Student baker raises money for Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund
Lydia Begag ’22, @ThatBitchBaking on Instagram, uses her passion for baking to raise funds to combat systemic racism.
Lydia Begag ’22 had already been baking for quite some time prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the campus shutdown in early March, Begag’s passion for baking reemerged because of the additional time she had to focus on activities outside of school. “I was trying new recipes and figuring out what I liked, what was fun to bake,” she said in a Nov. 13 interview with the Justice via Zoom. The thought of making a business out of her baking didn’t occur to her at the time. “It was completely leisurely. … I saw no sort of business endeavor in it at all,” she said.
When classes resumed for fall semester, Begag decided to live off campus with four of her friends. Living off campus gave her easy access to a kitchen that she could use to continue cooking and baking. About two weeks into the semester, Begag recalled, one of her roommates approached her and prompted her to make an Instagram account for her baking, to which Begag responded with, “If I make anything that looks good I will just post it on my [personal] Instagram story. … it’s not a huge thing.” Per Begag, her roommate ended up creating an account for her as a joke. “I cannot emphasize that enough. … It was just this funny joke between the five of us,” she said. Soon enough, other close friends started following the page, and Begag started thinking about the possibility of turning her baking into something bigger.
Begag’s first business idea emerged overnight. “I went to bed one night and woke up the next morning and I was like ‘You know what, there’s this idea.’ … The idea was this whole door-to-door delivery where I’ll bake stuff in the kitchen here … people fill out orders, I will personalize it for them and customize it,” she said. Before unveiling her business, Begag realized the impact she could have on social justice initiatives. Instead of keeping all the profits, she looked into different social justice organizations, particularly those addressing the issues of systemic racism. Begag decided to donate 50% of her proceeds to the Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund, a student-run effort “to support Brandeis students impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, anti-Black racism, or any other needs,” per their Instagram bio. As of the Nov. 14 weekend, Begag will have donated a total of $800 to the Brandeis Mutual Aid Fund from her baking.
Begag offers a wide variety of products, including cookies, cakes, pies, cobblers, tarts and bread. Her most-ordered item is the flourless chocolate cake, a gluten-free, rich chocolate cake topped with raspberries. Placing an order involves filling out a Google Form that asks for basic contact information, allergies, dietary restrictions, time and place of delivery and motive for placing the order (in case it is for an anniversary or birthday and requires additional decoration). Begag places all incoming information into a spreadsheet where she keeps track of all of her orders, and she promptly contacts each customer via text to arrange for delivery. Dough to Door, the name Begag chose for her delivery system, offers free delivery to anyone in the Waltham area and charges a $5 delivery fee for those in the Greater Boston area. Two of Begag’s roommates help with delivery whenever they have room in their schedule. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without, you know, the two who are setting aside time to drive me to campus. ... Their role in it is definitely not minimal,” she said.
Although incredibly passionate about baking and her business, Begag is still a full-time Brandeis student juggling classes and extracurriculars. “This is something that can definitely have the potential to get out of control ... because I love to bake so much,” she stated. To give herself enough time to complete her assignments and other commitments, Begag limits the number of orders she takes on every week depending on how busy she expects to be. “If it’s midterms, I am probably going to be doing something closer to three or four [orders]. … But if it's a fairly free week in terms of, like, school, then I'll pick up more,” she added. As of Nov. 13, Begag is fully booked for the rest of the semester.
Safety is one of Begag’s top priorities, especially given the rise of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts and the rest of the country in the last few weeks. “I'm not a restaurant. I'm not subject to Massachusetts state laws. I take it upon myself to really try and make this as safe as I possibly can for people,” she said. Begag and her roommates get tested at Brandeis two to three times a week, and she makes sure to wipe down all surfaces before, between, and after orders. Begag also schedules her baking time when no one else is at the house to minimize contact and contamination. “If I'm not feeling well, I'm not going to bake. ... If anyone else isn't feeling well, I'm not going to bake,” she added.
Begag handles most of her business through social media. She can be reached via direct messages or comments on Instagram. Her Instagram handle is @thatbitchbaking, a name that her roommate came up with when she first created the account. Begag decided to keep the name, not only because she likes the way it sounds and believes people will remember it, but also because “[it is a term] that used to be something a lot more derogatory and … used to demean women, and it has been reclaimed by, like, women artists, women singers, women songwriters and, like, actresses to … turn that term around on its head,” she said.
Begag will continue to brainstorm new ideas in the coming months, and she will be accepting orders again once the spring semester begins.