When Wendy Silverman was ready to make a change after 15 years in advertising and marketing, she baked up her best idea yet, Peace.Love.Cookies., a home bakery business.
"I'd lost my passion for doing that sort of work, and I was spending more time in my kitchen and playing around with recipes on my own," Silverman said.
Looking to find a better balance between work and family, Silverman--a Glencoe mom of two girls--perfected her craft by reading cookbooks and watching baking videos. "I agreed to do a couple of dessert trays for a friend," she said. "After that, I just decided, 'Hey, let's give this a shot for real.'"
So, she left her office job and started baking full time in the spring of 2018. She marketed herself on social media, and then the orders started rolling in. "I said 'yes' to everything, even the stuff I didn't know how to do, including decorated sugar cookies," she said.
Now, Silverman has mastered the art of the decorated sugar cookie, and the mini-masterpieces make up about 80 percent of her bakery business.
"The detail she puts into each and every cookie is astounding," said Silverman's customer and friend, Kate Elisco. From tie-dye macarons to cookies shaped like apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, Silverman works diligently to get the taste and design of her baked goods just right.
And Silverman isn't alone in her pursuit of the consummate confection. Home baking soared during the pandemic, as many people turned their time stuck inside into an opportunity to take their baked goods to the next level.
For instance, cousins and best friends Sophia Weisberg Yudkowsky and Ariella Gelb used down time during the pandemic to focus on their home bakery business, Layer Me a Cake.
Gelb, of Chicago, and Yudkowsky, of Highland Park, started tinkering in the kitchen when they first moved in together after college. "We were baking together in our little apartment in Lincoln Park, and people started asking us to bake for them," Gelb said. "We really enjoyed doing it, so we kept baking."
Both have fulltime jobs--Gelb treats trauma in hospitals and Yudkowsky works in wealth management--so the pandemic offered the two bakers an unusual break from their demanding hours to focus on growing their side hustle.
Their efforts came at just the right time. With so many birthdays and simchas shifting to online platforms and outdoor, drive-by celebrations, Layer Me a Cake started receiving requests for individually wrapped cookies and treats for COVID-friendly goody bags.
"What a great thing to do: to be able to offer people the ability to give somebody a cake or individually-wrapped cookies or brownies," Yudkowsky said.
A bust for many businesses, the pandemic actually provided many home-based food entrepreneurs a boost. With fewer people shopping in traditional stores, smaller, local operations like Peace.Love.Cookies. and Layer Me a Cake gained popularity. The challenge became keeping up with the orders.
Adina Berkowitz, of West Rogers Park, also experienced a recent uptick in demand at her home bakery business, Adina's Designer Cookies. Creating custom decorated sugar cookies under kosher supervision for nearly 14 years, the single mom of four used creative thinking to pivot when the pandemic threatened her business.
"For a week, I started panicking because everyone was canceling," Berkowitz said. Then, a friend suggested she offer do-it-yourself cookie kits.
"I had everything in my house--all the sprinkles, the boxes, and the cookies. I put together one kit and posted it on Facebook and Instagram, and my phone just started blowing up," Berkowitz said. Customers went crazy for the cookie kits, and her sales that month doubled.
As the world slowly returns to a new normal, Adina's Designer Cookies has continued to deliver one-of-a-kind treats for a steady stream of simchas. And, after all these years in the business, she just experienced a full circle moment.
"The very first order I got from a complete stranger was for a baby girl," Berkowitz said. "Recently, a woman called me for bat mitzvah cookies for her daughter, and it turned out this was my very first order. She found me years later."
For more information or to order:
Adina's Designer Cookies
Layer Me a Cake
Leslie Hill Hirschfeld is a freelance writer living in the northern suburbs of Chicago.