Cinnamon rolls seem an odd front for a political battle.
In 2006, Ellen Richardson unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Hesperia Unified School District school board. She thought she was out of politics after that. But the next year, a recall attempt targeted the three winning candidates -- Hardy Black, Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers -- and Richardson found herself dragged back into the spotlight. And her homemade rolls, which were donated for school fundraisers and purchased by teachers and school administrators, became the target of county and city governmental scrutiny.
"I don't believe in recalls," Richardson said Tuesday. "The people voted them in."
Richardson herself never signed any petitions, she said. But in associating with the recall organizers, Richardson became a target for recall opponents.
"The district called and said 'the health department is looking for you.'"
The County of San Bernardino Department of Public Health told her that a $40,000 catering job she had accepted from the HUSD would require $48,000 in expenses to comply with the department's rules, which she paid. There were more visits from the department, and from Hesperia's Code Enforcement department.
When she finally thought it was over -- no more accepting money for cinnamon rolls; she was out of the business -- she found that even donating rolls for school fundraisers, at the behest of recall opponents who needed funds for a school club, would lead to another call to the health department.
"I finally realized at several of the 4.0 dinners [for honor roll students] that I was going to be shunned."
Richardson was beaten. But her nine daughters were not. She was born to bake, they told her, and if she wasn't allowed to do it without a business license and professional kitchen, then it was time to become a professional baker.
On Dec. 7, Richardson opened her own bakery on Main Street, less than a mile from the HUSD district office. This time, the family was taking no chances with the health department: Richardson's husband, a scientist for Dow Chemicals, made sure every aspect of the bakery met county health regulations, down to the last millimeter.
"We went overboard to compensate for, I guess, my past," she said. "Everything is really over the top in compliance."
Unlike most people who open their own business, Richardson has an edge: Customers might not know her name, but cinnamon rolls from "the Cinnamon Roll Lady" have been a staple at Victor Valley schools for more than a decade, making her new bakery's name a no-brainer.
"It thought, surely, that's not the same cinnamon roll lady," Tina Balleweg, a teacher at Discovery School of the Arts in Victorville, said of an ad she had seen on Facebook. Richardson's rolls had been once been a weekly staple in the school's break room. "Oh, that's yummy."
Richardson will be delivering to valley schools again in 2010.
"Word of mouth is just ... we're doing really well," she smiled.
Richardson is out of politics for good, she said, and doesn't hold any grudges against the partisans who unleashed the authorities on her (but who seem to have no problem with the other parents who still accept payment for baked goods they provide to the district).
"By doing that, they actually did me a favor. They booted me off my keister and showed me how much we really wanted it."
The Cinnamon Roll Lady bakery is located at 15188 Main Street, Hesperia, and is open for business Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. For more information, call 760-792-8119.
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/HesperiaStar.