Photos by L.G. Patterson
From Pinterest to Etsy, consumers are on the lookout for unique art to brighten up their homes — and their party menus. Many of these consumers take notice of true craftsmanship, and are willing to pay a little more for a job well done rather than take on the risk of a DIY project. The bakers and decorators behind three local artisan bakeries in Columbia are bringing these ideas to life in edible form with cookies, cupcakes and tiered cakes. The women behind these businesses share their stories, filled with joys and challenges they’ve encountered along their entrepreneurial journeys.
Tammy Carter: Owner, baker, decorator
Tammy Carter’s love of baking began to bud when she was just a child. That love, along with her baking skills, blossomed into a fruitful business a few decades later. Over the past six years, at the helm of Fluffybutt Cookies, Carter has baked her professional dreams to life, one dozen cookies at a time. Fresh from her own kitchen, Carter opened Fluffybutt Cookies in 2011 under Missouri’s Cottage Law, baking and decorating custom orders right from home. Today, Fluffybutt Cookies is known for soft-baked sugar cookies marked by a whisper of citrus flavor in both the cookie itself and its icing. The flavor is palette pleasing, but it’s the designs that will first catch your attention.
But even before a cookie catches your eye, you’ll probably be intrigued by the name. “I wanted something that I thought was cute, and kind of fun,” Carter says. “And something that people would remember better than ‘Tammy’s Cookies,’ or something like that. I’ve always had big ole’ fluffy cats, and I call them fluffybutts. So that’s where it came from.” Carter incorporated one of those inspirational felines into her logo. “My cat in my logo is in honor of my late cat Lincoln,” Carter says. “Lincoln was a rescue from the Humane Society. He adopted me in 1994 and he lived a happy and healthy life until three years ago when he passed away at age 20.”
Though her pets were the sole inspiration for the business name and logo, decorative inspiration comes from varying origins. A blend of royal icing and glaze is used to create the delicate designs sent by customers from Pinterest or in photographs, and brought to life by Carter. “I don’t use straight royal because it’s too hard, and when you bite into it, it kind of cracks,” she says. “The glaze has corn syrup in it, just a tiny bit, but that’s what keeps the royal icing from getting rock hard. So when you bite into it, it’s got a little bit of a crust on it, but it’s still soft inside.”
Carter uses a sugar cookie recipe she developed herself, which includes three different kinds of sugar, cream cheese and a hint of citrus, among a few other closely guarded ingredients. “Regular sugar cookies are kind of blah sometimes, and I just wanted something to elevate it just a little bit over vanilla,” she says. “It doesn’t have a big citrus taste to it, but when people taste it they know there’s something there, but they can’t figure out exactly what it is.”
Fluffybutt Cookies began as a side venture for Carter, who maintained a full-time job, leaving the baking for nights and weekends. But by summer of 2017, her orders became large enough and frequent enough that she had to make a decision: take a leap of faith and go full-time baking, or quit baking and reclaim her free time. Carter decided to follow her dreams, and begin the process of opening a brick and mortar storefront for Fluffybutt Cookies. In late 2017 or early 2018, Fluffybutt Cookie Studio will open at 110 N. 10th Street, in the North Village Arts District. For Tammy, opening the shop here made perfect sense. “This is art, so it kind of lends itself to that area,” she says.
With the expansion of space also comes the expansion of services. “Since our location lends itself to foot traffic, we will also be offering a limited selection of take and go drop cookies, a couple of decorated sugar cookie themes everyday as well as a cake flavor of the week that we will sell by the slice,” Carter says. In addition to grab and go options, customers will also be able to get in on the fun in the custom cookie decorating studio, where sugar cookies will be available during all hours of business to decorate. “I want people to be able to experience making edible art with their own hands,” Carter says. “No particular skill is needed, just the desire to have fun and be creative.”
Customers can choose from a variety of cookie package options; there are selections perfect for families, a girls night out, or even a corporate event. Carter aims to provide an opportunity to make memories in her studio. “Cookies are tastier than a picture you post on your fridge, and the kids will be super proud of them.” In addition to the studio, customers will also be able to place orders outside of Columbia. With her business able to utilize a commercial kitchen instead of her home kitchen, Carter will now be able to ship cookies nationwide, greatly expanding her market.
To develop a plan for opening the storefront, Carter worked with the Women’s Business Center. During this time, her advisers urged her to consider changing the name of her business. “I took what they said to heart and thought okay, well I can see where they are coming from,” she says. “I totally understand that to some the name may, at first be offensive, not care for it, think it unprofessional, but the name holds meaning for me.” The name Fluffybutt Cookies is undoubtedly a conversation starter, and that’s exactly what it was meant it to be, she says.
Even if it doesn’t hold the same meaning for her customers, it’s not quick to leave their minds. “As one lady told me on her reply, at first she didn’t care for the name, thought what a terrible name for a cookie business, but she said the point is that she remembered the name, and I think in the business world, name recognition is key to a thriving business.”
To contact Fluffybutt Cookies, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mama T’s Cupcakes
Natasha Myrick: Owner, baker
Natasha Myrick, owner of Mama T’s Cupcakes, has poured love into each batch of cakes she’s baked since her business opened three years ago. Operated under Missouri’s Cottage Law, Mama T’s Cupcakes bakes the tiny cakes by the dozen for custom orders. The business began to bloom after Myrick baked cupcakes for her own wedding; after guests got a taste, she said, they couldn’t get enough.
“We had a really low budget — a non-existent budget, really — for our wedding,” Myrick says. “So I was like, well I bake anyway, so just to save on cost I’ll do cupcakes. So I made my own cupcakes, and I got really good feedback from them.” And though the timing wasn’t perfect, her new husband encouraged her to take the leap into business. “I was pretty busy at the time,” Myrick says. “I had a full-time job, but I decided ‘you know what, I think this could be a good thing.’ My husband was really supportive in encouraging me to do that. So here we are, two years later.”
From this humble start, Myrick’s business has grown into a bigger job than she fathomed. Recently, she’s been baking up to 25 dozen cakes a weekend, to be served at events and for purchase individually at Plume boutique in south Columbia. Mama T’s and Plume have been in a partnership for two years, with Myrick baking cupcakes on Wednesdays to be served in Plume Thursday through Saturday, and she also uses the commercial kitchen on weekends to bake for custom orders. Her menu, which rotates to incorporate seasonal ingredients and flavors, is a hit with Plume customers, who often grab a cake at the end of their shopping trip. Her personal favorite, and a favorite among customers, is the triple chocolate ganache. The chocolate cakes are filled with chocolate ganache and topped with a dark chocolate and Nutella icing.
Maybe even more than the flavors, Myrick wants her customers to be able to enjoy the whole experience of working with Mama T’s Cupcakes from start to finish. “I want people to feel like they can just relax and not worry about this side of things,” she says. “I want them to feel taken care of, that’s the thing. So that’s my heart for it, and I hope people feel that way when they have a cupcake — that it’s baked with love.”
She also knows that in order for her customers to feel cared for, she must also take care of herself. And that’s why at the end of the summer, shortly before her new school year began, Myrick and the owner of Plume, Kelly Gilion, made the tough decision to have Mama T’s Cupcakes take a short hiatus from Plume.
It wasn’t the lack of successful collaboation that pre-empted this recess, but rather the lack of space, and the opportunity for Myrick to pursue other career goals in the coming months. Plume’s vintage kitchen, which is adored by Myrick and the other makers at Plume, is complete with a 1950s stove, which only allows a dozen cupcakes to be baked at a time. This tight space has made it difficult to complete the large quantity of orders she’s had pouring in during the past few months.
“Kelly’s been so gracious and amazing for letting me bake there, but the space was becoming very limited for the amount that I was baking,” Myrick says. But never fear: Mama T’s Cupcakes will still be available to order, just not at Plume. “I’m still in business, I’m just not baking at Plume,” Myrick says. “So it’s just going to look a little different for the next month or two.” Her plan is to hire on another baker who can help run things in the store. “I’ve been at Plume for two years, and I have done the bulk of my baking there I would say for the past year,” she says. “It is growing so fast that I need to train people and hire people. And that’s a whole process in itself. Right now I do not have time to do that, so I’m trying to wait until October to hire one or two people.”
Though it is a transition spurred by growth, Myrick doesn’t consider these issues to be growing pains. “When your business starts growing, that’s awesome; I’m glad that it’s growing,” she says. “But I was at a point where I was like I need to take a break and I need to get things in order.” Taking time for yourself in order to better your business is a tenet Myrick has made sure to abide by. “You don’t always have to say yes,” she says. “You have to learn how to say no sometimes, and to be okay with it.” This includes saying no to personal things in order to grow your business. “I’ve had to turn down weekend trips before because I’m like, I have a wedding to do that day,” she says. “You just have to figure out what kind of sacrifices you would be willing to make to pursue your business. I’m at a point where I have sacrificed a lot to grow my business over the past three years, and now I am having to say no to some things, just temporarily, so I can do other things that are important to me.”
To make the best of Mama T’s, Myrick embraces collaboration with business-minded people. “The business side is definitely not a strong suit for me,” she says. “But if you are an entrepreneur, you have to not be afraid to ask questions and ask for help. Even if you are very business minded, you still have to be good about asking for help; you’ve got to be humble. And be willing to take constructive criticism and willing to be open to different ideas.”
To contact Mama T’s Cupcakes, please email email@example.com
The Painted Cake Co.
Jessica White: Artist
A trio of three Columbia artists has pooled their varying talents to form Columbia’s newest artisan bakery, the Painted Cake Co. The boutique confectionary creates whimsically painted cakes and cookies for weddings and other celebratory events. Its genesis came after Jessica White, a local artist and wedding photographer, felt the call to connect with a paintbrush after spending seven years behind a camera lens. “My mom’s an artist, she’s a painter, so drawing and painting has just been an innate ability for me,” she says. “That [ability] will just sit in you if you don’t do anything with it.” The ensuing idea that began to bud in her mind – painted pastries – seemed like the perfect merger of artistic expression nuptial novelty.
To create the new business, she joined forces with Carly Love and Amity Mains, owners of CoMo Confectionary and Amity’s Cookie Shoppe, respectively. Since The Painted Cake Co.’s inception less than a year ago, painted cakes and cookies have made way to local weddings, baby showers, graduations and more. The cakes, which can be custom-ordered to size and flavor, are covered in white fondant and painted with food coloring, creating a soft watercolor effect. The sugar cookies are frosted with royal icing and are also painted in the same fashion.
White paints to please the eye, but the women of The Painted Cake Co. know that real beauty is more than skin – or in this case, fondant – deep. The goal, White says, is for the cakes to be equally visually appealing and pleasing to the palate. “I’m hoping that through all three [of us], what we do best – cakes, painting and cookies – that we’re able to be known for both within the clientele that we speak to,” she says.
Most of the designs take shape as floral or garden-inspired motifs, a niche White has found a comfortable home in painting, thanks to its recent rise in popularity. “Floral designs have always been around, of course, but I feel that it has taken on a new light in design and decor,” she says. “Seeing it also in food is just another gesture towards the floral wave. I, as a painter, can paint most anything but I have always had a thing for florals. So I’m going to enjoy this for as long as possible.” The Painted Cake Co. will create works of art that stay relatively close to floral design, but White says their breadth of design will be expanded for special cases. “Someone contacted me recently and asked if I would do a Kewpie,” she says. “And I thought, you know what, I would do a Kewpie, but it wouldn’t be the new Kewpie, it would be the vintage Kewpie.”
The pastries are art pieces in their own right, a true creative expression of the artist herself. “It’s like they’re buying this because it’s hanging in a gallery, because they trust my hand with the paintbrush,” she says. And soon, clients might just be able to hang this delicate artwork, White says. “Another thing that is in the works has stemmed from our cookies literally being kept,” she says. “Clients make mention of how they are so pretty they wish they could keep them. So we are moving towards possibly having painted pieces for purchase. Canvas, framed art and even furniture pieces are in the works.” This is a dream come true for any artist. “As a painter I am excited to have other opportunities to keep my brushes busy,” White says.
In its short life, the company has already had to expand, contracting with an additional bakery to keep up with orders. Each party has its own job to complete in a timely manner in order to make sure that the pastry puzzle is completed. That challenge is something the company continues to successfully meet, says White. “Timing of receiving, painting and delivering the cookies is super crucial,” she says. We’ve figured out ways to keep our orders more fresh, shortening the time between baking and delivery.” Collaboration has also been key in ensuring the quality of the cakes and cookies match that of the artwork. “I am much more confident in the end result leaving the baking skills in the proper hands and a paintbrush in mine,” White says.
To contact The Painted Cake Co., please email Jjwhite27@gmail.com