When life gives you lemons, an old adage says you’re supposed to make lemonade. If you’re Schantel Maxine Neal, you make lemon buttercream. However, as the founder and owner of Maxine Baked, Neal didn’t always see the sweet side of baking.
“I actually favored cooking above baking,” Neal says, so she studied savory fare at Johnson & Wales. It wasn’t until her beloved Grammie Maxine passed a decade later that she thought of baking in earnest. Having lived with her grandmother, Neal wanted to honor her memory. As a child, Neal not only cooked with Grammie Maxine but also watched her literally carry her love, in the way of baked goods, to her extended family.
“Whenever someone had kids she would hop from house to house,” Neal says. With nearly 30 grandchildren in total, that was quite a bit of hopping. “She really made her way around town making sure we all got a little love from her.” The image of a few dozen kids in jammies waiting for cake is a great one.
Following Maxine’s example, Neal makes a point of “trying to achieve things naturally.” That means no fondant. “It’s just not my thing. I like whole, clean desserts. It’s homestyle.” That is, homes with two dozen cake flavors that encourage special requests.
Neal is also a one-woman show; she runs Maxine Baked in her “spare” time, having kept her full-time job in Waltham. She admits that her husband Amin provides the “muscle” and assistance managing the business side.
For a long time, Neal sold exclusively at weekend markets to keep quantities manageable. She baked until she was tired and sold until things were gone. Then 2020 came and weekend markets went. It was time to be proactive and reinvent herself.
So, Neal started taking orders. Her market regulars sought her out online, as did a host of new clientele, eager to support small local businesses. Neal spends many evenings in her car, though she prefers to arrange a pick-up at Hope & Main, her impeccably clean incubator kitchen in Warren. When asked if she hires anyone to make those deliveries, she quickly replies, “Nope. It’s just me.”
Picture a vehicle, stuffed with delicious cargo, a lone driver turning up the heat as the sky darkens and the weather chills. She’s tired, but there are people in pajamas peeking out from behind their curtains, anticipating her arrival. Depending on her. And she delivers.