Year 1 in review

What a year.  what a yearrrrrrrrrr.  In so many ways this year went by in the blink of an eye.  But then there were days when I thought I would never survive it.....that I would never make it to the next day....let alone the 1-year mark.  But here we are. I say WE because this has been such a group-effort and I could never have done it without the support that we have had from family, friends, employees, and customers of course!  Don’t get me wrong.....there have been the nay-sayers.....the friends that we have lost, the people who only saw and spoke negativity, the people who didn’t believe in us.....and that’s ok.  Because that’s reality and we always need a dose of that.  Trust me.....all of those people and words have only driven me thank you to them, too!  All in all, we have had a FUN, SUCCESSFUL, LEARNING year and for that I am so grateful.  As I sit here and reflect on all of things that we have accomplished I am just blown away.   I say it all the time.....we are a small team.....but we can do anything that we set our minds to.

At the very beginning of 2014 I was a nervous wreck with a dream.  I had a vision of how my business would succeed and I thought that I had it all planned out. From the minute we opened the doors we have tackled so many issues and questions and dillemas, and logistical name it.....we were trying to just “figure it out”.  We made SO many mistakes in the first few months.  It’s so comical when Krista and I reminisce about the ways that we used to do things.  I mean......we used to crush our own graham crackers in a normal-sized food processor for an hour straight every other day.  THEN we started buying graham cracker CRUMBS in month 4 and it pretty much changed our lives.  It’s the little things!  From crushing graham crackers to washing sheet pans.....”chipping” the cookie dough, using our “Stay-BOWL-izer” to tip the bowl, emptying countless quantities of 5# flour bags into our bin instead of just buying the 50 pound bags(WHAT WERE WE THINKING????), we have learned so much and have become so efficient in the kitchen since those early days.  I’m so proud of us!  Sometimes I wish that we could visit an established bakery and see exactly how they do things....but then I’m like....Nahhhh......I like finding our own way.  It builds character.

Our first holiday at the shop was Valentine’s Day.  We were a wreck.  Maybe it didn’t seem that way....maybe it did.  I have no idea because it’s such a blur.  When I look back at my notes about Valentine’s Day 2014 all I see is “MAKE MORE” written next to everything we did.  So that’s helpful.  Then came St. Patrick’s Day and we totally underestimated that holiday, too.  “MAKE MORE” all over again.  Next up was Easter.  Ohhhh Easter.  Thought we had it all figured out....Krista, Rob, and I stayed at the bakery for 20 hours straight 2 days in a row.... just decorating cookies.  As many as we could.  I mean......we had trays of cookies balanced on any flat surface in that building.  We felt confident.  We were ready.  2 pm on Easter Saturday.....sugar cookies are sold out.  Get out the Easter 2014 notes..... “MAKE MORE”.  And after Easter we had Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and July 4th.  Pretty much the same story for each of those holidays and I knew that it was time to make a change.  We just couldn’t handle the walk-in demands without having a clue what quantities we needed on hand.  It was time to streamline the process.  We came up with a solid plan for Halloween and lo and worked!   Don’t get me wrong.....we had a long way to go.....but we had a good foundation and it was something to build on.  I knew that Christmas-time was coming way fast so practicing on the smaller holidays was KEY.  Then came Thanksgiving and we nailed it!!!  We’ll still tweak things for next Thanksgiving but all-in-all we did an awesome job.  Then came December and as soon as it started it was over.....a complete and total blur.  We were definitely prepared and we knew our limits.....but we challenged ourselves to do some pretty big things and for that I am amazed by us.  Somehow.....we just made it work.  I still can’t believe that we survived it because it had been scaring and intimidating me for 11 months.  The thought of Christmas at the cookie shop would just terrify me.  But we did it.  That was a major accomplishment.

Sometimes during all of those months the most stressful weeks were the non-holiday weeks.  Sure at Christmas-time the sheer quantity of cookies that we were making was intimidating.....but it’s a lot of the same thing over and over and over again.  The specialty orders for weddings, kids birthdays, baby showers, graduations, etc. stress me out SO bad because it’s a billion different icing colors to suit all of the different projects, it’s so many different shapes to cut-out and it’s especially a lot of planning if it’s a design that I’ve never done before.  Then there’s the booking of each week.  I hate to say NO... so in the early months I would over-book myself so much that I just didn’t know how it was all going to get done.  Those were the weeks that I literally slept at the bakery while waiting for icing to dry so that I could keep decorating.  I would sleep in 30-minute increments....wake up and decorate cookies for 2 hours and then sleep for another 30 minutes.  My eyes hurt, my head hurt, my HANDS hurt.  Some of those weeks were really lonely and I cried a lot.  I missed Mia and Rob.....I missed my bed.  I felt like I couldn’t let my guard down for a single minute without things falling apart.  But somehow I kept it together and pushed through.  There were projects that I was super-proud of and it was all worth it.  And then there were projects when I just couldn’t get it right and I was frustrated beyond belief with the final outcome.  It’s hard to bounce-back from those.....but then the next week would come and I just had to learn from it and move on.  I still struggle with the booking system for specialty orders and that’s one of my main goals to streamline for 2015.  Now that we have some groundwork laid for the holiday weeks it’s time to make some changes for the other 40 weeks of the year.

In the midst of all of these stressful weeks I just KNOW that Rob and all of my employees thought I was completely crazy when I would say....” I have an idea.....”  And when I get an idea.....well there’s just no stopping me.  Let’s see.....just a few examples......

-partnering with Rita’s to sell the frozen custard sandwiches. One might think it could be a logistical nightmare selling a frozen product in an always warm bakery but I was insistent on making it work....and it did!  And when we had to drop EVERYTHING to make 11 batches of chocolate chip cookies to send down to Rita’s I was cursing at myself “WHYYYYY DID YOU DO THISSSSS”.....but it was worth it).  Thanks for partnering with us, Jeff!

-hosting Mia’s 4th birthday party at the bakery for 30 kids plus families on a 100 degree day.  That was hilarious.  Parking. nightmare.  But Mia had fun and we loved having all of her friends was definitely a memorable day for me.....and one that my employees(none of which have children) probably want to forget.

-The Bethel Park Community Day parade....and how I absolutely 100% would not do it if we didn’t have a yellow convertible to ride in. What can I say....I had a vision and nothing else would have been right.  Will you totally think that I’m crazy if I told you that my dad actually bought a yellow Mustang convertible 1 month before the parade?  Coincidence?  Him trying to keep me from ending up in the looney bin?  Who knows. But he drew the line when I asked him if we could “polka-dot” the car for the day.  He settled on a logo-magnet.   But the parade was a great day for us.  We had such a fun time and it’s one of those days that I’ll never forget.

Those are just a few examples but it’s obvious that I like a challenge....and we took on so many cookie-challenges this year....and one ALS ice-bucket challenge, too!  I think that my biggest challenge of 2014 was the order for Heinz cookies.  It wasn’t near the largest quantity of cookies that I’ve done for a single order.....but it was certainly a big deal in my book.  So much pressure to get the design right and only one chance to do it.  But I work well under pressure and I was so proud of the final product.  I just couldn’t believe that I had just made HEINZ logos for the people who run HEINZ.  I still kinda don’t believe it.  I’ll never look at a ketchup bottle the same way.....that’s for sure!

We had a lot of injuries along the way this year and those were some trying times.  Krista severely sprained he ankle and had a really tough time for about 2 months trying to work in that brace.  I had a pulled muscle ON MY RIB CAGE for about 3 weeks.  It hurt when I breathed, stood, lifted, sat, moved.  So that was fun.  Then there’s my ongoing hand-injuries which are still a problem.  A bone chip tearing a tendon, arthritis, wrist pain....ugh.  Kate almost needed smelling salts one day and I panicked.  Countless countless burns on my forearms, fingers, and wrists.  So much crying on those days.  And so many ALMOST injuries of sliced fingers because I put knives and food processor blades in the dishwater.  Yes, it was me.  Every time.  I admit it and I'm sorry.

There were some moments that brought me to tears in a good way, too.  The moment that my customer Jen showed me a picture of RGIII with one of the cookies that I made for him....and the fact that HE TWEETED it brought me to immediate tears.  That was a crazy moment.  And then when Joey Fabus’ dad posted a video of Joey opening the Halloween cookies that we sent to him.....I cried through the entire video.  It felt really nice to have done something that made him smile and laugh.  Of course the moments when we receive a picture or facebook post from our Icing Smiles donation recipients....those always bring on immediate tears because there is just nothing like using my talent to do something good for separate myself from the daily stresses that are completely unimportant compared to what these kids are going through....and to see that something so simple can brighten their day.  Those are the moments that count the most.  If Mia learns nothing else over the years of this business, I hope that she will learn to do something for others whenever it is possible.

We have just done so much in 2014.....more than I could have ever dreamed.  All of the above and so much more......we sponsored a local recreation basketball team and can’t wait to go watch them play while wearing our team shirts!  We donated to countless charities and fundraisers, we had a cookie wedding proposal at our shop, we participated in the Bethel’s Bounty event which was a true honor, we’ve made great relationships with so many of our customers, and it’s been the greatest blessing to get to know all of you.

I want to say a huge thanks to so many important people.  First and foremost.....thank you to Mia, for coming to the bakery each day with a smile on your face, for being eager to help, and for being proud of your business at the young age of 4.  You are everything and always will be.  Thank you to Rob for stepping up so much with making Mia’s lunches, getting her to & from school each day, handling a lot of her bath-times and bed-times without me, pretty much being super-dad. Thank you for making me take a vacation in August even when I didn’t want to.....and for everything that you do at the bakery.  We’d run out of everything if it weren’t for you.  To my parents and my in-laws.....we truly couldn’t have survived the year without all of your help.  To our employees.....Kate, Alli, Amanda, and especially Krista who’s been there since day 1, we appreciate each of you more than you know.  More than anything we love that Mia looks forward to seeing each of you.....thank you for being such great role models for her.  I wish that you would all just drop out of school and quit your real lives to stay with me forever but since that probably won’t happen because your parents would kill me.....I will cherish the time that you’ll stay at Give Mia Cookie and I look forward to growing our team with some more people who are crazy enough to join us.

Thank you to all of the businesses in and around Bethel park who have welcomed us and helped us over the past year.  Thank you to our property owner and management company.  Thank you to every single person who has stepped foot inside the bakery this past’ve all contributed to making my year so much more than I could have asked for.  I am so lucky that I can call so many of you my friends and I really do look forward to opening our doors each day and getting to see you.  Here’s to 2015 and all of the wonderful challenges and the fun cookie designs that it will bring!  I'm going to do everything I can to make year #2 just as memorable as our year of "firsts" has been!

Thank you!!!


10 things……10 weeks

Hi all!  Is everyone ready for spring?  We sure are…..this winter has been a really long one and we are so ready to prop the front doors open and lure in the traffic with the smell of brownies baking!  

So once we were open for 10 days at the bakery I posted this list on facebook:  "10 things that I've learned after being in business for 10 days".  Here's a refresher (with a current update next to each one).


Some things that I've learned after 10 days of being open for business: 1. I have no idea why bakers traditionally wear white clothing. I come home from work and I am a complete disaster.(I'm still a disaster...every day.  I've embraced it.) 2. People reallllllly like chocolate chip cookies....and I can't make the dough nearly fast enough (We are super-fast at making chocolate chip cookie dough now….but still not fast enough some days….) 3. The community of Bethel Park and all of the surrounding communities are extremely nice people. And in one way or another I have some connection to most of them...."Your mom was my teacher at St. Val's", "You're married to little ROBBIE HOGUE? He played baseball with my son!", my dad and your dad went to high school together", etc. etc. What a small world! And such fun figuring out all of these connections! (Everyone is still super-supportive and friendly!) 4. I make mistakes. And that's a REALLY tough one for me to admit. (I still make mistakes….and I beat myself up SO badly about each and every one.) 5. I need sleep to least 4 hours per night or I WILL mentally break by Friday of each week. (Actually now 4 hours of sleep sounds pretty great.  I average 2-3 hours per night on Wednesday-Friday and somehow I'm used to it.  Ugh) 6. I need help to make this business work. I cannot do it alone. Thank God for my family and friends. THANK GOD. (Still Thank God for my family and friends each and every day.  Especially for Rob) 7. It is humanly possible to survive on eating ONLY cookies and coffee for 4 days straight. But I do not recommend it. Normal food is required at least once a day. (I'm slowly getting better at bringing a lunch to work.  Usually it's an orange.  But hey, it's something, right?) 8. There is a really special rewarding feeling of being a business owner....and I get to experience it every day! I feel lucky!  (Still very rewarding!) 9. Washing full sheet pans by hand is annoying and awkward. They're just so BIG! (I make Rob wash them all now… it's so much easier.) 10. Waking up a 3 year old to get her to school an hour earlier than normal is NOT fun. But we're adjusting to that….. (we're totally adjusted to our early mornings and I love taking Mia to school….best part of my day!)


So it dawned on me today that now we've been open for 10 weeks!  Actually I think it's been 11, maybe even 12... but really….I'm behind on most things these days so whatever…..  I thought it would be fun to compile a "10 things" list again so here goes:

10 things that I've learned after being in business for 10 weeks

1.  Accepting credit cards as payment is very very expensive….as a consumer you never know just how much $ it costs a business to have a merchant account processor….especially a small business.  Those credit card companies make a BOATLOAD of money!

2.  A great employee is worth more than anything in the whole wide world to a business owner.  Rob and I are so incredibly fortunate to have 2!

3.  It is imperative to keep backup makeup, toothbrush, clothes, and deodorant at the bakery because I am now known to spend entire nights at work and that's not a pretty thing come 10 am the next day.

4.  When you own a business, it is totally acceptable to go purchase brand new clothes for your kid just because there's no time to do laundry.  Because really….I'm so rarely home anymore to be able to wait on 20 minute washer cycles and 45 minute dryer cycles.  Laundry sucks.  A 15 minute run through Kohl's kid's department is so much better.

5. Email is so convenient.  Email is also evil because it can easily pile up and then require hours upon hours spent returning them.

6.  Bakery garbage is gross.  Double bagging is so important because leaky bags with egg whites is no bueno.

7.  Friday's are roughhhhhhh.  My staff now brings me Doritos on Fridays(Doritos make me happy) in an effort to make my life better because Fridays are such a tough day in bakery-land.  It's a compilation of being really busy on Fridays and still needing to prepare for even-busier Saturdays….on top of getting all of the weekend special-order cookies completed….on top of getting very little sleep at the end of the week.  I used to look forward to Fridays prior to owning a bakery….but now they are just really not that great.  And by really not that great, I mean AWFUL.  Stressful and sometimes, just awful.

8. Bank hours are not bakery-friendly.  Period.  If you ever come in and I give you 85 cents change in all nickels it's because I never had time to leave the bakery in the middle of the day to go get quarters and dimes. Leave the bakery in the middle of the day??? Crazy.

9.  We never ever ever sit around and do nothing at work.  Not even for a single minute all day long.  I've never had a job where the hours go so fast.  I count the minutes and give my employees things to do right up until the minute before they leave.  There is just always something to be done!  Always!

10.  I crunch numbers all. the. time.  I can tell you how much 1 cup of flour costs, how much one chocolate chip cookie costs to make, how many brownies we sold in February, who has the best price per ounce on sugar, m&m's, cinnamon, just about ANYTHING.  But I cannot tell you the current price on a gallon of gas because I don't pass one gas station in between my house, Mia's school,  and my bakery….and that's just about the only path I drive anymore!

Thank you everyone for your continued support.  Though we still face challenges each and every day, we really do have a lot of fun at Give Mia Cookie.  We laugh all the time and we are a crazy funny team.  Next "10 things" list will be at 10 months!  But I'll blog again before then….I think!?!?!

Until next time!


Red…Pink….Repeat. That was our week.

There are just so many things that I could write about in this blog post.  Every day we encounter something new at the shop and I think to myself…"I could totally blog about that!"  But then reality sets back in and I realize that I never ever have time to blog anymore.  But here I am!  I'm blogging!  It's a miracle!  Yesterday morning we had a bit of an unexpected snowstorm in Bethel Park so the shop was really slow….and I got the chance to get caught up on my emails and paperwork…..which meant that today I had about 60% of a day off.  Yes.  I had more than half of a whole day off today.  Wanna know how exciting my 60% of a day off was?  I tackled a MOUNTAIN of laundry at my house and cleaned bathrooms and floors, I sorted through Mia's drawers and closets, changed sheets, paid bills.  Super fun stuff.  But honestly, it felt really good to finally get caught up on some things both at the shop AND at home.  I think that Mia really enjoyed the time at home, too.  It's so rare that she's home with her toys and games for any extended amount of time anymore.  Between full days at school, evenings at the bakery and weekend-days with the grandparents her schedule is pretty busy!   I feel like this re-charging day has been a great start to our week and that makes me feel positive.  

This past week was Valentine's Day…our very first holiday at the bakery! I was so nervous and so anxious to see what a holiday week would be like.  It. Was. Crazy.  A really great and really fun crazy!  I baked and iced more sugar cookies than I ever have in one single week.  WAY more than I ever even did for a Christmas week in the past few years.  The amount of red and pink icing that I made was seriously unbelievable…I even had to have Rob mix in the red coloring one day because the bowl was so huge that my poor arms weren't strong enough to mix it!  I think we really got a feel for what our customers want to see in terms of seasonal gifts and assortments.  Each holiday that we face this year will definitely be a learning experience….and we're absolutely taking notes for the years-to-come.  Here are a few snapshots from the week at the shop...

So other than the Valentine craziness, I would have to say that the most common issue that we're facing lately is booking for special-orders.  I know that a lot of you have been my custom cookie customers for a few years now….so you're familiar with booking ahead and reserving dates on the cookie schedule.  I guess I underestimated how many new customers and cookie requests that I would be getting.  And I hate that I have to say no to so many people because my schedule is full.  It's really hard to explain that we're different than almost every single other bakery in the fact that we can very rarely take special cookie requests for the next day….or weekend, or even the entire month of February because we're totally booked.  I know that it's frustrating for people and it's even more frustrating for me!  The fact is….I'm only one decorator and I can only do so many cookies per week.  I am able to take more orders per week now that we have the bakery…..about double what I used to be able to do….but I also have the demands of the shop to fulfill.  So I have to balance my time between special orders and stock cookies.  I'm still learning how exactly to balance the demands to best suit the business…..each week is so different so I'm definitely struggling with this.

A lot of people keep telling me….."You need to hire more help!"  Yes, you're right.  But I'm not ready.  The growth of this business is very scary to me. Losing control of even one little aspect of the baking, decorating, selling, packaging, emailing, shop cleaning, stocking, ANYTHING  gives me complete anxiety.  I have spent so so much time building this business from the very ground up that I'm terrified to let it grow any bit faster than I'm ready for.  For years I was able to control the growth, the amount of orders, the everything!  And I did everything myself.  And that worked.  That system got "Give Mia Cookie" to where it is today.  So just imagine my fear of giving up control. I feel like things will start to spiral out of control and everything will fall apart if it's not ME that does everything.  This is my biggest problem.  I'm working on it…...

There have been some really great moments at the shop in the past few weeks that have really made me realize why exactly all of this hard work is so very worth it.  I absolutely love seeing kids at the shop.  I love seeing their faces light up when they walk in the door.  I've been told by multiple moms and dads that their kids now recognize our store sign or our packaging….and that they ask to come to the cookie shop after a doctor visit or after school.  That seriously makes my day.  We've met a lot of MIAs!!  I love when people bring in their daughters and granddaughters named Mia and take her picture by the sign or holding a Give Mia Cookie mug.  I think that's the cutest thing ever!  I've also met some amazing people that I look forward to seeing each week at the shop.  One that buys cookies for nurses at the hospital where her mother is being cared for, or my other customer who takes cookies to the elderly woman whom she visits with once a week, or those of you who stop to bring cookies to your office, to your kid's schools, to your veterinarian, to your church.  I love to hear your stories and getting to know all of you has given me this overwhelming sense that there are still really good, kind, positive people out there.  I can only hope that you feel the same kindness from me and Rob and Mia, and from my extended family and employees, too.

So I guess that's it for now!  We've got a really busy week ahead and I look forward to the surprises and challenges that each day will bring!   I know one thing for sure….I'm ready for a break from pink and red icing!  Green shamrock cookies are a welcome change this week!

Until next time…..



Hi all!  It's been so much fun getting to see all of your faces at the bakery over these past few weeks.  SO much has happened and it's been such a mixture of emotions each day.  I guess this is my chance to give you an idea of what this experience is really I'll just continue to be honest and share my experiences with you.  

Let's see.....week one was tough.  And I mean tough.  Probably the hardest week I've ever had emotionally, physically, mentally, as a mom, as a wife, and just as a human being who is supposed to function properly on a daily basis.  I just about broke down at the end of week one and it wasn't pretty.  The truth is, by the end of that week I wanted to curl up in a corner and not even unlock the doors for business.  The amount of tears were just immense and the amount of sleep was so very little.  I was making mistakes left and right,  I wasn't eating, I only drank coffee,  I couldn't focus long enough on one single task before I was then trying to focus on something else....there was so much that needed to be done every minute of every day that I just couldn't handle it all.  I don't think I've ever felt so incapable or out of control.  And I hated it.  This was the first week that I was responsible for getting Mia to school at 7 am (Rob had been taking her the week before but now he's back to normal early work schedule so drop-off is totally my job now) so that alone was extremely stressful.  And when I'm awake making dough, icing cookies, returning emails,etc. until 2 am and then waking up at 5:45 for daysssss in a row it really starts to break me down.  And I can't think straight..and that's a scary feeling!  So by Friday I was BEGGING Rob to just quit his job and help me.  And obviously that's not even a possibility....but that's how desperate I was.  And I hate to ask for help, so obviously something was really wrong with me.  But alas, I survived week one.  Somehow.  And I think I did an ok job of putting on a (makeup-less, tired, tear-soaked) happy face while the doors were open for business each day.  I survived it.


After week one we re-grouped on Sunday.  We re-stocked, we planned, we talked things through.  We made a semi-solid plan for whatever week 2 might bring.  I scheduled sleep (though that didn't exactly work out) So once Tuesday rolled around I had things together.  And Tuesday went ok.  And Wednesday went ok.  And then by Thursday things started to fall apart and I was running out of supplies and wasn't baking enough for the day, and I got behind on my orders, and the WEATHER, omg, the WEATHER!  Could it BE any colder?  Could the mornings BE any more unbearable to get a 3 year old to preschool?  So by the end of the week things once again fell apart and I lost my mind.  And on Saturday I slept through 8 alarms because my body was just so exhausted that I physically wouldn't respond to the noise....and I was late to work and the SNOW was annoying and the day was rough.  And I felt like a complete failure once again.  Although business was great and on the outside things seemed ok, I was feeling more broken than ever on the inside.  But I survived.  And two of those days went smoothly so I had something to go on.....


Week 3 began on a high note.  I got some really great feedback from my customers, some awesome reviews and some really encouraging words on facebook, twitter, emails. texts, etc.  I hadn't really had a chance to read everything from the first few weeks so once I got to review them it made me feel really great.  It gave me hope that maybe, just maybe.... we were doing some things right.  So to all of those who wrote nice things....and sent nice have encouraged me MORE than you will ever know.  I staffed some more help this past week, I planned things a bit better.  The days were still very difficult and I was faced with some tough moments each day....I always feel torn between 9 different things that need to be done every minute, but I'm learning to deal.  Mia is adjusting more and more each day.  Rob and I are being an amazing team.  He helps me so much at every possible chance that he can and thank God for that.  The tears have begun to come at fewer and fewer times per day....and last night I slept 11 hours....because that's what I need to do on Saturday nights.  I need to take the chance to sleep when I can, take the time to enjoy my family when I can, and find a balance.  I need balance to survive.


As a business owner, I can tell you that the work is never-ending.  From the daily accounting to the inventory to the BAKING, to the emails, to paying the bills, to shoveling the sidewalk, to mopping the floors, and of course being the head baker, decorator, cashier, etc.  It's an alarming never-ending list.  I knew a lot of this going in.....but it's just crazy really living it.  There are so many things that I want to do in regards to different cookie recipes, social media, etc.  I want to post our daily menu, have specialty cookies in stock  for fun occasions like the superbowl and presidents day, etc.  But right now we're in complete survival mode.  I know that eventually there will be time to do more....and every day I set a goal to do something different....or add a new menu item, and to test the waters.  I'm taking my time to do things right (Who am I kidding, there is no RIGHT way lol!) and I'm not diving in at a pace that's not manageable.  You guys, I'm trying so hard.


This has been WITHOUT A DOUBT the hardest three weeks of my life.  Somehow, thanks to all of you and all of your support, I've survived.  I appreciate the business that you all have brought to me so so much!  I'm hoping that I can continue to provide a great experience at the cookie shop for each of you!  Thanks for listening, thanks for everything!  Until the next update....