Van Wert mom, on quest to stay home with family, finds business success
By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
Shannon Maxey bakes every day to keep up with Etsy orders, counter sales at Brewed Expressions coffeehouse and other outlets, events, corporate gifts and farmers’ markets.
On a recent week, she had 43 orders placed on a Wednesday, each with two dozen cookies. (That’s 1,032 cookies, for the math disinclined.) And she had them ready for delivery Friday morning.
“It’s challenging on those days,” she said. “Every box you take on, you never know what doors that will open. … I’d do it all over again.”
And it all started with her grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.
A Van Wert native, Maxey, 26, went to Bowling Green State University for a year, was a live-in nanny in Hawaii for almost two years, studied at the Aveda Institute hair school in North Carolina, met her South Carolina-raised husband, and returned to Van Wert to be with family, daughter and husband in tow.
Seeking a way to add to the family income while staying at home to raise her daughter was a must. She saw during her nanny days who the kids ran to when they skinned their knees, and she vowed then and there she wasn’t going to let anyone else raise her children.
During a visit to her grandmother, with whom she lived until she was 5 years old, an idea formed. Grandma Patricia Haas was baking cookies for church that day.
“That was kind of where it started,” she said. “All of my memories of her are in the kitchen. … We’ve always been close.”
Working out variations on that chocolate chip cookie recipe led to starting Flour Loves Sugar in January 2012. (She developed the name after a weeks-long brainstorming session and worked on the logo with designer friend Alicia Springer, Spruce and Willow.)
A friend suggested Etsy. Local business started picking up, especially after she made cookies available via a now-closed coffeehouse. Finding a new outlet in a newer coffeehouse has continued that route for customers, and she uses social media to organize, too.
Why has it succeeded so far?
“You can’t just love to bake cookies,” she said, with her rapid-fire, marketing-savvy way of speaking. “I think what has made it successful is I equally love those other aspects of the business.”
She enjoys baking, of course, but the interaction with customers at markets is key, as is how you present yourself professionally with logos and branding, and marketing skills. Maxey also went the extra step and became a state-licensed home bakery.
The product, of course, happens to be word-of-mouth driven. And all of those mouths praising her skills have just taken a bite of a Flour Loves Sugar cookie — always made in small batches, by hand, with no preservatives.
“I think it’s the texture of the cookie and the quality of the ingredients,” she said. “Every one is made the way your mom, your grandma, made them in her kitchen.”
Each cookie must have a chewy center and be slightly crisp at the thick edges. For uniformity and proper baking, she uses a cookie scoop to give a “nice dome.”
And flavor combinations are also extremely important to her.
“In the beginning, it was trying to create these core flavors,” Maxey said, explaining a sampler box offers several types of cookies so they look nice on the buyer’s platter. “And I think people have come to expect that.”
There are 10 “core” flavors, and seasonal staples are rotated in. Selections include Red Velvet, Pumpkin Cinnamon Oatmeal, Hot Cocoa Mallow, Peanut Butter Cup, Caramel Apple Cider, Strawberry Lemonade, Toffee Mallow, Monster, Orange Creamsicle, Cookie Loves Brownie, Pretzel Scotch, Cranberry White Chocolate — the list goes on. And on.
“Just try to stay on top of the trend of flavors,” Maxey said of her decision-making process.
Her husband, Josh, who helps her bake and works markets when she is too busy to do it herself, wants to grow the business even more.
“He is actually Flour Loves Sugar’s biggest cheerleader,” she said. “I definitely wouldn’t have made it this far without him.”
Where Flour Loves Sugar will go remains to be seen, but the business has weathered some incredible personal turmoil. The Maxeys’ late son lived only 43 days. They knew before he was born that his illness would be terminal, and they are immensely grateful for the time they could spend with him.
And now, she is expecting again, due in April. Her preschool-age daughter pushes her to do her best.
“I hope (Flour Loves Sugar) gives her the courage to pursue her dreams,” she said.
“If you have something that you love … you should do it. You should figure out what is important in your life” and make it happen, she said.
Shannon Maxey’s Cookie-Baking Tips
• “Choose a recipe from a source that you feel is reputable.” A random Internet search will result in lots of recipes. Some work beautifully; some are not the best.
• “Choose a recipe that does not intimidate you.” If you don’t know what a word means or what a technique is, find another recipe.
• “Do not substitute any of the ingredients. Baking is a science.” Baking soda and baking powder are not the same.
• “Choose quality ingredients.” Butter, not margarine. Use quality chocolate, especially if the chocolate is a key flavor.
• “A lot of people, where they go wrong, is they overmix their batter. Get out your wooden spoon.” She also uses a stand mixer, but dough needs to be treated gently.
Rice Krispie Treats
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 10-ounce bag mini marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. We are browning the butter, so you want it to cook low and slow, and you’ll need to stir it frequently and watch it closely.
As it’s cooking, butter a large bowl, and measure your cereal and salt into the bowl. Also butter an 8-by-8-inch pan in which your cereal will set.
As soon as your butter is nutty brown, turn off the heat and stir in the marshmallows. Once combined and the mallows are melted, pour right into the bowl of cereal and salt. Mix until combined and pour into the shallow pan.
At this point, I like to give them a few minutes before pressing them down because, around here, we like our Krispies thick and gooey.
Now, grab a piece of wax paper and press them into the pan.
Wait until completely cooled, cut and enjoy.
32 caramel squares, unwrapped
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup salted butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine caramels and cream in a saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. Once completely smooth, set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, flour, oats and baking soda.
Pat half of the oat mixture into the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Sprinkle chips evenly over the crust, top with caramel sauce, and then crumble the remaining oat mixture over the top. Return to oven for additional 16-20 minutes, until outside edge is lightly brown. The center will still be a bit “wet” in appearance but will set when cooled.
Let the pan cool completely before cutting, and store them at room temperature — not in your refrigerator.