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Home-schooled siblings baking up business in Provo

By Mark Johnston

The Daily Herald

Published: Friday, March 18 2011 6:51 p.m. MDT

Bethany Allen, 11, left, and Mattia Allen, 10, bake their homemade 10-grain bread at the Bethlehem Bakery.

Associated Press

PROVO (AP) — Sisters Bethany and Mattia Allen, along with their older brother Eli, make their way through the N. Eldon Tanner Building at Brigham Young University with a cart full of bread from their bakery and a log book in hand. From door-to-door they sell sourdough and 10-grain bread that they baked at home for some very appreciative customers.

These three entrepreneurs and their business plan are off to a good start, having already made a good impression on Ronald Seamons, the assistant dean of the Marriott School of Management, one of their top customers.

"They're a package deal. The bread is really good, but seeing these kids run a business is impressive especially when you know their ages," said Seamons, as he purchased a loaf of sourdough at his office.

Eli, 13, runs the Bethlehem Bakery in Provo with his sisters Bethany, 11, and Mattia, 10. All three are home-schooled by their mother, Nickie Allen, who likes to take their lessons a step further in preparing the children for the world.

After baking started as a fun hobby two years ago for their father, Gove Allen, the children soon got involved helping out where they could. As they grew a little older, Nickie Allen decided she could include the bread-making in the lessons she taught in their classroom.

"Whatever we're doing we try to relate to real life," Nickie Allen said.

Soon the simple process of baking bread was helping teach lessons in mathematics, kitchen hygiene and safety, teamwork, public speaking and even business.

With Utah's approval of cottage food production operations, and after they earned food-handlers permits, Eli, Bethany and Mattia were soon baking a variety of breads and selling them too.

All the while their mother enjoyed the satisfaction of watching her kids learn what she considered the most valuable lessons of all: that there is value in free enterprise and being entrepreneurs; they shouldn't rely on others to take care of them; and they should never feel entitled to things that they hadn't earned themselves.

"The reason we decided to invest in this was really for the education of running a business," said Gove Allen, who is an associate professor of information systems at BYU.

And invest they did.

An empty room next to their classroom at home has steadily been transformed into the Bethlehem Bakery. Industrial-sized kitchen equipment, which they purchased piece by piece from surplus sales, has helped make the process much easier for the children.

Every Wednesday they bake, and every Thursday they make their sales. The children work independently with ease and confidence, relying on their parents' help only for the challenge of making sourdough.

It is a lot of work on top of their everyday classroom assignments, and some days their mother says they can still be kids and not feel up for the task of baking. But it's all worth it when the reward of payday comes around.

Half of all they make goes back into the business. After that, they each put 40 percent of their individual take into savings, 10 percent goes to givings, 10 percent to tithing and the rest goes into spending.

"Sometimes I don't want to put so much into savings, why can't I have some more spendings?" asked Mattia upon explaining her financial plan.

Bethany puts a majority of what she earns into taking care of her pet rabbits, and Mattia enjoys buying toys and books.

Eli, though, "he'll take himself out to eat," said his mother.

At one time they even saved all their earnings to take nearly a monthlong trip to Virginia where they explored Colonial America.

"Whatever they want to govern I cannot say no to," Nickie Allen said. "When it's their spending money, it's theirs to learn from, and if it goes quickly, too bad so sad."

Just another lesson that Eli, Bethany and Mattia have learned by running the Bethlehem Bakery.

And while they may not all turn out to be business owners or accountants in future, (Eli's favorite subject is history; Bethany loves animals, and Mattia likes art), this experience will benefit them much more than reading from any textbook.

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