In October of 2020, Covid was raging and Judy Anderson had a job she didn’t like. So, like a lot of pandemic-rattled workers, she quit.
She had been cooking in kitchens for nearly 20 years; she had already been a sous chef and an executive chef. It was time to open her own business.
“I wanted to open a bakery and cafe,” she said. “A takeout approach that could do well during the pandemic. So, I put money down — all the money I had, actually — to reserve the space in Fordham, in the Bronx. And I started figuring out how to start my life over as an entrepreneur.”
But at the last minute, a friend came to her with a different proposition.
“My friend had moved out to Ocean City, Md., to open a restaurant with some millionaires who just had too much money, I guess,” Ms. Anderson said, laughing.
“He said the people funding him would help fund and scale up my bakery idea, too.”
So, at 33, she picked up and left New York, taking her son, Vincent, with her. She had to borrow money for the move since she had put all her savings into the Fordham space, which she was now leaving behind.
“I’d never even heard of Ocean City until I moved out there,” she said.
Soon after she arrived, Ms. Anderson auditioned for the Food Network’s “Chef Boot Camp.” The producers liked her story and asked if they could feature the opening of her bakery on the show. “It was a dream,” she said.
But then the project stalled.
“We’re pushing back two weeks, then 60 days, then 90 days, then Covid, and more Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” she said. “I had no money and took a job to run a hotel restaurant in one of the resorts. It was very underwhelming. I was miserable and it was so sad. The cafe never happened and the show ended up focusing on the failure of it all. The entire episode was about my failure — that got rubbed in a whole, whole lot.”
As difficult as the experience was, it was also life-changing. The show filmed in the kitchen of an Upper East Side steakhouse, and being back in New York for a few days, back in a five-star facility, made Ms. Anderson feel alive and hopeful again.
“During the episode,” she said, “I felt like I was in a real kitchen again. When it came time to perform I was on cloud nine, I was in my element, exactly where I belong. I reached an epiphany — which I guess is great for TV, right? I realized that I missed the feel of the line, the hustle and bustle.”
$3,051 | Mott Haven, the Bronx
Judy Anderson, 35
On Ocean City: Living in the resort town didn’t suit Ms. Anderson. Around eight million people visit the local boardwalk and beach each year, mostly in the summer, but from September to May the population shrinks to around 6,800, and it felt too quiet for the lifelong New Yorker. “It was hard living in such a dead place,” she said. “We were a block from the beach and my son misses that. It was beautiful, the air quality was amazing — it was a kid’s paradise. But I was so miserable. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. That was a sign I needed to get out of there. So I did. And I don’t regret it.”
On cooking under a spotlight: While appearing on Food Network’s “Chef Boot Camp,” Ms. Anderson filmed 12 to 14 hours a day. “Mostly cooking,” she said. “I would come back to my hotel room very tired with my anxiety really high. I cried.”
It wasn’t just the energy of the kitchen but New York, too—she missed it. “I was sad that I took such a huge risk and lost everything,” she said, “but that’s when I knew I needed to leave Ocean City. I knew I was meant to come back to NYC and figure my life out and follow my dreams.”
So, in February 2022, from her spacious home in off-season Ocean City, Ms. Anderson started looking online for affordable studio apartments in New York. She was doing a lot of video tours, but it wasn’t going well. “I saw some of the worst apartments I’ve ever seen,” she said. “In New York studios, the kitchen is pretty much nonexistent and maybe there’s a window?”
She kept at it for a couple of months, relying mainly on StreetEasy, until she found a studio apartment for $3,051 a month in Third at Bankside, part of a mixed-use Brookfield Properties development in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx.
“I saw the photos and I thought, oh my gosh, it’s gorgeous — where is it? It’s too good to be true.”
She was smitten by the Harlem River views — and the full-size kitchen with an island. “I’ve never had an island in a New York City apartment,” she said. “I jumped on it immediately — on FaceTime.”
Ms. Anderson and her son, who is 11, moved into the place in May of last year.
They’re still getting used to all the new appliances and building amenities — the concierge services and fitness room, the deck and the grills. “When taxi drivers drive me home, they compliment the building,” she said.
It’s Ms. Anderson’s first time living in the Bronx. “The area is changing,” she said. “There’s a block that’s nice, then a block that’s not so nice. But Mott Haven looks a lot like Bushwick in the 1990s where I grew up so I’m not really worried about it. I live in luxury now. I got a brand-new, beautiful apartment in a brand-new, beautiful building.”
Her son helped paint and decorate the place, but the transition back to New York has been hard for him. “He’s enjoying the building, but he’s still adjusting to the neighborhood. He doesn’t love his school, but he does love being at home. He’s got his own little corner with a desk and a computer.”
She said he looks forward to getting back into the building’s pool once the warmer months return, and he’s excited about his transition to middle school in the fall.
In the time since their return, Ms. Anderson has been at work on her original idea: baking in her hometown.
She couldn’t afford to open a kitchen of her own so she opened a virtual bakery. She rents storage space in a kitchen facility, shared among many restaurants, which also provides a virtual storefront through which customers can buy Ms. Anderson’s products in person or on apps like Grubhub and DoorDash. “It was very affordable,” she said.
The cost to get her new business started, she said, was “$2,500 to start versus $50,000.”
Ms. Anderson started Lil’ Cup Bakery, specializing in cookies and small, layered cakes that are baked on traditional sheet pans and served in Mason jars. The shared-kitchen delivery model allows her products to be shipped anywhere in the United States in two days and delivered anywhere in New York City in 30 minutes.
“It’s became pretty successful,” she said, noting that she now ships her products to virtual storefronts in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Philadelphia, and Belleville, N.J.
“I had to take a loan out to move back,” she said, “but I totally don’t regret it — not for a second. I couldn’t be the chef I know I can be when I was so miserable. I didn’t bring in that energy or enthusiasm or creativity to my work. When I was back in New York, cooking and self-reflecting, things became a lot clearer. And once I saw it, I couldn’t look away from it.”
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