Tell me a bit about yourself. (Married, kids, hobbies, etc.)
Oooh, tough question! I grew up about 45 miles outside of Chicago and have lived in the city for the past 15 years. I met my husband in the bar I used to work in the same year I completed my nursing degree (I was a wayward soul for a while after college) and have been an ICU nurse for the last 10 years. We have been married for nearly 8 years and have a 4 1/2 year old son, and one dog child. My husband and I have a shared love for playing golf, which was one of my main hobbies prior to having my son and is now just a fun thing I do maybe a few times a year. We also have a shared love of cookies, and my husband’s joy of eating cookies by the dozen helped me discover my love of baking. Sadly, I don’t bake many chocolate chip cookies anymore, and he does not like sugar cookies!!
What are you most passionate about?
I am incredibly passionate about end of life care and openly discussing death, dying, and aging with anyone and everyone. As an ICU nurse I’ve learned we avoid talking about the hard stuff, and it does us a disservice when our bodies fail us. Talk about the hard stuff, make an advance directive, revisit it often as you age and your life changes, and let your loved ones know what’s in it.
What sparked your interest in making cookies? Did someone specific inspire you to start?
I’ve enjoyed baking for a while, but I think the cookbook “Flour” by Joanne Chang, recommended by a dear friend, got me thinking of baking as science and took my baking to a more consistent place. That and The Smitten Kitchen. I find the predictability to be very quieting for my mind. I am also kind of artsy and doodle from time to time and pull the classic “I’ll color you a picture in lieu of getting you a gift because I’m bad at gifts but good at coloring” move a lot. My friends know this about me and several of them sent pictures of decorated cookies by Patti Page and Holly Fox and said “you could do this.” It was a wonderful vote of confidence, I cannot do what they do, but it definitely sparked my interest in turning my baking into an artistic outlet, too.
As a cookie business owner, what are you most proud of? And what has been your biggest challenge?
This actually is a tough question. I think the hardest thing for me is admitting that I am, actually, a cookie business owner. I don’t think of myself as such for many of the same reasons we creatives may belittle our businesses: it’s small, it’s not really profitable, it’s just a side gig, I’m not a “business person” so it isn’t an actual business... and so on. Perhaps that’s what I am most proud of, too. That I’ve taken steps, however small, to invest in myself and SSG and do something that is truly just mine. (I say that as if I haven’t had the help of a supportive spouse,
friends, fellow creatives, family, and clients... if not for any of them, it wouldn’t be a business at all.)
Do you have a logo? If yes, what is the significance of it? How did you come up with the name of your cookie business and brand image?
I do have a logo and I absolutely LOVE it. I’d already come up with my IG handle “The Semisweet Ginger”, a play on my demeanor and hair color that also sounds related to baking and I asked my very talented friend, Shawn Bowers (@shawnbowers ) to do some logo art. He has a super cool artistic style, did some commissioned art for our son’s baby room, and was willing to barter for a lifetime of free cookies (I have a very intense vetting process...) He asked me three or four questions about what I want my vibe to be and then he sent me my logo art and that was it. When he made the logo I had actually been decorating more with colored icing and had only painted a few cookie sets, but he knew from the beginning the painting was more my thing and dialed into that immediately. The paint brushes are my favorite part of the logo. Although, I also dig the cookie glasses.
How long have you been decorating cookies?
I decorated my first royal icing cookies in May 2018 and my second set in November of that year. They both came with me to work, one was for Nurse’s week and the other was after I’d seen a Patti Page video, that’s when I was hooked.
Do you decorate and sell cookies full time? If not, what do you do when you’re not baking? What is your favorite and least favorite part of the cookie decorating process?
I do not decorate full time. I work full time (or almost full time) as an ICU nurse. My job is pretty flexible with scheduling and I work two to three twelve hour shifts a week. When I’m not working or baking cookies to decorate, I’m usually baking something else (I’ve gotten really into making bread and yeasted treats.) I think my least favorite thing about the cookie decorating process is the clean up. Hand washing cutters and cleaning bits of dried icing off mixing bowls is the worst. I usually leave it and then do the “who will get more annoyed by these dishes and do them first” thing I imagine many couples do. My husband almost always caves...
Who is the biggest supporter(s) of you and your cookie business?
My husband, my mom, my in-laws, and a number of friends/clients. My husband has put up with a lot of cookie craziness and an influx of a lot of large supplies in our VERY tiny condo. He never batted an eye when I spent what I felt was crazy money on more cookie stuff and has just kind of taken all the cookie things in stride. My mom has rounded out cutter sets and sent me cookie paints in addition to providing all the emotional and unwavering support a parent can give. My in-laws have been in town for several large orders and actually helped bag MANY
cookies, they’re basically cookie bagging pros. I also am really lucky to have a ton of friends who have encouraged me or directly contributed to my small success in numerous ways.
Is there someone that has inspired you in the Cookie Industry? Why?
Oh, there are many! Seeing work by Patti Page and Holly Fox inspired me to start decorating cookies. Lucie Radcliffe gave me my first ever painting pointers and her cookies really inspired me to start treating the cookie as a canvas. Maya from @paintedladiespastries inspires me to push the boundaries of what I can do on one single cookie- it’s not much, but I like to think one day I’ll conquer multimedia cookies. Same with Nayda from @wesugarart . Oh, and Mik from @mikandcookies inspired me to try teaching cookie classes. I’ve only taught a group of 4 year olds thus far, but maybe one day I’ll teach adults!
How do you balance everything? (Kids, husband, activities, working out, cookies etc)
Ha. I don’t. I’m still working that out, if someone has had a legit answer to this, I would love to hear it!!!
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 things (not people) would you bring with you?
Sunscreen, a really big hat, and probably a volleyball to talk to?
What is your best advice to someone wanting to start making cookies for profit?
Bet on yourself and just go for it. Then tell anyone and everyone what you’re doing. It is incredible how many people will lend their expertise or support in any way they can and it can make starting feel so much easier when you know how many people believe in your ability to succeed.
Thanks for doing this, Shey! I cringed a little at the photo of me, but have loved reading through your other interviews! How fun!