It’s rare to be able to get to do more than one thing you love, but our NJMOMprenuer of the week Marie Onyeani is lucky enough to do just that. As a former NJ public school teacher and lifelong baker, she co-founded Cafe Du Pain Bakery in Lawrenceville, with a mission to take people on a journey of cultural cooking and traditions. Cafe Du Pain is not just a traditional bakery–it’s a globally-inspired place that takes its cue from a variety of cultures and through that unique perspective, gives back to the community and teaches the next generation about the wonders of baking. We sat down with Marie to hear how her Haitian background has inspired her flavors, how the cycle of investing back into the community helps us all and the scoop on a hidden gem in South Jersey for anyone who loves a little spice.
NJMOM: You describe Cafe Du Pain as a passport to a more delicious world, with the concept behind it being globally inspired by Creole and French baking. What is your background and what drew you to this unique culinary combination?
Baking food, by its very nature, draws from various cultures. My background is a mix of Haitian Creole, as I was born in Haiti and grew up in the US. I started my professional career as a teacher because I didn’t grow up seeing baking as a viable professional path. About 10 years ago, I was forced to reconsider and started to envision what it would take to reconcile my passion for baking as a profession. I started just baking out of my home, taking orders for our popular Haitian Kreyol patties and cakes, and it took off. In August of 2018, we opened our current location in Lawrenceville. One of my partners is a global traveler, our pastry chef has experience in food and anthropology, and our catering manager is an experienced interior designer and cake decorator. I draw from my strong Haitian Creole roots with the French tradition of baking in puff pastry. While we are a globally inspired creole bakery with a particular fondness for French patisserie, we also blend Spanish, African, and other cultural traditions. We take people on a journey through baked goods and coffee, and while it’s been a challenging journey, I’m glad I took it—especially when customers express their delight for what we do and the experience that we offer.
NJMOM: Where do you and your family live in NJ?
I grew up in the Mercer County area. I now live in Sicklerville, NJ with my husband and 14-year-old daughter.
NJMOM: Do you bake at home with your daughter? What are her favorite items that you bake?
I used to bake at home a lot more, but now, not so much since I’m working 15 to 18 hours a day at the bakery. But the exception is holidays when I do make time. My daughter, Ada, is very creative and she loves to bake and decorate cupcakes. Her favorite activities are making Sunday breakfasts and the holidays when we all get to be home with the extended family. She likes it when the family eats together.
You truly need to be patient with yourself and those around you. Train yourself to manage uncertainty—building a business is so much about managing uncertainties, and none of us are prepared for what that requires.”
NJMOM: You’ve made social consciousness one of the foundations of your business. Tell us about your commitment to the community and environment as an NJMOMpreneur.
When you buy anything from us, you are investing in your community where each dollar you spend is recycled back into it—that is the heart of our business. I believe that you do business where you are, so you must invest in where you are. We’re also a part of many community initiatives where we’re harnessing the power of food to connect people, cultures and create a more delicious world. As part of this mission, we’ve joined forces with our local Lawrence Middle School to support fundraising efforts and also work with the Birthday Cake Project, which donates cakes to at-risk youth so that they can celebrate their birthdays with joy. We also practice sustainability by giving bread to a local farm, where they feed it to the chickens, and then we, in turn, buy the eggs from them. Finally, we partner with local shelters and churches to address food security and provide job training for high school students with learning disabilities.
NJMOM: What are your favorite spots around New Jersey? Any hidden gems where you love to eat? I love the Jersey shore, which is my favorite area in the state. There is so much to explore and enjoy, and it’s also a place where I have created memories with my family. We love strolling the boardwalk in Ocean City to watch the sunset and it’s so peaceful there. We also make it a point to get to Cape May at least once a year. When my daughter was younger we loved the Cape May County Zoo and we like to do a ferry ride. As far as restaurants, we are most happy in BBQ spots and we love spice—Amma’s South Indian Cuisine in Voorhees is a family favorite.
NJMOM: You offer many educational events and baking classes for kids. Why have you incorporated that into the bakery and what do you hear from kids and parents about the experience?
Connecting children to food, baking, and culture early on is a great way to teach and connect kids to themselves, one another, and history. The great thing about baking is that it’s for everyone—you can learn math and science while being creative and it can also be therapeutic. Having been a teacher in the New Jersey public school system prior to taking on baking full time and starting this business, introducing baking classes was a natural path and we have a team that shares in that passion as well.
In addition to offering classes throughout the year, in the summer we host a week-long baking academy for kids, where they can focus and learn baking. During this concentrated time, they keep their minds active while being creative, apply science and math skills, and most importantly, have fun. The kids enjoy the sessions, and the parents don’t have to clean up the mess—it’s a win-win all around.
NJMOM: What advice do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs who are just starting out on their journey?
My best piece of advice would be to build a community of support at home and in your business. At home, it can be challenging on a relationship, so carving out time to work on that is important. At work, commit to building a reliable and accountable team and be a leader as well. The key to your growth and success will be your ability to set up effective partnerships and share visions with your team at work and at home. This is crucial because there is so much ongoing learning (along with unlearning and relearning) that happens when you are building and growing a business. You truly need to be patient with yourself and those around you. Train yourself to manage uncertainty—building a business is so much about managing uncertainties, and none of us are prepared for what that requires—so being mindful of that as well as taking care of yourself and your community is the necessary business skill you’ll need.