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Businessman rescues bakery with an offer of dough

Published: Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 8:56 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — There will be presents under Rose O'Carroll's Christmas tree this year.

The owner of Rose's Wheat Free Bakery and Cafe in Evanston struck an 11th-hour deal Saturday with Camping World and Good Sam CEO Marcus Lemonis to keep open the struggling confectionery. The gluten-free shop was slated to close Christmas Eve unless it raised more than $100,000, which would have resuscitated it through March.

Now, O'Carroll said, her 5-year-old bakery isn't going to close any time soon.

"They're literally giving us Christmas back," O'Carroll said, fighting back tears. "It just started dawning on me right now that we're going to have a Christmas. I didn't buy my kids any presents. I'm getting to buy my kids presents now."

Lemonis, who lives in Chicago, said he has written a check for $200,000 and established a working capital fund of about $150,000. He stressed that every employee will keep his or her job.

O'Carroll has attributed the bakery's financial troubles in part to labor costs, which remain high because of the meticulous attention gluten-free products demand.

"I'm not a believer in making money by cutting jobs," Lemonis said. "I'm a believer in making money by increasing sales."

Lemonis met O'Carroll a year and a half ago, when he had started eating gluten-free by choice.

After reading a Tribune story about the bakery's expected closing, Lemonis called O'Carroll and said he would "take care of everything," she said. At first, O'Carroll was as skeptical as any business owner who has been told his or her financial woes would disappear.

Still, O'Carroll was not about to dismiss such a generous offer. On Friday night, she and her husband swung by In the Raw, a gluten-free restaurant in Highland Park that Lemonis had recently bought. They intended to ask the owners about Lemonis' business acumen.

Instead, O'Carroll and her husband bumped into Lemonis. Over a "lovely meal," the three began fleshing out how to save the bakery, O'Carroll said.

By early Saturday afternoon, O'Carroll and Lemonis had reached an agreement to stave off the Christmas Eve shutdown.

"This is a woman who epitomizes a great baker and a great mind when it comes to baking, but maybe not all the business skills," Lemonis said.

After talking with O'Carroll, Lemonis said he realized there are "some things inside the business that I can fix very fast to make the bakery profitable." One of them is new equipment that will speed up the production process for some of the bakery's most popular items.

The bakery rescue is not Lemonis' first brush with charity. As head of the largest RV owners association in the world, the Miami native has been featured on "Secret Millionaire," an ABC show in which deep-pocketed executives surprise poverty-stricken communities. Lemonis has also appeared on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice."

"Here's the thing: It isn't even just Marcus," O'Carroll said, in reference to several customers who have been handing her unsolicited donations throughout the week.

Some of them were older patrons who did not want to share their credit card information with the online fundraising tool a former employee had set up, O'Carroll said. Others offered to help negotiate with bank officials or buy the bakery's building.

The news trickled out to O'Carroll's customers Saturday night, with some expressing their relief on the bakery's Facebook page. In a comment, Lemonis consoled a worried Facebook user who said she left the bakery Friday "ready to throw up i ate so much, terrified it would be my last chance to eat their DELICIOUS food."

"Betsy," Lemonis wrote, "All is resolved."

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