Like many of the amazing entrepreneurs featured on the blog, I came across Megan’s account, Downtown Dough TO through where else, Instagram! She is one extremely talented cookie designer.
Read on to learn more about the story behind her custom cookie decorating business.
1. How did you come up with the name Downtown Dough TO?
This was the easiest part! It really just came to me one day – I wanted something simple and catchy but still recognizable to the cookie business. The only inconvenience is I can never move out of downtown while staying true to the name!
2. What made you decide to start a custom cookie decorating business?
I’ve always been creative and loved baking but I never ever had any intent to turn this into a business. It was just a fun hobby and as I got more and more satisfaction out of getting better at it, my friend encouraged me to start up an Instagram account as a little cookie diary (thanks Esther!).
I made cookies for a year or so just for friends and family and posted everything I made. When I was engaged, I had joined a few buy/sell/trade wedding groups and figured I’d see if there was a market for cookies to offset wedding costs and got my very first “stranger order” that way. With more and more requests, it gave me the opportunity to build my portfolio, brand and style and my following grew from there.
3. Did you encounter any struggles when you first started?
Time commitment vs. profit is definitely the biggest struggle.
No one really understands how long it takes to make a designer cookie and they also don’t want to pony up a ton of cash for “just cookies”. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “but they’re just cookies!” after quoting, I’d be rich. I definitely underpriced myself for a long time but with success comes pride in what you do and I’ve gotten over the tendency to lower prices just for the sake of securing orders. If they don’t want to pay for my time and talent, they don’t have to.
Designer cookies are a luxury item, simple as that.
I work full-time outside of cookie-making in a job I love with no intentions to leave so I remind myself often that I don’t really need to do this and I can’t sell myself short.
It’s also really difficult balancing cookies with work and still having any sort of free time. Luckily I have an understanding husband and friends who are patient, proud of me and don’t mind scheduling our time together well in advance. 🙂
The other roadblock in getting started and making any profit is public health requirements. It’s illegal to sell food goods from home in Toronto unless they are prepared in an entirely separate kitchen which for me, means renting space in a commercial kitchen. I’ve been lucky to find one close to home that’s relatively affordable but since each order can easily take 10+ hours, it really eats into any potential profit when you consider the hourly rental rate.
4. What is your favourite cookie that you’ve created thus far?
There are so many! The one I think that really inspired me and spearheaded my brand was the typewriter cookie I did for a local blogger relaunching her website. It’s the cookie that people talk to me about most often! I also did a wedding show back in March which was my first opportunity to really design every single cookie with no client influence and I’m so proud of the sets that came out of that.
5. What do you like the most about this job?
Can I say Instagram likes? I’m just kidding but my husband teases me that I only do this for fame because I’ll sit there studying my engagement rate after posting a photo. It’s really just habitual and I’m a nerd and like calculating the statistics. I love having a unique way of being creative and sharing it with others. It’s a craft that takes a lot of skill and patience and I get a lot of satisfaction out of a design coming together well.
There is also a huge cookie artist community on Instagram. They really are the best people and I’ve made some great friends doing this!
6. What do you like the least about this job?
My hands are constantly dyed every colour of the rainbow from mixing icing! There’s honestly not much I dislike now that I’m really prioritizing myself and my brand and focusing on the designs and orders that excite and challenge me.
7. How far in advance do people have to place a custom order?
I usually say 3-4 weeks but lately, I’m booking up 2-3 months ahead. It’s always worth inquiring because I can sometimes fit extra in if the order is complimentary in colours, designs, etc. to an order I’ll already be working on but generally speaking, as much notice as possible!
I try not to book too far in advance because life happens and with another job, I can only commit so much of my future time.
8. On average, how long does it take to decorate a cookie? Or does it depend on the design?
It is definitely design-dependent but every cookie whether simple or detailed is a process.
After mixing dough, chilling, cutting shapes (sometimes hand cutting them!), baking, making icing, mixing icing colours and consistencies, icing base layers and then details it can easily take several hours for a dozen basic cookies. The detailing work that I typically do is usually upwards of 5-10 minutes per cookie on top of that and often more. I recently spent 12 hours just hand-painting gold script for an order of wedding cookies after all of the baking, icing and detailing.
9. If you could design a cookie for any celebrity or brand, who would it be and why?
Probably any of the Kardashians and I have no shame saying that! They appreciate luxury items and there is something to be said for their success in branding. I’d also love Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to see their cookie!
*Editor’s note – So if anybody happens to be connected with someone who knows the Royal Couple, please share this post with them!
10. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start a custom baking business?
Don’t feel obligated to take on every order. Don’t burn yourself out. Charge what you’re worth and don’t be brought down by those who don’t want to pay it – there will always be someone that charges less but there is also someone who charges more and is doing just fine!
If a potential client seems difficult from the first contact, they are likely not a client you want. There is certainly something to be said for building a portfolio of work but it’s also important to do what you love. When I scroll through my feed from early on in this journey, I can tell which orders I was passionate about and which ones I just did to fulfill the order. When I look through my feed now, it’s all orders I love and recognizably represent me and my brand and I think with that, comes success.
Follow Megan on Instagram: @downtowndoughto