Baking to hire: Scarlet’s Bakery surpasses expectations

Payton Carns

To the right of the cashier stands the bright, colorful, handwritten list of the specials of the day. Photo by Payton Carns.

Down on East Oak Street, double doors open to the busy street with an overwhelming aroma of various baked goods and fresh dough. Customers line stools against the window, coffee and treat in hand. To the left is a station for making coffee sweet with creams, honey and syrups. To the right is a fold out sign listing the day’s specials in colorful chalk: 10% discount on coffee, a “buy a candle for a cookie” deal and the soup of the day accompanied by a grilled cheese.

The display in the bakery isn’t very different than the typical one everyone is used to seeing in movies or in other parts of Louisville. Baked goods line the front of the counter blocked by plexiglass alongside a cash register and coffee machine.

What’s different, however, is the bakers beyond the cash register, plexiglass and coffee machine.

Every baker at Scarlet’s Bakery is a woman and every woman has the shared backstory of exploitation and human-trafficking. They are in the kitchen, baking cupcakes, muffins and other treats in order to heal, rebuild, and eventually enter back into society stronger. And this is all thanks to one woman who started it.

Despite a seemingly dark and sometimes rough shared backstory, the inside of Scarlet’s is painted with bright colors, allows for natural light and makes their baked goods look even more delicious. Photo by Payton Carns.

The mission

Scarlet’s began as a nonprofit organization, the Scarlet Hope Foundation, to help raise money and awareness for exploited women and female victims of human-trafficking.

The coffee-making station is adorned with different flavors of creams, sugars, honeys and syrups to accommodate for both frequent and new customer cravings. Photo by Payton Carns.

Scarlet Hope and the bakery’s founder, Rachelle Starr, began to think of new ways to help the foundation grow but couldn’t find the right way to reach the goal.

Manager of the Shelby Park location, Anastasia Phillips said the inspiration struck her in the strangest of places.

“She was driving past one of those billboard signs for adult entertainment,” Phillips said. “Looking at that billboard struck the inspiration to help these women fix their lives. That was the moment she decided she wanted to open the bakery.”

And by the end of 2015, Starr’s idea was brought to life. That December, Scarlet’s Bakery opened their very first location on East Oak in the Shelby Park neighborhood.

Just like when the bakery first opened each new employee who joins the team enters an 18-month rehabilitation program to learn baking skills and other helpful tips in order to restart their lives after varying degrees of exploitation. 

“We don’t hire people to bake cupcakes. We bake cupcakes to hire people,” Starr said.

The taste

Not only does their powerful message propel Scarlet’s forward in the local baking industry, the food does not disappoint. All homemade and by women who have little to no history of baking, their coffee, muffins, lunch specials and other sweet treats surpass all expectations.

A blueberry streusel muffin accompanied by two coffees is relatively cheap and would satisfy any sweet tooth or caffeine itch. Photo by Payton Carns.

The muffins are always served warm and fresh, crumbling in your mouth with a burst of flavor in every bite. Their dark roast is the perfect blend of sweet and bitter, and bags of the beans are frequently bought by customers.

Scarlet’s Bakery’s famous cinnamon roll and best-selling item. Photo by Payton Carns.

Phillips says their most popular item is their world famous cinnamon roll, and regular customers seem to agree.

President of the Shelby Neighborhood Association, Chip Rogalinski, has been a regular customer of their best-selling cinnamon roll and has been going to the bakery since the Saturday it opened.

“Their cinnamon roll is the best in the city,” Rogalinski said. “This bakery has been my favorite since it opened three years ago.”

Rogalinski has been president of the Shelby Park Neighborhood Association for nine years and approved the decorative, Instagram-worthy billboards that line the brick wall right outside of Scarlet’s.

Just outside of Scarlet’s, customers can view and take photos of the abstract billboard just across the street. Photo by Payton Carns.

The takeaway

After three years of business in Shelby Park, Starr hoped to expand the business to other locations throughout the city.

Two other locations have opened since the beginning of 2019, one in the St. Matthews neighborhood and the other downtown in a small space on West Broadway, making their mission known, their services for women accessible and their baked goods in reach to larger parts of Louisville.

Just outside the Shelby Park location, customers can be seen through the floor to ceiling windows enjoying coffee and cookies. Photo by Payton Carns.

Not only has Starr given the public a delicious homemade palette, she has given hope to women who never thought they would see that kind of opportunity again.

Scarlet’s Bakery has given the people a way to enjoy good food and help out the community while they do so; 100% percent of profits go to helping exploited women.

It is important for these bakers to share their message so they can continue to grow and spread their inspiration. Visit to a location near you, grab a muffin and a coffee and do your part in helping women across the country restart their lives again.