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– Solomon’s Bakery, a family business making waves on the ECD, Georgetown
By Lisa Hamilton
On a regular basis, Leatha Solomon braces the heat of her large ovens, places within them mounds of dough and retrieves bread, buns, salara, cheese rolls, cheese straws and a variety of homemade pastries.
To many in Golden Grove on the East Coast Demerara (ECD) Leatha — a woman still strong in her 60s — is the foundation of the Solomon’s Bakery, a family business she started over two decades ago. Community residents and shop owners clear the items off her shelf in no time. She knows how to please them as she caters to those who prefer their bread baked a bit extra to a golden brown and those who prefer it without.
I HAD TO LOOK AFTER MY CHILD
Oftentimes, in her quiet time, Leatha remembers the journey that led to the establishment of the business. Her mind travels back to when she was a driver for the Women’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement (WRSM) of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the ‘bump in the road’ that pushed her towards entrepreneurship. “I started off with one bag of flour and I started off because I couldn’t find employment,” Leatha said. “I was trained as a female driver when I just left school. I worked for a few years and then in 1980 we went on an exercise up Berbice and it was alleged that we fetched flour. At that time, wheaten flour was prohibited…I was the driver of the vehicle but I was never involved in it, but the innocent paid for the guilty.”
Someone who noticed the occupants of the vehicle transporting the commodity reported it and they all were suspended. Little did Leatha know that flour — the very item for which she lost her job — would become a significant part of her life well into the future. “I had a child to maintain at that time, it was my first child and my only child. I decided that I was going to find something to do. President’s College started to build in 1985 and [persons] said ‘well make buns, make this and that and sell’,” she told the Village Voice News.
Thinking it wise, Leatha did just that. Immediately, her baked goods were well received. She started baking at the current location and, with the assistance of her family members, she’d walk down the road to President’s College to meet with customers. After the customer base at President’s College shifted, the family moved on to baking cassava bread for the public. When wheaten flour was no longer prohibited, they didn’t hold back on the opportunities to be had. “We grew up with a mother who would always try to do something off her own,” said Leatha, who is the eldest of nine girls to her parents. She said that this along with other experiences helped shape the determined person she is today.
MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK
Today, the extended family contributes their service through the business, including some of her sisters, nieces and nephews. On any given day, up to five bags of flour are used up to make bread, pastries and cake. These are then purchased directly by shop owners or residents or picked up based on catering requests. The baked goods oftentimes travel as far as Melanie Damishana, East Coast Demerara (ECD) and Georgetown. The family who participate rise as early as 3 A.M. and 4 A.M. to light the oven, mix the dough and get to baking. There are about eight core workers. During the holiday periods, like Christmas, they work overtime to meet the demand. Keeping up are the ovens they use which were custom-built years ago with blocks and repaired when necessary. Though the business has not been realised exactly as Leatha envisioned, it has enough public demand to keep the family busy, save for Sundays when they attend church or play dominoes.
“Dominoes is one of my recreational games. I was the Secretary for Guyana National Domino Federation for 23 years,” Leatha disclosed, pointing to the chalkboards that were lined up in another location on the premises. As a Member of the Federation, Leatha has gained international recognition playing and winning tournaments in the Caribbean Region and organising travel for other Guyanese to participate overseas.
WOMEN SHOULD NOT BE LIMITED
As a female entrepreneur, Leatha believes that women should not be limited in what they choose to do whether work or recreational. Recounting the past once more, she told the newspaper that when she began working previously as a driver, it was around the time that the PNC had launched a programme championing ‘’Equality for Women’ and a shift towards equal pay. They were actively training women in several skill areas and Leatha took an interest in learning to drive as a job though it is still seen by some today as a “man’s job”. Even so, she successfully completed the course at the Police Driving School and obtained her license to drive both a bus and a car.
“You can always move on from one trade to another. Much of the younger folks have never seen me drive but I can drive…you can always change one job to another job,” she said as an encouragement to other women. Having, taken the leap herself to swift from one profession to the next, she said that the best part about being an entrepreneur is being able to earn her own money and to share and develop her ideas.
Leatha’s only daughter has died so she looks now, even more keenly, to her nieces and nephews as the young people to which she wants to pass on her work ethics and legacy. Though she plans to retire soon, there are plans for expansion to a bigger mixer that would assist them in producing products faster and in greater amounts. With or without, like clockwork, Guyanese show up at the Solomon’s Bakery or at the shops that sell their bread and pastries, hoping to get their hands on food that tastes like home. And, without hesitation, the family gets to baking.