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Immigrant to graduate from CVTC as baker entrepreneur

Monday, December 12, 2022

Immigrant to graduate from CVTC as baker entrepreneur

Image: Immigrant to graduate from CVTC as baker entrepreneur

With three kids in tow, French-born Séverine Stein moved from France to Eau Claire to be with her husband. It was a tough transition, but the one constant for her has been baking. To start her own bakery, she wanted to know the business end. On Tuesday, Dec. 20, Stein will graduate from Chippewa Valley Technical College with a technical diploma in entrepreneurship.

Baking is in Séverine Stein’s blood.

Her father began his baker apprenticeship when he was 14 and didn’t stop baking as a career until he retired in his 60s.

When the French-born Stein moved to the United States to be with her American husband in 2011, she embraced her baker roots. She knew how to knead the dough, pipe the icing and sift the powdered sugar, but she was at a loss when it came to accounting and marketing a business – something she aspired to do.

Stein’s ambitious nature wouldn’t allow her to rest solely on her baking laurels. She applied to Chippewa Valley Technical College to fill in the gaps.

On December 20, Stein, 51, will graduate from CVTC with a technical diploma in entrepreneurship.

She credits a good dose of fate, critical thinking and leaps of faith for the important choices she has made in life thus far – including scrolling by a CVTC ad on Facebook.

“It’s one of the best clicks of my life,” she said with excitement. “The classes were exactly what I needed. It was 18 months of my life that I gave to education, but it gave me all the self-confidence that I needed in business.”

Stein was born in Burgundy, France, nearly 200 miles southeast of Paris. As the daughter of a baker and pastry chef, she learned the skills of the trade.

While working at the family bakery, she started picking up bits of English as Americans and other English-speaking tourists frequented the shop. But like many children immersed in their parents’ business, she could take it or leave it. As it was, she left it. Stein studied cosmetology, got married and had children. That, however, is not where her story ended.

To help her learn the English language, she signed up for a pen pal program for people who wanted to hone their skills in different languages. That’s when she sent a letter to Wisconsin, addressed to Bill Stein.

“There was this man named Bill who loved coming to France but didn’t speak French,” she said. “I had multiple pen pals to practice the language, but this one from Wisconsin was very nice, and one day he decided to come to France, and we met in Paris.

“The city of love,” she joked.

They kept in touch, writing back and forth, each improving in their respective languages. She visited Wisconsin and was enamored. Bill proposed at the Rodin Museum in Paris, and they were married.

In the time it took to get her passport, they had their first child, who was born in France. In 2011, Séverine was able to move to Eau Claire with her three children and finally be with her husband.Her kids transitioned well into the community, but Séverine, who was in her 30s, struggled.

“I never drove an automatic car in my life,” she said. “I didn't know too much about the snow. I remember I was lost every day when I took my children to school.”

The one thing that spanned the continents was baking. She said she followed her French tradition. She invited people to her house, and she served her pastries.

“People said, ‘Oh my gosh, I love what you're doing,’ ” she recalled. “I was immediately very comfortable with baking because I had helped a lot at the bakery with my parents.”

Her love for backing continued to grow. The only thing she was missing was business prowess. CVTC could help with that – specifically Tyler van Helden, entrepreneurship program director and accounting instructor.

Van Helden met Stein during his first term teaching at CVTC in fall 2021, when Stein was enrolled in his accounting class online.

“Séverine (Stein) absolutely embodies the meaning of entrepreneurship, which is solving community problems through sustainable business practices,” van Helden said. “She is delivering products and a service in a way that provides solutions for the community that will lead to a happy community and  does so in a way that provides employment opportunities as well.  

“I see this value outlook in Severine in her wanting to gain more business-specific skills that add to her technical skills. This holistic outlook makes for a more empathetic owner.”

Stein is excited to find a space in the community to create her pastries and watch people enjoy her rich history of baking.

It’s part of my fabric. It's part of who I am. That's my culture,” she said.

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