It’s 10 a.m., and Abbie Alf heads to her kitchen with a list detailing orders for the week. Dressed in her favorite baking attire, an oversized white T-shirt and black leggings, she pulls back her long, brown hair into a ponytail. A cheerful smile flushes across her face despite her busy week ahead. Easter Sunday is this weekend, and Alf just found out she sold out on her limited-edition cookie.
She prepares the dough just before I arrive. She lets me know that she’s already prepared it as she welcomes me in the door.
“What’s your recipe?”
“Sorry, I won’t be able to share,” she says, smiling. “It’s a secret.”
Alf’s secret recipe is the basis of each cookie she creates for her blooming business she conducts from her shared apartment in Athens. The University of Georgia junior, who is majoring in interior design, is learning to build her own brand as she pursues an entrepreneurial certificate for her business, Abbie Bakes.Why It’s Newsworthy: UGA’s entrepreneurship certificate program helps students learn valuable skills to continue to build their business plans.
Right now, her business account garners over 1,000 followers on Instagram, and she has her own online shop for customers to place orders. On average, Alf gets anywhere between two to five orders a week while she juggles being a full-time student. Luckily for Alf, the pandemic that followed her initial start allowed her to develop a system that allows her to find balance.
“I’ve always been passionate about baking ever since I was young,” she said. “I loved baking cookies and pies for my friends and family, and one summer, I wanted to make my own cookie recipe.”
Summer Boredom Tastes Sweet
As the summer of 2019 was losing its initial velocity, one night Alf decided to make herself cookies. Turning to Pinterest, she scouted for a quick recipe. A problem presented itself when traditional cookie recipes didn’t have the flavor profile or texture Alf craved. Measurements to the heart’s content and multiple failed batches later, Alf had created her perfect dough.
Giant, decadent cookies hold a special place in Alf’s heart, so she took that concept and made it her own. As she experimented, she began to send her cookies with her father to work at Bias Corporation in Roswell, Georgia. Her giant cookies, stuffed with silky chocolate caught the attention of all his co-workers, including the president of the company. Soon, Alf found herself receiving multiple requests to buy her cookies.
“At that point I wasn’t even selling them, I was just so excited people wanted to try my cookies,” Alf said.
A hobby that was now turning into a budding business didn’t feel like work to the young entrepreneur. Alf was motivated by people’s genuine interest in what she could create. As she spent more time making new cookies, she made an instagram account, Abbie Bakes, to share photos of her work with friends online.
She grew a small following at first, not that she expected much, after all this was a fun side hobby of hers. It wasn’t until her boyfriend, Jack Sutton and his family stepped in to help start marketing her small business that she started taking her new role seriously. Sutton’s father gifted Alf a light pink KitchenAid to kick start her business venture. Sutton, who is a business major at UGA, began encouraging Alf to get involved in the entrepreneur program to sharpen her business skills and build her brand.
“She’s naturally entrepreneurial and super creative,” he said. “Once I got involved with the program and knew what I was getting out of it, I knew it would be a good business crash course for her.”
Attention to Detail, and A Lot of Chocolate
Alf’s cookie dough recipe is one she can recall through the use of her sensory skills, which makes the exact amount needed depending on batch size. Alf is not one to waste and freshness matters. For that reason, she bakes each cookie specific to the order; which can mean making a dozen different cookies for one order.
She shares her snug kitchen, which consists of only a few feet of workspace, with three college roommates. To avoid feeling claustrophobic Alf works in steps, cleaning as she moves to maximize the counter space. This week’s orders requested a mixed variety of her products, so today she prepares five different cookies: S’mores, Chocolate Chip, Salted Caramel, M&M and her Easter holiday special.
Consistency is key for Alf’s process, she credits the perfectionism to her knack for interior design. All of her ingredients are organized in their own clear, plastic containers for easy access in her tight kitchen space. She uses the same stainless-steel scoop every time so all cookies are the same size, followed by a circular mold to press the dough into to achieve the perfect thickness. Each cookie gets to know Alf’s touch as she shapes the dough in her hand and presses her thumb into the middle to create a pouch.
This year’s Easter creation includes mini marshmallows, chocolate chunks and pastel M&M chocolate easter eggs. Alf begins by filling the pouch with marshmallows and chocolate, rolling the dough to conceal the sweets inside. She molds it back into a thick, hockey puck shape and begins to gently press the pastel eggs into the surface, followed by more marshmallows and chunks of chocolate. The same process begins over again as she moves to the next, changing the fillings for each flavor.
Alf sanatizes and wipes down her workspace, next she pulls out three cooling racks to prepare for the finished product. As the cookies exit the oven, the aroma of warm vanilla and light notes of caramel dance around the room. Now, the cookies must rest for at least two hours to be in ideal packaging condition. As the cookies cool, they settle to a crisp outside while maintaining a quintessential chewy inside.
Alf cleans up her kitchen then stows away her ingredients into a large plastic bin to keep out of the way of her three roommates who also share the space. With a few hours to spare, Alf gets ready for her other job, entrepreneurial finance.
Making A Name For Herself
Pursuing an entrepreneurial certificate is an important step Alf is taking to developing vital skills to run a successful business, in whatever avenue she takes. She has had a growing passion for interior design and is eager to get started in that industry after graduating. Although Abbie Bakes is not a venture she plans to let fade out.
“I would love to start out in interior design, then continue this on the side and then save up money to open up my own business,” she said.
Her end goal is to open her own coffee and cookie café and design the interior on her own. For now, Alf’s cookie bundles can be purchased through her website link on Instagram. Orders range from bundles of three cookies for $10, to a dozen for $36 and can be customized. If cakes are preferred, Alf offers cookie cakes starting from $20.
Bob Pinckney, director of the entrepreneurship program at UGA, sees that Alf has built a solid foundation as a business owner. As her entrepreneurial finance professor, he invited Alf to promote her product in class.
“I think she’s priced her product well, has good margins and is keeping costs down,” he said. “She’s got a great looking product, it markets really well… I think she’s doing a brilliant job so far.”
Ultimately, Alf wants to get her grounds in the world of interior design, practice her craft and make a name for herself. In the meantime, she plans to enter UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur contest next year for a shot at a $10,000 dollar prize to put towards her company.
In the meantime, Alf slides her cooled cookies into their individual clear wrapping, propping each cookie up against the next as she fulfills one of her orders. Her cheerful smile remains as she slides her logo sticker across each package. She’s one step closer to accomplishing her dream.
Lexi Elmore is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in communications in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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