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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Maya-Camille Broussard Talk

What a manicure means to Chicago baker, activist Maya-Camille Broussard

Maya-Camille Broussard, a James Beard Award finalist last year, shared her story and her definition of success at a speaking engagement on Tuesday.

Society defines success in numerous ways. For some, it’s financial status. For others, it’s how many people know your name.

Maya-Camille Broussard, baker and owner of Chicago’s Justice of the Pies bakery, takes a less conventional view: success, to her, is when she can get and maintain a manicure.

Broussard said she has always been very insecure about the appearance of her hands, as the hard work and dry ingredients involved with baking made her hands dry and cracked. Moving up in the world of business meant treating herself to a longer manicure. 

“I could maintain a manicure long enough because I was not in the kitchen as much — I was now doing administrative work.” Broussard, who spoke on Tuesday at Union South as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Distinguished Lecture Series, described a lifelong passion for baking she never thought would turn into her career. Broussard previously owned Three Peas Art Lounge, a Chicago art gallery and bar, before opening her pie shop. 

Broussard created the gallery as a welcoming space for people from all walks of life to attend, designing the space with her clients in mind. By making her studio accessible for wheelchairs, people with impaired vision and people who experience hearing loss, Broussard was able to create an environment safe and convenient for everyone.

Ease and accessibility are close to Broussard's heart, as she experienced the loss of 75% of her hearing at two years old. Broussard's loss of hearing allowed her to toughen her other senses, including her taste and smell, but also forced her to adapt to a different way of life that relied on taking extra steps to fit into society. 

“I’m a person living with a disability, so when I started building out my bakery, one of the things that was important to me was how do I make this space as accessible as possible,” Broussard said.

When opening Three Peas Art Lounge in 2010, Broussard wanted to “create a space that was made and built for people with the various degrees of disabilities to come.” The lounge was open until 2014, when it permanently closed due to a flood. 

Though Broussard described the flood as a terrible incident, she said she now sees it as a blessing in disguise. The flooding finally allowed her the time to grieve the death of her father, who passed a week before the lounge was opened in 2010. 

After the lounge closed, Broussard decided to open up a pie shop on Chicago’s South Side with support from her family. Despite Broussard’s fondness for pound cake, she chose a pie shop to honor her “pie aficionado” father. 

Her father worked numerous jobs throughout his life, including working as a scuba instructor and a defense attorney, the latter of which inspired the name of the business. 

Because of her hearing loss, Broussard has a self-proclaimed “bionic nose” that allows her to smell and taste at an unrivaled level. This “superpower” is what Broussard credits with allowing her to invent beautiful combinations of sweet and savory pies in honor of her father’s memory.

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As implied by the business’s name, Justice of the Pies works to create beautiful pies while giving back to the Chicago community. Broussard has collaborated with multiple nonprofits to benefit young underprivileged communities in Chicago since starting her first business. 

Broussard started her own nonprofit in 2022, the Broussard Justice Foundation. The organization raises money to build more kitchens where she can teach young children how to sustain themselves. 

Chicago’s South Side is a food-insecure neighborhood, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, which means issues with access to food — specifically nutritious food — are common for all residents. 

Broussard is trying to change that. In fact, it was the South Side’s “bad reputation” for crime and poverty that compelled Broussard to open the first Justice of the Pies there to promote visibility and viability for the neighborhood and its residents. 

“My goal is just to give them the self-sufficiency and the skill set to feed themselves, to be able to create something for themselves,” Broussard said. 

Broussard shared her entrepreneurial advice in an interview with The Daily Cardinal: when starting a business, have a “why.” 

“If you understand your ‘why,’ everything else will make sense in terms of the work that you’re doing,” Broussard said. She discouraged young people from going into the business world to make “the big bucks” without a greater reason.

Without a “why,” Broussard said, the appeal of work goes away, and you are left as a “miserable rich person who’s lonely at the top.”

The maintenance of her manicure is Broussard’s evidence that she is no longer tied to the kitchen but is now running the business. She emphasized the subjectivity of success and urged her audience to define it in their own way, reminding them that personal success is not for others but for themselves.

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