Pursuing a new career later in life
Former trader Rob VanKeuren left the financial field to purse his passion for baking sour dough bread. He now owns Flour Salt Water Bread bakery in Darien.
Photo by Stan Godlewski
Many of us dream of a second act in life, a chance to reimagine, restart, or recast ourselves in new way. That opportunity usually presents itself either through re-entry to the workforce, retirement, or an unexpected job loss. Uncertainty about what’s next can be paralyzing, especially when everything you know, love, and rely on for your wellbeing along with your professional identity, changes.
Rob VanKeuren worked as a financial trader at a small firm in Stamford but after ten years in the field, he still felt unfulfilled. He left and moved to Brazil to start his own company only to return to Connecticut a few years later. He fell back into the financial realm, but wasn’t happy. “When I was in my early 30s, I had this recurring thought of, ‘what will my obituary read?’” he recalls. “It may sound depressing but it was actually a very exciting thought process, being able to create my own reality and have it be literally whatever I wanted. Often we forget that we can do that.”
VanKeuren’s flights of fancy revolved around many typical childhood dreams—being a fireman, astronaut, or pro athlete. But eventually he came to realize where his true passion lay: in the kitchen. “Cooking and being in a kitchen has always brought me happiness,” says VanKeuren. “Growing up, the main room in our house was the kitchen. There was always something exciting happening there. I love to nurture and I realized that baking bread is a great way to do that. Most people have a very special relationship with bread and
there’s usually some sense of nostalgia when you eat it.”
With no formal training VanKeuren learned everything he “kneaded” to know through online resources and at the local library. He then utilized his business acumen to create a plan for his bakery business. After perfecting his bread-baking skills while working at the Tavern at Gray Barns in Norwalk and Jesup Hall in Westport, VanKeuren is now poised to open Flour Water Salt Bread in Darien, a bakery dedicated to his unique sour dough recipes along with French pastries including croissants, pain au chocolat, and chausson aux pommes (aka “apple turnovers”).
“Sourdough fermentation is an old fashioned technique that effectively creates the perfect loaf of bread. It takes a long time—48 to 72 hours—but the result is that the loaf will taste better, keep longer, and be far healthier and easier to digest,” he explains. “It’s the same with wine and cheese. Good flavors take time to create.”
It’s a good thing that VanKeuren is patient, because his second act is about to become a lot more complicated as he and his girlfriend are about to experience a third act togeither: a new baby, bringing new meaning “a bun in the oven.”
Wilton’s Cindy Sinor, a former financial and public-relations marketing professional, left her NYC-based job to raise her daughter Juliette, and son Alex, only to face a dilemma once the kids were grown up: What’s next? With the kids pretty well launched, Cindy was determined to find something new to dedicate her time to. At age 50, she decided to reinvent, or rather, rediscover her a long-buried passion—art.
“I’ve been an artist my whole life and throughout my school years, I won a number of awards and contests,” Sinor says. “However, my parents were extremely practical and worried that I would not be able to make a living as an artist. So I followed their advice and got a business degree and my MBA. I occasionally dabbled in art as a hobby but for the most part it was on the back burner.”
It was her husband, Zubin, who suggested Cindy take a colored pencil art class. It wasn’t long before her creativity was not only rekindled but burning brightly. “That class was a huge turning point for me,” confesses Sinor. “I began drawing human and pet portraits and posting my work on Facebook. Colored pencil is a slow, meditative process,” she says. “My work is extremely realistic, so I really hone in on the details. There’s a lot of nuance.”
Through social media and word of mouth, Sinor started began drawing commissioned portraits. She has since taught art classes for Wilton Continuing Education and Norwalk Community College and exhibits her work regularly. As it turns out, Cindy Sinor’s love of art wasn’t so much a second act as and encore of her first love, rediscovered. “Age is an asset, not a liability,” she says. “There is something to be gleaned from every job, relationship, and life experience—even if seems unrelated to a new career.”