“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight” ~M. F. K. Fisher
Scan the local culinary horizon for an innovative enterprise with a purpose and longevity and you will find Camino Bakery. Camino has been in existence since 2007 from its humble beginnings in the basement kitchen of Krankies Coffee downtown and now is flourishing with four different locations in Winston-Salem. Cary Clifford, Camino’s founder, sat down for an interview about what it took to start and accelerate her business.
Tell us about your formative years. Where did you grow up?
I was raised right here in Winston-Salem! I went to RJR High School and I remember it as always being a place that was nice and my home, but not terribly exciting. There was nothing downtown. It was not like it is today. My early years were before the artistic energy really took hold here.
Between high school and college, I got out to see the world. I went to Nepal, Central America, and even Europe. An experience never forgotten was my hike on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Europe’s storied and longest pilgrimage route). And so there you have the name of our bakery – Camino!
Where/how does the love of baking enter your picture?
Ha! I remember my mother telling me that I won a prize at the fair in the fourth grade for my honey whole wheat bread. I never went to culinary school, was never classically trained; it was just a passion I always had. To be honest, I did a lot of work in the front of the house in restaurants as a server, but always maintained my love and fascination for baking.
Give us the backstory to Camino Bakery.
In 2007, I was friends with the proprietors of Krankies Coffee downtown. They knew of my love for baking and started to suggest that I start to make some things for them to sell there. That eventually led to me producing products from their tiny basement kitchen and the response was overwhelming. I will forever be indebted to those who supported me there. Krankie’s had (and has) this amazing built-in loyal audience and so it was easy to make an impression there.
What was the turning point for believing you could start a business on your own?
I had the support of family and friends. I had the belief in myself. You have to be stubborn and always moving forward. My parents have always said that I am headstrong. I just love what I do and am not a person who is interested in settling or stagnating. I want to build something.
What was a memorable high point in this journey? And what was a memorable low point?
There have been flashes and moments where I look at where we have come, and I am very grateful to all who work for us and buy our products. But it sometimes is hard for me to sit back and just admire completely what we have accomplished. I am not interested in coasting, and you can never sit back and think, “OK – I have arrived.”
As for a low point – I remember in January of 2020 when we sat down here as management staff and proclaimed this was going to be our best year ever! March of 2020 rolls in and the pandemic froze the world. We immediately had to sell off our provisions and inventory. We had to take our menu down to almost nothing and really scale back. Not to mention staffing was reduced to the bare bones. We owners were pulling kitchen shifts to make it all work!
Talk about the spirit or mantra you try to inject into your enterprise here at Camino.
It is critical to be a happy place for our customers and employees. I love the idea that we are feeding the community at-large. Life is short and we want to exude a spirit of celebration of life here. It is about giving people a place where they can feel positive and included.
What would be your message to burgeoning entrepreneurs?
Be fully committed. Be good at a lot of things and persevere. When things started to stabilize after the pandemic, I was surprised at all the different roles I had taken on effectively. I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning and took on everything just to learn it all. When I analyzed what the business needed next, I determined we needed to hire five full-time new positions so I could offload some of the tasks.
Who would you nominate for an interview as a Person of Prominence?
Clare Fader. She is a thriving local realtor here. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he talks about connectors: people who act as a social hub, knowing seemingly everyone and connecting many people to each other. Clare is that person for Winston-Salem. She knows people from all walks of life, cares about them deeply, and introduces them to each other. She also works ceaselessly to make Winston a better place; she promotes and sponsors tons of events, she urges City leaders to do their best work. And she’s also just fun and kind!
Camino Bakery (caminobakery.com)