DUXBURY — Laura Raposa used to be someone with whom to reckon. For 21 years, she was one-half of the “gals” from “Inside Track,” The Boston Herald’s popular gossip column that, in its heyday, was both loved and reviled.
Boston magazine named Raposa among the city’s most powerful people three times. Then, in 2013, she walked away from the whirlwind life of nonstop dining, presidential inaugurations, and big-ticket sporting events. Raposa wanted to become a baker. She was 52.
The career change wasn’t easy. Though Raposa has always cooked for friends, and grew up in a family that owns a baking supply company, she needed professional experience. She took an unpaid internship at Flour Bakery & Cafe in the South End, became a volunteer cook for Paraclete, a South Boston afterschool program, and attended culinary boot camps. Then there was weight-loss surgery because of health issues, resulting in a 75-pound drop. In August, Raposa opened her bakery, The Foodsmith.
“It’s really hard work, physically demanding,” Raposa says. Her business partner is her husband, Steven Syre, a former business columnist for the Globe, who handles all money matters, buys supplies, and sometimes washes dishes. “It’s harder to do than ‘Inside Track.’ But my main passion is feeding people, all kinds of people. I love when people walk through the door and they’re happy, and then they walk out the door and they’re happy.”
The Foodsmith is an 800-square-foot shop with walls of cool teal and coral, and an embossed tin ceiling painted glossy white. The counter display offers cinnamon and raspberry buns, scones, and seasonal baked doughnuts. Among the daily sandwiches, which vary, are salmon BLT and curried chicken salad. Recent soups include Thai pumpkin bisque and butternut squash with apple.
To help, Raposa hired Betsey Hunter, and calls her “a baking diva” and “a kindred spirit.” The two turn out an apple pie full of fruit with a flaky crust, and moist cakes with elaborate frosting patterns and icing flowers. Sandwich bread comes from Fireking Baking Co. in Braintree. Everything else is made from scratch with produce from Cretinon’s Farm in Kingston, Norwell Farms in Norwell, R&C Farms in Scituate, and Colchester Neighborhood Farm in Plympton.
There’s a lot of tempting things here, but Raposa doesn’t spend her days nibbling her confections. She can only take small tastes because of her 2014 gastric-sleeve procedure. She didn’t hesitate about her decision to do the surgery, which was performed at the Weight and Wellness Center of Tufts Medical Center. “I saw the future and it did not look good,” Raposa says. “I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and I was pre-diabetic.” She wanted to be healthier. “I now have more energy. There’s no way I could run a bakery without that surgery.”
Cooking has always been Raposa’s passion. When she was 3 years old, her father, Phil, found some raw veal cutlets spoiling inside his daughter’s Suzy Homemaker toy oven. “I said to my wife, ‘I think I know what she’s going to be,’ ” he recalls. Throughout her 30-year-career at the Herald, Raposa often prepared food for co-workers. “Every year, even when Laura was an editorial assistant while she was at [Boston University], she would throw a Christmas party,” recalls Gayle Fee, her “Inside Track” co-writer. “She always made pizza. Then her culinary technique improved over the years and she put out elaborate buffets with crab cakes, hors d’oeuvres, and homemade candy. She’d talk about food and write about food. If you knew Laura, you knew cooking is her thing.”
Raposa, who lives nearby in Scituate, also knew about the business of food. Her grandparents operated a bakery in Fall River and a sweet shop in East Providence. The Raposas have owned JAR Baker’s Supplies in Lincoln, R.I., for nearly 70 years. The company sells gourmet provisions to bakeries, restaurants, and schools throughout New England. “I’ve heard bankruptcy stories,” Raposa says. “I know what fails, what works.” Her family, she says, “is insanely supportive” of her venture. That doesn’t mean the family is soft on Raposa’s business. They made her fill out a credit application before approving The Foodsmith’s account with their company. Nor does she take advantage of much of what her family’s company has to offer, including cake and muffin mixes. “My dad gets frustrated with the whole ‘from scratch’ thing,” she says, “because he says the premade mixes are very good.”
Those who have worked with Raposa praise her. “Her level of creativity, to produce and execute a meal for the staff and students, was always awesome and always something different each week,” says Gaitskell Cleghorn, a.k.a. Chef Gates, the culinary director of Paraclete, which serves middle school students. Raposa prepared dinner for 35 students and parents every Tuesday for a year. The program’s executive director, Eileen DeMichele, says Raposa was so popular with students that a reward for finishing their work early was to get to cook with her.
Raposa spent a summer at Flour. “She’s a great baker and I adore her,” says Keith Brooks, assistant pastry chef at the Back Bay location. “Laura loved to talk about flavors and ask technical questions. The more she practiced, the more she knew it was her calling.” Brooks, a Bostonian and longtime “Inside Track” fan, says the two also bonded over their midlife career changes. Brooks was a former management consultant.
Midlife career changes are common. The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park says that 13 to 15 percent of its student body includes people who have worked other jobs and decided to cook professionally. They bring good critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. “What we’ve found is people, when they were teenagers, wanted to go into food and their parents would say ‘That’s not a career. That’s a hobby’, ” says CIA spokesman Jeff Levine. Their passion for food, he says, “never goes away.”
The new entrepreneur is putting that to the test, showing up for work at 4 a.m. six days a week, and managing hiccups. The first Sunday The Foodsmith was open, Raposa ran out of goods before 10 a.m. She and Hunter have been surprised by the number of sandwich sales. To keep up with demand, they have been working behind a locked door on Mondays, the day the bakery is closed, to prepare pastry dough. “I haven’t even had time to color my hair,” Raposa says, with a signature roll of her eyes and a grin.
She muses about her gossip-column days. “I used to be somebody and now I’m nobody,” she says. “Now I’m part of a different community. I like it.”
But there are people for whom she is somebody. “She cooked good food, and I’m sad she is not going to be here cooking for us,” writes Paraclete student Chareese Mollet, 12, in an e-mail. Some Paraclete students are planning a road trip to The Foodsmith in a few weeks.
17 Standish St., Duxbury, 781-934-0134, www.thefoodsmithduxbury.com
Peggy Hernandez can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: Because of a reporter’s error, an earlier version of this story misstated the length of time of Raposa’s internship.