When to let a business go
A story of a bakery, and a recipe for our honey lavender shortbread cookies.
Three years ago during the summer of Covid, we closed down our bakery. That’s how many of you came to be here, from a blog that I started back in 2008 to document this journey before we even had a name. You were right there with us, cheering us on as as we grew a seed of an idea into a brand that would gather press mentions from nearly every major publication. When I think back to that era it feels like a lifetime ago, and there are readers here who know nothing about the business that once defined our identity for more than a decade. But isn’t that the beauty of life? That we can live numerous lives in one lifetime?
Whenever I think about our business, I think of our children’s childhoods; they are eternally linked. When I ache for their chubby round faces and their delicious full-body toddler hugs, they are weaved together with memories of cookie packages, bits of ribbon, and rolls of labels. I can still hear their tiny voices asking for “brownie butts," the end pieces that Mark would trim off before packaging each 2 inch square brownie in cellophane. He would bring a bag of them home and their eyes would light up as they sunk their teeth into the dense cakey chocolate.
The kids grew up in a house with parents who often worked too many hours and worried about profit margins and rising costs, but the business was all ours and we created something together. Each milestone of childhood was celebrated alongside every milestone and anniversary of our bakery. Our business and our kids grew together, often in parallel.
In the early days when we were younger and naive, I dreamed about the business supporting our family one day so I could quit working as a designer. We even expanded into kitchen accessories and art prints. But it never came to be. Mark and I didn’t start our company to build some kind of cookie empire; we started our business because we were terrified. Our youngest was barely a year old when he found himself unexpectedly unemployed one day right at the beginning of the Great Recession. In a minute’s notice, our only stable income and health insurance was gone.
In a bit of a hail mary, we decided we had nothing to lose but try going out on our own. It was a panicked response, but we also realized that if there was ever a chance for Mark to leave the restaurant industry after 20 years as he’s been wanting to do, this was it. We had no idea what we were doing, but we had lucky timing on our side. Etsy had just come into existence the previous year and there was buzz about a new giant outdoor market in Brooklyn that was looking for food vendors. My dad gave us $4,000 from his last big wig sale to Diana Ross to cover our initial start up costs (I like to joke that Diana was our first investor). We felt the stir of something big happening and we rode that wave. That’s when the handmade movement and Brooklyn-as-a-brand came to be. During the recession, there were countless stories like ours.
When it’s time to face reality
I think it might have been around year eight when things got harder. The press is attracted to new and shiny things so they didn’t come around as much anymore and our cookies, once considered unique, faced more competition in an increasingly crowded retail landscape. Trends rise and then they die. Businesses survive if it can adapt. Businesses thrive when it can scale. Our biggest problem was that we didn’t have a scalable product and we chose to do it all ourselves. We took the “handmade” in the handmade movement very literally and often painfully so.