By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
When the time came for Vestavia Hills mother of two Kathryn Yarbrough to step back from her career in nonprofit management with UAB, she knew she still wanted to work in some way.
While she doesn’t consider herself a pastry chef by any means, a pandemic goal to master the macaron gave birth to a new neighborhood baking venture, Patricia-Irene’s.
Now, Yarbrough is using her homemade macarons to not only give back to some of her favorite nonprofit organizations but also connect with grassroots causes throughout the community.
The company is named after her grandmothers – Patricia Jerome and Glenda Irene Williams – two women who had a profound effect on her relationship with the kitchen.
Yarbrough’s paternal grandmother, Patricia, hailed from a small town outside of Rome called Abruzzo, Italy. When Yarbrough was still little, Patricia and her Hungarian mother moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to the family.
With 12 children who had families of their own, cooking and baking was a constant in the household.
“She showed me how to weigh out my first cup of flour, because she was always in the kitchen when we would visit,” Yarbrough said. “That’s how we got to hang out with her, because she was constantly cooking for children.”
When she thinks of her grandmother Glenda Irene, Yarbrough’s sense memories paint a picture of a full breakfast.
“I guess because my mom was born in the late ‘50s and was a ‘70s child, she always had breakfast for us but it was never big,” she said. “My grandmother insisted on a full breakfast.
“The first time I can remember scrambling eggs was with her.”
Developing a Business
As Yarbrough searched for a way to work while staying at home with her kids, she turned to the kitchen.
She was looking through her collection of cookbooks, which she had purchased as reminders of great meals and travel experiences.
“I have a Bouchon Bakery cookbook from Napa,” she said. “I was looking through it and I saw a recipe for macarons, which I love. I could eat these things like candy.”
She tackled her first batch and the cookies emerged baked to perfection.
“I thought, this isn’t so hard,” she said. “Then I made a second batch, and they did not turn out well. That was the case for the next 10 batches I did.”
The failed attempts only emboldened her in her quest.
It wasn’t until one of her cousins, a fellow macaron enthusiast, tried her cookies that she even considered her bakes market worthy.
“I never meant to be a baker, I didn’t go to culinary school,” she said. “But my cousin asked if I would make macarons for a baby shower she was hosting.”
She started an Instagram account and began posting pictures of colorful cookies.
“I started having people that I went to college with, people that I haven’t spoken to in 10 years, asking, ‘Where can I get these?’” she said.
She began organizing contactless porch pickups, expanding her client base from friends to people she had never met.
A Nonprofit Model
As the pandemic wore on, she saw the damper health and safety measures put on nonprofits’ ability to raise funds. Annual events were being canceled, postponed or formatted for virtual participation, while the need for services continued.
“My uncle had just been diagnosed with ALS and I really wanted to do a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, knowing that I probably wouldn’t raise a lot of money,” she said.
She had a surplus of macarons sitting around that she didn’t want to go to waste, so she decided to use them as a fundraiser.
“I started posting on social media saying, whatever you want to donate, just come by and grab a 12-pack,” she said.
“We raised about $300, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but for a day’s worth – about six boxes – it’s huge.”
Inspired by the success, she began holding monthly fundraisers in a similar fashion.
Over the past eight months, Patricia-Irene’s has generated more than $2,000 for local charities, as well as donating cookies to schools, retirement homes and hospitals.
She sold boxes to raise funds for the Fultondale tornado victims and donated boxes of baked goodies to local health care workers, teachers, Children’s of Alabama, The WellHouse, assisted living facilities and other nonprofits.
“I never would have thought this is how this business would fall into a routine,” Yarbrough said. “It’s mixing two of the things that I am extremely passionate about. I get to do it and I get to do it on my own terms, and I know where the money is going.”
Baking is now a part of her daily routine.
She drops her 2- and 5-year-old sons off at their Mother’s Day Out program for four hours a day and then hits the kitchen.
“I’m like superwoman in the kitchen for those four hours, because once they get home, it’s chaos,” she said.
But when they are at home, they get to see their mom not only running her own business but choosing to make community service a product of her success.
In the near future, Yarbrough wants to make an even bigger impact by not only raising more money but becoming more connected with local, grassroots nonprofit efforts.
Her social media accounts and forthcoming website are open for communication. People can message and let her know about organizations they would like to see her partner with.
For more information, follow her on Instagram @patricia_irenes_bham.