By Jordyn Grzelewski
Genevieve Bodnar woke up one morning in 2011 to find she couldn’t get out of bed.
“I couldn’t walk. I was in horrific pain,” she recalled.
That experience set her on a path that began with frustration and pain, and later led the retired teacher to an unexpected new career as an entrepreneur.
Genevieve’s Kitchen is an ancient grains baked-goods company that will continue to grow with the help of the $5,000 grant Bodnar recently won through the Youngstown Business Incubator’s Women in Entrepreneurship (WE) Launch business accelerator program.
Bodnar never expected to be where she is today.
The Hartford native retired from a fulfilling career as an educator, first at the former Byzantine Catholic Central School, then later teaching at Youngstown City Schools.
Then, she got sick.
Bodnar eventually was diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica, a chronic inflammatory condition that causes pain and stiffness. The prednisone that kept Bodnar’s condition under control led to other complications. She underwent surgery for her shoulder and cataracts and had two parathyroid glands removed. She lost her hair and her energy.
That’s when Bodnar decided to visit a naturopathic doctor, who recommended drastic changes to her diet. She gave up wheat, corn and dairy.
“There were things I had never heard of and now I’m eating them,” Bodnar said. “Within a month, I was feeling so much better.”
She lost the weight she had put on and regained her energy.
She was feeling better, but there was one problem: She had nothing to eat. Her research led her to spelt, a type of grain that is similar to wheat and which Bodnar found she could eat with no ill effects.
“I grew up on bread and pasta,” she explained. “I went all over Youngstown begging bakers, and nobody would bake spelt bread.”
So, Bodnar took matters into her own hands.
“I thought, ‘If nobody is going to do this for me, I’m going to do this myself,’” she said.
Bodnar started baking. Now, she offers a line of yeast breads made with spelt flour, water, yeast, salt and honey, with variations such as flax sesame and kalamata olive and rosemary. She also offers dessert breads such as death by chocolate and lemon lavender. She makes other baked goods, too, including cookies and biscotti.
Now, Bodnar eats bread every day and is living pain-free.
She tries to use organic and local ingredients as much as possible. She buys the grain from a business in Saxonburg, Pa., and gets her honey from a beekeeping neighbor.
She first shared her baked goods with friends and family, then realized she was on to something when the sweets she baked for a fundraiser sold out.
In early 2016, Bodnar got her LLC. Later that year, she started selling her products at the Howland Farmers Market.
“Little by little, I started to get people who were looking for me and who were looking for my stuff,” she said. “There are so many people out there who need these kinds of products, and there’s nobody out there who’s doing this.”
After meeting a previous winner of the WE Launch grant, McDivitt Family Maple owner Stacy McDivitt, Bodnar decided to do the WE program. There, she learned the skills she needed to start and expand a business.
She plans to use the grant money she won to expand to new markets, refine her product presentation, increase her brand awareness and support research for autoimmune diseases.
Bodnar currently operates out of the McDivitt Family Maple storefront at 3528 Parkman Road in Southington. Customers can find her products there, at the Howland and Austintown farmers markets, once a month at the Wildroots flea market in Hudson or at Branch Street Coffee Roasters in Boardman, which sells her biscotti.
Although Bodnar never imagined Genevieve’s Kitchen, she is happy to help others, whether they are struggling to find foods they can eat or simply appreciate her delicious baked goods.
“I love it,” she said.