin winter to go with organic fair trade coffees and teas.
Higher Grounds Bakery and Coffeehouse was selected as one of two Wisconsin state winners in the 2017 American Small Business Championship.
Bohman Race credits her upbringing to building a foundation for her specialty baked goods. “Baking is an old-school art and there are not many places making things in-house like we do.”
Bohman Race says the No. 1 way SCORE and her volunteer mentor, Carla Lenk, helped her with Higher Grounds was writing a business plan. “I needed one for financing. But you don’t do everything at once in your business plan; the best way I can describe it is the business plan is the shoes you grow into,” Bohman Race explains. “The business plan keeps me on track.”
Bohman Race began by meeting with Lenk about once a week along with emails and phone calls but that has decreased to once or twice a month.
For anyone starting with a SCORE mentor, her advice is simple: “Shut up and listen.”
SCORE mentors typically have been successful themselves so it is beneficial “to allow their wisdom to work for you.”