"As Told To..."
How A Finsta Account Created a Booming Cookie Business: Baylee Marsh Thornton on the Origin of Baylee Bakes
By Jillian Tracy
Baylee Marsh Thornton started her baking business, Baylee Bakes, by accident. A few candid and lighthearted posts on her "finsta" soon led Thornton to a new lifestyle — waking up at 4 a.m. to finish frosting cookies and teaching decorating classes to hundreds of people. Thornton, who received the University of Georgia Entrepreneurship Program's Student StartUp Award in 2020, recounts how her now booming business came to be in 2018 and how it changed in the era of COVID-19, as told to Jillian Tracy.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing groups in Georgia's economy. The state ranks No. 2 in the country in the growth of women-owned business enterprises.
"I started it as a finsta on Instagram, actually, on spring break my sophomore year. I was baking like cupcakes and cakes for friends, because I was broke as heck and I wanted to be able to do nice things for them, but I couldn't, like, buy presents for everybody. So, I'd let them pick their cupcake or their cake or whatever they wanted and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, you should post this on Instagram. Like, it's so fun and cute.’"
"Someone found me and DM’d me and they were like, ‘Do you do sugar cookies?’ and I was like, ‘Well, actually, I don't even sell, like, this is a joke, but sure.' And then three weeks later, someone else asked. And then three weeks later, someone else asked. Three months later, I was doing, like, 600 (cookies) a week."
"What (the pandemic) has changed, though, is I keep everything contactless. They have to pick a time to come and I set them on my porch. But other than that, business slowed down for like a month (in spring 2020) and then immediately ramped back up with graduation."
"And the only thing I really had to change was just limiting the contact with people. I already did ... safety procedures, like you know, bagging the cookies and wearing gloves and all of that."
This story features "How I Wrote This" commentary, providing a look into the ins and outs of the reporting process.
"Baylee Bakes": For this assignment, we were asked to write an "As Told To" piece about someone local. I found Baylee after a Google search led me to a site highlighting small business owners in Athens. As a recent graduate, I was interested in how Baylee balanced her baking duties and schoolwork while growing her business.
"Waking up at 4 a.m. ...": I asked Baylee to describe her baking setup and favorite gear to get a feel for what her baking process looks like. Her essentials included a stand mixer, a rolling pin with measuring rings that keep all her cookies the same thickness, commercial-grade kitchen pans for easy baking and a dehydrator to help the base layer of frosting dry faster so she can move to detail work. She also told me she had recently bought and assembled a U-shape Ikea desk, which lives in her guest room turned cookie room, that she maneuvers around using a rolling chair, helping her frost big batches of cookies quicker.
"Pick their cupcake or their cake":
Baylee no longer makes cakes or cupcakes and focuses solely on cookies. She tests out new dough flavors to sell to her customers. While we were talking, I could see Baylee moving around her kitchen, bending up and down, reaching for things and I heard the occasional clammer of pans. Turns out, she was testing a new vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe which finished baking just as our call was ending..
"600 (cookies) a week": At the time we spoke, there was a little over a week before Valentine's Day and she was gearing up to work long hours to get all her orders done. I asked Baylee what keeps her motivated to keep coming back after long days. Mainly, it came down to being a people pleaser.
"I am an enneagram two, which is a people pleaser," she said. "And so literally 98% of it is like, I can't stand the thought of letting anyone down even if it's for a frickin' cookie."
"What (the pandemic has changed, though...": Another motivation for choosing to interview Baylee, was that I was curious to hear if COVID had affected her or hurt her business at all. She said when the university and other businesses shut down in March 2020, she lost a lot of bigger orders since in-person events and celebrations were canceled. She adopted a contactless delivery system to help prevent the spread of COVID but said overall her business wasn't really affected and she was back to filling orders fairly quickly as spring graduations approached.
Baylee Marsh Thornton, 22, bakes cookies from her home in Athens, Georgia, for her business, Baylee Bakes, which she started by accident in the spring of 2018. Thornton creates custom designed sugar cookies for events like baby showers, graduations and birthdays for customers across Georgia. (Photo Courtesy/Talley Davidson, @talleydavidson_photography)