Defelice-Cameron keeps reaching for higher goals
Each year, five women are chosen by the Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club for Career Women’s Week. The criteria used for choosing these women are based not only on their professional efforts, but also on the contributions they’ve made to community and family. The club was founded in 1930, originally known as Punxsutawney Business & Professional Women’s Club. On Sept. 8, 1998, the club name was changed and incorporated as a non-profit organization under the name of Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club, with objectives to promote growth and respect of women in the workplace; improve self-esteem in all careers; educate women; and support community projects. This article is Part III in a five-part series.
By Destiny Pifer
Of The Spirit
PUNXSUTAWNEY— Six years ago on the last day of January, Lil Defelice-Cameron achieved one of her goals by opening what would soon be known as Lily's Bakery, Deli and Restaurant.
Cameron grew up in a career-driven family surrounded by people who always worked and worked hard.
Her parents owned and operated 'Joe Defelice's Family Style Restaurant,' and as a child, Cameron worked in her parents' restaurant.
This set her on the path of one day owning and operating her own restaurant. Though busy with the restaurant, her parents still made time for their 12 children, Cameron said. Now, the family has grown, and each year, they get together for a home-cooked meal. Those home-cooked meals helped inspire Cameron to open her own restaurant with meals made fresh.
"It's amazing what you can learn from your family," said Cameron, adding that, "Everyone should sit down and eat as a family".
Two years ago, Cameron decided to open up a bakery next door to the restaurant and managed to find a few talented bakers.
While she herself does not bake, her bakers are both self-taught and continue to amaze her with their talents, she said.
All together, she has 32 employees — a few of which she took in from the Comet Market, which recently announced it had to close its doors.
"I have the best crew, and I know they can take care of everything when I am not here, and I don't have to worry about anything," she said. "If someone calls off then one of the other workers jump in. They are always willing to help any of their fellow workers who are in need. They work as a team."
Although she doesn't bake, Cameron said she still helps out at the bakery by making home-made soups, deli salads and other deli items.
"In a week, I make about 70 gallons of soup," she said. "You can buy it by the quart, and everything is made from fresh stock."
Cameron doesn't like preservatives and therefore makes sure all of her supplies are fresh. She works almost every day except Thursday, and even then, on her day off, she spends eight hours doing bookkeeping.
It wasn't easy achieving her dream at first, Cameron said.
For years, she worked in the retail business and at Jefferson Wholesale. She then worked with one of her sisters before branching out on her own.
The day of a restaurant owner starts early, Cameron said, with her coming in at 4:30 a.m. and working until 9 a.m.
She then goes home and cares for her mother, who is 86 years old. After getting her mother ready for the day, she then heads back to the restaurant.
"You have to be driven and have responsibility," she said speaking of the commitment owning one's own business is, adding that, "You have to be able to do it all."
For the past 21 years, she has been married to Bret Cameron, and though they don't have children of their own, she does love to spoil kid. An avid animal lover, she said she and her husband have a dog and a cat.
Together, Lil and Bret also own and operate Cameron's Blueberry Farm. While Bret does the trimming and manual labor, Lil does the marketing, bookkeeping and advertising and hires the workers.
Cameron said that Bret is also a very driven man from a career-driven family.
He was raised on a farm, and, at the age of 17, he took a job working in the strip mines as a heavy equipment operator. He fought to get the job because he wanted to work. That was something both he and Lil have in common — their enjoyment for working.
When it comes to her job, Cameron said the best part is the customers: "I never thought I would have customers who would become like family," she said. "They don't realize how much they touch your life."
When it comes to competition with other restaurants, she doesn't believe in it. In fact, she said she gets along with other restaurant owners in the area. If another business like Frank'n Steins needs something ordered, she said she gladly does it for them, and they do the same for her.
"We are all in this together," she said.
Although her busy schedule prevents her, at times, from volunteering, Cameron said she does everything she can not only to help out her community but help others in need, as well.
One place that she enjoys helping out is the Crosstown Pantry at Woodland Avenue Church.
For a while, she sent off quarts of soup, and now, she said she sends produce. Another place that receives her help is an animal sanctuary located out of the area.
One of Cameron's favorite charities — which she proudly helps — is the Smile Train, which has a mission to provide surgeries for children who were born with cleft lips. Instead of gifts, she always requests that a donation be made in her name to Smile Train. Cameron said she is a woman who doesn't like to be in the spotlight, but she does love to make a difference.
"I would love to one day, during the holidays, open the restaurant and serve free meals," she said.
When asked if she had accomplished her goals, Cameron's reply was, "You can never reach your goal; I want to keep reaching!"
She said she aims to keep on going even when she reaches the age of retirement.
"Being a woman in this business, you have to be driven. You have to have the attitude of, 'This is how it is,'" she said. "You can't make everyone happy, but I sure try."