Irongatebakery.com is a tiny company. Two owners, with the support of their mothers, make the whole thing tick. From the website to the baking, to the shows, to the development of new products, and the marketing.
The whole thing started with a roast pig and some melted chocolate frosting.
My hand was buried in the middle of the roast pig when the third person said, “You should do this professionally.” My friend Kim and I were running a wedding reception for a friend of her mother. We were in the middle of nowhere – a hunting cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’d forded the creek in Kim’s pick-up truck and taken over the reception set-up, including figuring out how to cut the couple hundred pounds of roast pig my hand was currently inside of.
I gave the well-wisher a customer service smile, while mentally attempting to include pig-carving on my resume. “Thanks.”
The party-goers spilled out of the cabin into the clearing outside to dance and drink and laugh. Quiet descended on the room. The only noise was the hum of the beleaguered ceiling fan. I washed my hands, thankful for the electricity and running water. A camping wedding reception has never been on my to-do list. After I dried my hands, Kim handed me a cold bottle of water and tipped her head toward the kitchen.
We sat behind the tables, mostly hidden by the tablecloths, and leaned against the dark wood paneling while the wedding cake’s frosting finished thawing and started to gather dew on the surface. Our matching blue tee-shirts were wet with sweat and our hair was starting to frizz and escape from our ponytails. We hadn’t realized how much we looked like twins until we were told that it was such good luck for the bride that her family was thrilled for her.
“At least three people say we should do this professionally.”
Kim blew the hair out of her eyes. “They were asking us for cards at Layne’s wedding too.” Two years earlier we’d served at another friend’s wedding. We’d both been happy with a little extra money, but I’d been a research assistant and Kim’d been in college.
“Maybe we should,” I said. It was an idle thought, destined to join the half-finished Jedi costumes in the basement and the intricately planned timeline for the story we’ve never written. Kim was working with her customers. I was a floor supervisor at a women’s clothing store part-time. A few weekends of pick-up work sounded pretty good.
“What should we call it?” was the first hurdle. We ran through names fast and furious until we settled on KCK and Company in honor of our fake radio station in high school WKCK. The quickly sketched business plan was put on hold. I dropped my bottle with the other empties and stalked the mother-of-the-bride. “We need to cut the cake. It’s melting.”
A scout went off to drag the happy couple back from the gun range to the party. We kicked people out of the closet-like kitchen again. As another person followed our directions and let us handle the packing up the leftovers, it seemed easy. Easier than micromanaging bosses and annoying coworkers.
Even on the drive home in the gathering blue darkness, the conversation about KCK was energizing. It didn’t feel like we’d just worked all day. “And we can even do cakes and decorated cookies for favors,” Kim said. We’d be a one-stop, non-traditional wedding planner.
The next day, armed with paperwork to fill out for the IRS, a legal pad, and a library card, we headed out to research starting our event planning, restaurant, bar extravaganza. Surrounded by a fortress of books that looked like we were reenact the Bastille, it wasn’t quite what we’d envisioned.
The bar dropped out first. There was no way we were jumping through the hoops to get an ABC license. The catering idea died next. We’d need a professional kitchen for that. The baking of wedding cakes was still possible at least. But the event planning was no problem. That was the easy part.
Partnership agreements, business plans, health department regulations, financing, SBA grants, websites, advertising, top down marketing, LLC’s, corporations, trademarks, images, and a host of acronyms to make your eyes cross combined into painful information overload. We shoved the books away and just went to lunch.
Eventually, over the course of several days, the full-immersion technique worked and the language of business stared to make sense. Soon the business plan didn’t terrify us. It wasn’t more than a few lines, but it existed. The paperwork was submitted to the IRS gave us a tax number and a form from the office superstore gave us a partnership agreement. But that wasn’t all we needed.
We found our way to the county clerk’s office after a few wrong turns and having to backtrack through the building. We shifted nervously in line, waiting for the clerk to tell us if our name was free. “Probably should have done this before the tax number,” I said.
“Nah. That would be logical.” Kim quirked a grin at me.
“Here you go,” the clerk said. He handed us the fictitious name certificate. That certificate was the first step to getting a business account and a host of other actions. He offered us a few tips and a “good luck,” with a smile.
Walking out into the summer heat with our certificate in hand, it felt like the first time my dad let go of the bike – exhilarating, terrifying, and straight down the hill.
We had a business name. We had a tax number. We even had an icon designed by the “C” in KCK. We found the first customer through a wedding shop. We held our breath and planned our first wedding in less than six weeks.
We’ve skinned our knees, misplaced a flower girl, and taken panicked phone calls three days before the wedding when a caterer pulled out. We’ve transported wedding cakes, yelled at each other, and collapsed on the couch after a long weekend and played video games until we didn’t want to scream anymore.
We don’t plan weddings anymore, but we still make cakes and cookies. Every time we introduce a new cookie – my customers are just as excited as we are. Every time I write out a deposit slip my smile makes my jaw ache. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
And it all started with a roast pig and some melted chocolate frosting.
Who are the cookie ladies you met at the Big Flea in Dulles or Fredericksburg?
studied at the Art Institute of Washington for baking. She’s a rabid Dallas Cowboy/football fan (so feel free to taunt -ahem – talk to her about not being able to watch the game when she’s stuck at the show). She has two cats, one dog, and 20 fish. She grows orchids and was attempting to produce a vanilla plant that would supply IGB with endless vanilla beans. Unfortunately, one of the aforementioned cats ate it. The rhubarb and strawberry plants are still alive at least, so there’s fruit for the strawberry rhubarb pie.
Her grandfather provided the crust recipe that helps makes the IGB pies so addictive. Her great grandmother’s strawberry rhubarb pie is a crowd favorite and flies off the shelves. The molasses cookies come from her family, as does the touch of lemon in the sugar cookies. The no-sugar added apple pie was her grandmother’s attempt at trying to keep her great-grandfather from eating too much sugar.
on the other hand, studied Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Marymount University. She’s a business and marketing geek and maintains the website. She is willing to talk writing and books at the drop of a quill (check out http://kateressman.com for a list of her books) and will happily swap book recommendations with anyone. Her dwarf cherry trees are still too small to produce good cherries and the sugar maples aren’t old enough to tap yet, but she’s planning to plant amaranth next year in hopes of making flour.
The chocolate chip walnut cookies are her family’s traditional Christmas cookies. The Irish soda bread comes out of her mother’s cookbook. She enjoys taking risks with recipes, which means she strikes out a lot and pie crusts hate her. She hates cling wrap and the feeling is mutual.
Together, they are The Cookie Ladies!
(Also known as the Wicked Sisters, the Cookie Girls, and the Evil Ones, depending on who you’re talking too.)
They’re not twins. They’re not sisters. In fact, they’re not even related. (Unless you follow their family trees far into the past where everyone is related to Charlemagne.)
They met in high school and have been friends ever since. Irongatebakery.com grew out of KCK and Company – an event planning service started in 2003. They’ve been selling their wares at the DC Big Flea since 2005 and can’t wait to keep going.
Irongatebakery.com is currently expanding in pursuit of their goal of having a tea shop/bakery/bookstore in the Northern Virginia area.
Who know where they’ll end up next?