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!!!