No Dough

Richard and LaJeanne Williams had big dreams for their bakery--until a bank figured their plan was just pie in the sky

The bakery's appeal was its sinful products. The cheese cakes, pecan pies, cookies, and desserts were unabashedly fattening, made with whole milk, butter, eggs--all things forbidden or substituted in today's confections, Richard Williams says.

"I've never really been one to brag," he says. "But our pies were made from scratch. With stuff like your mamma used to use." His favorite, he says, was the cheese cake.

After the deal with Partners, other contracts followed with places like Mamma Joe's restaurant and even the Hard Rock Cafe, which bought pecan pies in bulk.

Bonnie Johnson, owner of Mamma Joe's cafe in Red Bird Mall, says a cake or pie from Scratch Bake was like a room at the Adolphus Hotel--comforting, lovely to look at, and classy.

"He served everyone, from the highest to the lowest," Johnson says.
The bakery's hiring philosophy reflected the Christian social ideals of its owners and Richard Williams' background as a youth counselor. The Williamses routinely employed folks that others wouldn't give a chance to: the long-time out-of-work, welfare parents, and ex-convicts. Richard Williams says that giving people a job gives them hope and a chance at redemption.

"[Richard Williams] was about giving people chances," says Thomas Chapman, who managed the downtown Scratch Bake store. "The ladies who were on welfare came in and worked their hearts out."

Delphia Brooks says the bakery gave her her life back. A single mother of three, Brooks had trouble finding a job after going through trade school. She was out of work and had been on welfare for a year when she went to a job fair at her housing project three years ago and heard about Scratch Bake. She sat down for an interview and thought things went well. She wanted to be a cashier.

But Richard Williams had other plans for her, Brooks says. He asked her about the sorts of foods she cooked for her children. And she told him. He looked at her and told her she was going to be a baker. "But I have no experience," she recalls telling him.

"Doesn't matter," Richard Williams replied. "We can train you."
And they did. Soon, Brooks says, she could make tasty confections with ease. A year and a half later, Richard Williams took another chance and made Brooks bakery manager. He bought her books on management so she could learn how to handle sticky situations with employees like evaluations.

"They got me back on my feet and off welfare," she says. "I really like the job. It gave me experience that I can use for the rest of my life. I will never lose that."

When Chapman went to work for Scratch Bake, he wasn't looking for a way off welfare; he was looking for a chance to be a boss. Chapman managed a rent-to-own store in the same plaza as Scratch Bake, and knew Richard Williams. When he heard about Scratch Bake's expansion plans, Chapman applied for a job and took a cut in pay to work for the bakery.

"It was an ideal situation for me," he says. "[Richard Williams] wanted to eventually have four or five stores. And I knew he could do it. I mean, I ate enough of the cakes."

The tiny bakery on Camp Wisdom Road was usually swamped, and getting through the door on weekends could be difficult. Indeed, the bakery's tiny kitchen was equipped with household appliances, making it hard for Scratch Bake to fill its orders.

The Williamses say they knew they had to find bigger digs. And Richard Williams says he had big plans for the bakery. He could see people driving in from North Dallas and Fort Worth for supplies. In his mind, he envisioned selling his cookies and pies nationwide, becoming Texas' version of Famous Amos.

"I know that we could have become the best-known bakery in the state," he says. "It was just a matter of getting the right location."

And money. So the Williamses began looking for a bank to help them out.

Although he didn't see it at the time, Richard Williams says he can now look back on the way Bank of America treated Scratch Bake and discern a pattern of prejudice.

Indeed, the experience of Scratch Bake Bakery could be a textbook example of the frustration that small businesses face when trying to secure loans from banks. For minority businesses, Richard Williams says, that frustration is especially burdensome and often ends in heartbreak.

The couple first considered going to Bank of America after some bank representatives came to a business meeting in Oak Cliff, talking about how the bank wanted to lend more money in the minority community.

In 1993, the couple went to Bank of America with the plans for expanding Scratch Bake.

The Williamses say they were told they could establish a good relationship with the bank by applying for a small loan or line of credit and paying it back. So they did, applying for and receiving a $45,000 line of credit, and making payments on it. The money was used to buy equipment and pay off some bills, Richard Williams says.

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