Cooking a Book
By Lisa Burwell
“Be gentle when you touch bread. Let it not lie, uncared for, Unwanted. So often bread is taken for granted. There is such beauty in bread— Beauty of surf and soil, Beauty of patient toil. Wind and rain have caressed it, Christ often blessed it. Be gentle when you touch bread.”
—Celtic Prayer The Open Gate by David Adam
Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes is, by any standard, a remarkable person. I met her a few years ago through our mutual friend, Gina Shiflett, the owner of Salon Twist, in Grayton Beach. Gina wanted to host a fundraiser in honor of the Barnes Family Foundation to benefit Sasha’s Home, a Ukrainian orphanage. We joined forces to make the event a reality. Our efforts resulted in the 2nd Annual Change the World Fundraiser, which took place at Alys Beach in November 2007. The Celtic prayer above appeared on a thank-you card that Sister sent me after the event. I did not know whether our paths would cross again, but I hoped that they would.
I got to know Sister as we planned the fundraiser. I was amazed that each time I saw her, she was always filled with good cheer. Nothing ever seemed to bring Sister’s spirits down; her friendly smile exuded a luminous personality. She professes a strong faith and belief that Sasha’s Home is a cause ordained by God and, by His grace, one that she will continue to be able to handle. Though Sister embodies a childlike faith, it is infused with wisdom, tenacity and boundless energy—all the necessary tools to ignite faith and put it into action.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” Zechariah 4:10
In 1989, “Sister Schubert,” as she was known at that time, was baking yeast rolls in the kitchen of her home in Troy, Alabama, for a donation to her church’s food fair. Sister’s soon-to-be-famous “Everlasting Rolls” were based on her grandmother’s heirloom recipe. That year, her small catering business received an eighty-pan order. The next year, orders increased to 200 pans and, in 1991, she was maxed out at 300. It was then that Sister felt there might be a market for her product. She soon convinced small grocery stores in Montgomery, Dothan and Birmingham to carry her rolls. Sister and her two daughters, Charlotte and Chrissie, handed out samples knowing that if people tried her rolls, they would buy them. They did, and Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls was born.
People were enthusiastically buying her rolls, so, to keep up with demand, Sister knew that she would have to grow her business. In addition, since she was a single mother of two, she would also have to find a way to take care of her children. These two hurdles would prove daunting to most people. But Sister found the inspiration that she needed in the children’s book God’s Dream, written by Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu and internationally renowned author Douglas Carlton Abrams, with award-winning illustrations by LeUyen Pham. With heartfelt language that readers can understand, the book’s intended message is simple—inspiration. “Your dreams can come true if you listen and let God tell you what to do,” said Sister.
With newfound inspiration, her faith and a modest investment, Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls bakery opened in her family’s furniture warehouse in Troy, Alabama, in August 1992. With a 30-quart commercial mixer and a pair of used commercial gas ovens, volume quickly grew to the level where she could no longer oversee marketing, production and delivery. For assistance, she recruited food broker George Barnes and, under his guidance, the company’s distribution base grew from local to regional. As the business grew, so did the special relationship between Sister and George. They married in 1995.
Sister and George continued to expand the business by opening a new 27,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art bakery in Luverne, Alabama. Within three years, the facility expanded again, this time to 80,000 square feet to provide the necessary space to produce more than one million rolls per day. In 2000, the Barneses sold stock in the company to Lancaster Colony, a specialty foods corporation in Columbus, Ohio, which catapulted the rolls to national-brand status. Today, Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls is a subsidiary of T. Marzetti Company, which is a division of Lancaster Colony. The Barneses are still involved with the company: Sister as founder and vice president of product development and manufacturing and George as vice president of operations.
They continue to accomplish great things together. The founding of the Barnes Family Foundation in 2001 was one of their most meaningful endeavors thus far (www.barnesfamilyfoundation.org). Sasha’s Home, a seven-apartment foster care facility that provides temporary families for nearly forty abandoned Ukrainian children who await adoption, is one of the foundation’s projects. The home has had a personal and intimate effect on the Barneses’ lives. Through this project, they adopted their son Alexsey fourteen months after meeting him in Ukraine. The city of Gorlovka, Ukraine recently awarded the silver Gorlov medal to Sister for establishing Sasha’s Home.
As a working woman with five children (between the ages of 6 and 33) and five grandchildren, Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes knows that today’s hectic pace makes it difficult for family members to spend quality time with one another. “Family mealtime is a key component of quality time,” she said. Sister recently launched a new website, www.sisterschuberts.com, which offers ideas, tips, recipes and strategies to help families find ways to share quality time together.
“Family mealtime is a key component of quality time.”
The Back Story
Sister’s next ambition is to publish her second cookbook, Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters—Recipes for Cooking, Living and Success. To accomplish this goal, she has enlisted Cornerstone Marketing & Advertising, Inc. of Grayton Beach, Florida to copublish, design and market her book. So our paths did cross again, and I am so thankful for this rare and wonderful opportunity. But before going into that, I must explain the inspiration behind it all.
After producing her rolls for almost seventeen years, Sister has achieved celebrity-like status in the South. In fact, I endearingly refer to her as the “Martha Stewart of the South.” Most of her fans describe with wide-eyed enthusiasm their memories of her mouthwatering cinnamon, dinner and sausage rolls, which they enjoyed while growing up. Sister’s first cookbook, Sister Schubert’s Secret Bread Recipes, was published in 1996 by Oxmoor House. The book was well received by her fanbase, which is generally concentrated in the Southeast. A public relations campaign is presently underway to transform Sister Schubert and her rolls into household names across the nation, and it will not be long before her fanbase expands even more. Scores of morning and lifestyle television programs have expressed an interest in interviewing her, including The Oprah Winfrey Show.
To achieve Sister’s latest vision of a coffee table cookbook, three themes will be combined: cooking, inspiration and entrepreneurship. The main idea behind self-publishing is to maintain control over the quality of the message and the product. A secondary reason is to garner higher profits, as the net proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Barnes Family Foundation with Sasha’s Home as the main beneficiary. The name of the book, Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters, is an excerpt from verse 11:1 of the book of Ecclesiastes. Simply explained, this verse states that when you have an abundance of bread or manna from heaven, you should generously and liberally sow it. It will act like a seed and return to you a hundredfold when you need it. “This cookbook is another way I am casting ‘my’ bread upon the waters by sharing my family, my faith and, of course, my love of baking, in hopes that my experiences will sow another seed that will take root and produce life,” said Sister.
The Joy of Publishing
Cornerstone created a website, www.castyourbreaduponthewaters.com, to solicit preorders, which include a $5 savings off the $40 retail price, and as a tool to estimate the demand of the quantity of books to be printed. A full-page ad in Southern Accents magazine has also helped to direct those who are interested in preordering a copy to the website. With a strong fanbase in the South, this tactic has generated better-than-expected interest. It has helped to market and sell a book in a somewhat unconventional way. Yeah, it’s working!
Considering that there are so many books available in stores and online, packaging is as important as content. An appealing cover will entice readers to look inside. I strongly believe in the adage “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” For this reason, the name of the book and the cover photo are very important. The photo of Sister that graces the book’s cover was taken in the kitchen of her beautiful home in Andalusia, Alabama. It grabs attention while conveying the genuine warmth of her spirit. Therefore, I hope that this book will contradict another old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
This past February, with our good friends Lynn and Steve Dugas, my husband and I attended the 2009 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Food & Wine magazine. We intended to meet up with Sister while there. Initially, I did not think that our crazy work schedule would allow us to get away. I had second thoughts, however, when I considered the list of celebrity chefs who would be in attendance. The various cooking and wine demonstrations might present ideal networking opportunities for Sister and could help with the upcoming launch of her book.
Never before have chefs been so celebrated by our country’s media and citizens. Some of the most popular television shows today are related to food. The status of “celebrity chef” was coined, in large part, to describe the great Emeril Lagasse of New Orleans. In addition to his Food Network television programs and numerous cookbooks, Emeril is now also celebrated for his philanthropic endeavors. The Food Network’s festival presented its all-star lineup, including Emeril, Guy Fieri, Martha Stewart, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and his wife, actress Stephanie March, Paula Deen and Rachael Ray. The list goes on, but these names provide a glimpse into the epicurean greats in attendance at the festival. We hoped that Sister could meet Emeril, Paula Deen and Rachael Ray—and she did!
On Saturday, February 21, we made our way to Jungle Island to see Rachael Ray. We had passes to attend the presentation Fun and Fit as a Family, which was sponsored by South Beach Diet and featured Kellogg’s Kidz Kitchen. As Rachael Ray was making her way to her eagerly awaiting fans, Sister had a great opportunity to pose with the star chef. Rachael was very sweet (and petite), and gave Sister a warm welcome as she posed for our camera. Her genuine appreciation for her fans was evident as she glided onto stage with her megawatt smile
Later that evening, we headed to the Loews Hotel for a special and exclusive meeting. Emeril is unquestionably a household name, but he is absolutely revered by residents of cities such as New Orleans and Miami. There is so much to say about this gregarious, talented and hardworking man. He has built a culinary empire and paved the way for other chefs to share in the celebrity limelight. His schedule during the festival would have rivaled that of a head of state, but he set aside time to meet with Sister and me. Sister hopes to emulate Emeril’s altruism by using her influence to accomplish something good, just as he has done. They share like-minded philanthropic interests; both give back and do not forget whence they came. In the New Orleans and Gulf Coast areas, Emeril’s foundation has given children’s charities over $2.5 million in funding for educational programs, life skills development, culinary training and cultural enrichment (www.emeril.org).
Sunday morning was brisk and brilliantly sunny for our encore visit to Jungle Island. Sister worked with Paula Deen on a dinner for the Governor of Alabama a few years ago, so the two women were already acquainted. We waited for Paula to make her entrance, and, though they had not crossed paths in a while, Paula immediately noticed Sister and the ensuing reunion was quick but heartfelt. The stadium seating overflowed with young children looking festive in their chef hats. We took a few photos for the archives and prepared to exit the park. At the last second, Sister was beckoned onto the stage, where Paula proceeded to extol the virtues of Sister’s rolls to the filled-to-capacity tent. Paula told the audience that making rolls was no longer necessary and to go buy Sister Schubert’s Rolls found in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Not only was Paula generous to give Sister such a great and unexpected plug, but she was also gracious and sweet to share the stage!
“This cookbook is another way I am casting ‘my’ bread upon the waters by sharing my family, my faith and, of course, my love of baking, in hopes that my experiences will sow another seed that will take root and produce life.”
Her very first cookbook, Favorite Recipes of the Lady and her Friends (1997), was self-published, so Paula can understand humble beginnings. Since then, she has authored and published countless cookbooks, and the Food Network has made Paula Deen a household name. Forbes magazine recently ranked her in the top one hundred most powerful celebrities.
Many of these celebrity chefs, authors and television personalities have worked hard to achieve the success and acclaim that they now enjoy, but what was even more impressive than their fame was watching how much they give back. It was a joy to watch the camaraderie among the chefs and to witness the respect and love they have for their profession. A good product and hard work are necessary ingredients for achieving success. In addition, emulating what others have done before you can provide a great lesson. We believe that Sister’s charity and her new cookbook, Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters, will be huge successes. Rolls that people love, Sister’s genuine personality, and learning from others who have achieved greatness create a tremendous recipe for cooking a book.
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