Carina Comer remembers the stress of trying to get through culinary school as a visually impaired student. She knew she had passion and drive for baking, but the cut-throat environment was stifling. When she finally finished school and tried to start her career, finding a job was another challenge.
"I ended up doing three free internships because nobody wanted to hire anybody that was, what they thought, a liability."
Comer recognizes now that she was only a liability to their world.
Comer is legally blind from complications relating to a brain tumor she had at birth. She can't see in one eye and has tunnel vision in the other, meaning she has no peripheral vision.
Everyday tasks aren't always easy, but Comer says baking is the one avenue where she can feel at ease.
"It's sort of like an artist that puts their feelings out on paper," she said. "I'm not visual like that, so I poured it into food and I like that I can then share it with somebody and brighten their day, hopefully."
Baking has not only provided a creative outlet for Comer, it's helped her connect with her Swedish roots.
"My grandfather came (to America) when he was in his late teens, early 20s," she said. "He fought in the military and then eventually he opened his own (bakery) as well in Connecticut," she said. "So I learned a lot about all that from him and all the Swedish recipes with him and my mom who love to bake as well."
With the support of her parents, Comer would open her very own bakery in Beaverton to not only follow her dream, but give other people like her an opportunity to follow theirs.
Carina's Bakery, located on Lombard Boulevard in Beaverton, first opened in 2017 with the intent of hiring other visually impaired people like herself.
Comer says she employs six people with some sort of "disability" and trains them how to adapt the skills they already have to the bakery.
"When my parents helped me open this (bakery,) I wanted to make sure that I was giving back and make it a place for other people with disabilities to find somewhere where they can build skills as well as be recognized for the skills they have," she said. "Since we can't drive and can't do 'normal things,' we have to find a creative way to keep up with the world."
Comer has taught herself a number of techniques and acquired tools while running her own bakery that rely on other senses like sound and touch.
"So baking, for example, I use talking scales," she said. I've also learned texture cues as opposed to time or visual cues … I'm always hands in the dough and feeling it out."
While a lot of Comer's skills are self-taught, she says her mother and the Oregon Commission for the Blind helped her along the way as well.
Like just about every other local business in the country, the pandemic shutdown was a challenge. But Comer says being a take-out business embedded in the community helped them weather the storm.
"We have people right from our grand opening say, 'I'm so glad you opened this. I have a daughter, a friend … who has a disability and needs a place like this.' And even if we haven't been able to give them a job, they know that they belong here. And so therefore they want to keep supporting us."
Homages to Comer's heritage can be seen scattered throughout the shop with Swedish and Irish flags and various European trinkets lining its sky blue walls.
One of the first things you'll see when walking in is Comer's guide dog, Sutter, inside a glass enclosed area under the counter. Sutter helps Comer navigate her limited field of vision. They met three years ago through Guide Dogs for the Blind, an organization that helps connect blind or visually inpaired people with guide dogs.
"(Sutter) helps me get somewhere as direct as possible and get through obstacles," she said. "He gives me more confidence. I live alone, so it's a nice companion."
Comer will help host a virtual baking segment and fundraiser with Guide Dogs for the Blind on Sunday, Dec. 5. Visit guidedogs.com to register for the event.
Comer is now also accepting orders for the holidays. Visit carinasbakery.com for the full menu of vegan, gluten free baked goods. Comer says their signature item is the almond cake.
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