Episode 1 of AMERICAN DOERS, a new 12-part video series featuring original thinkers, innovators, craftspeople, risk-takers and artisans across the United States.
For Shareena Casterline, 30, a traumatic upbringing didn’t slow her ambitious nature – in fact, a troubled past pushed her to move to New York to open a boutique online bakery.
“I’m living my dream,” says Casterline, founder of e-commerce confectionary Madison Street Bakehouse, known for their signature “Maddy” cookie, made from roasted ground almonds with notes of citrus and Madagascar vanilla.
Given up by her parents at the age of 3 and later abandoned by her grandmother and aunt, the Colorado native was shuffled to different group homes and foster care placements for 7 years – combating loneliness and dejection in the system by playing make-believe.
“As a toddler, I would pretend I owned a bakery in Paris or New York,” she says. “Never in my wildest fantasy did I think it would happen.”
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But, against all odds, the pastry entrepreneur is now fulfilling that lifelong dream – one almond cookie at a time.
Before finding her forever family in Denver at the age of 10, Casterline suffered emotional and physical abusive at the hands of multiple foster families.
“I was told I would never amount to anything,” she says of the attacks that would haunt her for years. “I kept thinking ‘Let me get through this and then I’ll start my life.’ ”
WATCH: ‘American Doers’ Shareena Casterline Overcame Childhood Hardships and Is Living Her Dream of Owning Her Own Bakery
Adopted by nurturing parents Larry and Nancy Casterline, the baker discovered a passion for her craft early on when her dad, a caterer, gifted her with a Nestlé Toll House cookbook on her 11th birthday.
“Baking became an escape from my past and I was able to accept my adoptive family,” says Casterline. “The first time I realized I loved myself was when I baked a chocolate chip cookie, I knew this was my calling.”
By the time she was 18, Casterline had moved out of her family home and was working a series of odd jobs to put herself through college.
“It nearly broke me,” she says. “But I knew I could succeed on my own.”
A determined Casterline graduated from culinary school in 2012, working in restaurant kitchens as an unpaid stagiaire to gain experience. “But I knew I could be doing more with my life,” she says. “I learned to accept my past and I low-key fell in love with myself, I was ready for change.”
At the age of 25, she packed a bag, moved to a tiny apartment in New York’s Chinatown and set up a digital bakery.
And she hasn’t looked back since.
Casterline quit a part-time bartending job in June to focus solely on Madison Street Bakehouse.
With a steady incline of clientele, Casterline is expanding her business to include wholesale opportunities, goodie bags for corporate companies and boutique gift boxes.
“It’s a lot of work, but I just decided to do it,” says Casterline. “All it took was some faith, passion and a little baking love.”