A Living Wage, Baked Into the Cake

Tammy LeMoine, Martellis Deetjen, Chelsey Onuoha, and Heidi Grant.

Tammy LeMoine was very involved with the PTA as her children attended Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. As she contemplated the components of the area’s excellent school system, with computers provided as well as social services for those in need of access, she wondered: For students with limited resources, what happens when all of that goes away after graduation?

“If you don’t have a plan of what is coming next, it kind of is a tough road,” Tammy says, adding that she watched some of her kids’ friends struggle as they transitioned to the next chapter.

Baking started as a hobby for Tammy. But, wanting to make a difference by helping one person at a time, she founded Starfish Bakery in 2021 in order to hire young adults, provide a living wage, and share some guidance about how to get ahead after high school.

She is now an empty nester and bakes regularly with Heidi Grant, a friend and fellow empty nester who has been on the Starfish team since the beginning. The pair is joined in the kitchen at Piedmont Food Processing Center in Hillsborough by two young team members. They were referred to Tammy by the Blue Ribbon Mentor program and Second Family Foundation, which is dedicated to providing youth who experience risks, including going through foster care, with as much of a middle class child’s experience as possible.

“We are in the kitchen for six to eight hours at a time,” says Tammy. “There’s an element of boredom. After a while, it gets a little quiet, which leaves room for talking about your inner thoughts and lives, and you start to get more details. We bake, talk about life’s problems, share our experiences, and try to help each other make good choices.”

Tammy, a former financial planner, often gives advice related to budgeting and banking.

“We’re doing budgeting and talking about rent,” she says. “We look at the cost of college classes. I have met the kids outside of work to sit down at the library and take a piece of paper and do a budget. Once you start seeing the budget, it is apparent why we need to do this. They cannot survive without it.”

For this reason, Tammy prioritizes paying a living wage for her employees. (The 2024 living wage is $17.65, or $16.15 with employer-provided health insurance.) “We aren’t selling things for hundreds of dollars. But we have to keep up,” she says. “Rent is costly. Going to college is costly. I am watching the numbers on the other side – the cost of gas, food. It is so helpful that [Orange County Living Wage] gives me a guide. I don’t have to do it based on experience. They are doing the legwork and the research for me.”

Starfish Bakery makes lemon bars, cupcakes, whoopie pies, cookies, pies, breads, and fruit pies. Their offerings can be found at Steve’s Garden Market in Hillsborough, Hillsborough Farm and Garden Stand, and the RambleRill Farm Saturday Slowdown. They also bake the cookie component of Elaka Treats’ ice cream sandwich.

Starfish also accept orders from private individuals, UNC Hospital, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, local realtors, and more. They deliver every Friday around Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Durham. On occasion, they have been commissioned to bake birthday cakes and wedding cakes.

“It’s busy, and it’s working out really well,” Tammy says. “We are getting better all the time and making our way into different venues.”

Learn more about Starfish Bakery and their offerings at starfishbakery.org.