Nearly a year after East Lincoln graduate, wife and mother of three Heather Bowman lost her job and moved into a homeless shelter with her family, the chef is back on her feet and anticipating the upcoming opening of Trecosta’s Coffee Shop and Bakery in Gaston County where she’ll serve as head chef.
“It has been a long road for us,” she said, “and I would never have imagined our lives would be so very different today.”
The Times-News first interviewed Bowman at the end of 2010 when she was living in Maiden and preparing to take on culinary school, a momentous career change for the then 32-year-old.
She has since graduated with a 3.9 GPA and boasts a culinary arts degree and certificate in baking and pastries from the Art Institute of Charlotte.
While for a time, life seemed exciting for Bowman and her dreams were on their way to being fulfilled by pursuing her passion for cooking, she and her family soon found themselves in a financial crisis.
Caring for a sick mother-in-law and paying for expensive childcare, Bowman said she opted to quit her chef gig at Cherryville Golf & Country Club to spend time at home. Her husband was fired from his job after spending too much time out of the office taking care of his mother.
After the family was evicted from their Gaston County home, they stayed with relatives for several weeks before heading to the Salvation Army shelter in Gastonia.
Bowman said, at the time, she felt exhausted and defeated among a plethora of other emotions.
“I felt selfish because I had refused to give up school to find a part-time job,” she said. “It’s hard to keep it together when everything falls apart around you.”
The facility, which houses residents of Gaston and Lincoln Counties, maintains separate dorms for men, women and families. However, the Bowmans were forced to live apart for some time since the family dorms were filled, and the organization allowed no more than four people to a dorm. Bowman and her daughters stayed in a dorm independent of her husband and son.
While there, each family member carried out certain organizational requirements including daily assigned chores, attendance at the Salvation Army church and job hunting in the community.
Once shelter officials learned Bowman could cook, they stuck her in the kitchen where her meals became immediate hits with other shelter residents and individuals at the soup kitchen.
“I was able to use what I had learned in school to create healthy meals for the residents,” she said. “It was a very humbling experience.”
On two occasions, the family was forced to request extended stay past the 30-day shelter limit, but in October 2011, they saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
A woman had invited Bowman and her daughters, along with several other women at the shelter, to attend a day of pampering at a local church. During the event, the woman revealed she had a similar life experience as the struggling family. She also said she managed a business that rented out apartments and encouraged Bowman to call her a few days later about securing a place.
When Bowman returned to the shelter, she prayed for the first time in a decade.
“I started to no longer be angry,” she said, “and instead, I decided it was time to praise (God) for the things He had taken and praise Him for the things He allowed me to keep. After all, everything belongs to God.”
More than two months after living at the shelter, the family moved into an apartment, and earlier this month, moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath home.
Bowman’s husband has a new job, and she is working towards opening a coffee shop/ bakery later this year with another woman.
The opening was moved from May 1 after more funding was needed.
Bowman will serve as the business’s executive pastry chef and general manager, she said.
The women also desire to open two feeder stores in the next five years and possibly expand their menu to include café-style foods.
They additionally want to produce authentic coffee.
“Our goal is to roast our own beans and offer coffee that you cannot get anywhere else,” Bowman said.
More than anything, she is looking forward to giving back to the community that helped her during a dark period.
“Everyone has a story,” she said. “Everyone has their own storms. If we turn our backs on those who need us, we are ignoring the very Word of God and His command to love one another.”