If you're a celiac, a vegan, a vegetarian, a nutritarian, lactose intolerant, oat intolerant, or do your damnedest to keep kosher, you may have had more than one opportunity to moan about how there's nothing delicious to eat in this world. For me, a plant-based vegan, the feeling has arisen now and then, usually when I'm hungry and at a birthday party where everyone is eating big, gooey pieces of chocolate cake or the like. But now Ginnybakes, a Miami-based company -- and an adorable one at that -- is stepping in to give picky eaters a slew of delicious dessert options in fresh-baked, prepackaged, or ready-to-bake mix form.
Ginny Simon, creator of Ginnybakes, is a Miami mom of four who never worked a full-time job before she founded her own company in 2010. With her sons full-grown and a sudden wealth of free time on her hands, the health-minded matriarch earned a certification as a holistic health coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She began working with clients, many of whom sought yummy foods that would not ignite their various food sensitivities.
No longer a stay-at-home mom, but apparently unable to resist the instinct to nurture, Simon began experimenting with organic and gluten-free ingredients to create bake mixes her clients could safely and happily whip into cookies at home. The response to her creations was so positive and the demand for her homespun mixes so high that she took the plunge and created a line of gluten-free bake-at-home products for commercial sale. This led to her opening a full-blown baking facility in Miami in 2011.
Simon describes the journey from tiny upstart to nationally available success as being full of highs, lows, triumphs, and heartaches, but in reality it's almost unheard of that a food-production company goes from nonexistence to a fixture at many Whole Foods Markets nationally and virtually every popular gourmet or health-food store in South Florida within a matter of a year.
But that's what happened for Simon. Many of her cookies, with names like Chocolate Chip Love, Coconut Oatmeal Bliss, Double Chocolate Happiness, and Naked Vegan Love, are now available nationwide, and her products have been featured by NBC Miami, Daily Candy, and Aventura and Brickell magazines, and sold on QVC. Whole Foods, the Fresh Market, Epicure, Apple a Day, Milam's, and other retailers around Florida, New York, and other states carry the preservative-free line.
And their reach is only growing, as is her product line. Much to my delight, her newest releases are the vegan and gluten-free Naked Love "butter-crisp cookies" (made with coconut oil, not butter), which melt into delicious creamy-crumby mouthfuls with every bite. And she also just launched her vegan, gluten-free, oat-free, grain-free, extracted oil-free, and kosher "love & nuts" Ginnybars, which combine shredded coconut, nuts, agave, and dates in yummy, portable energy bars you can stash in your purse for a healthful treat on the go.
I don't eat her nonvegan cookies, but Miami New Times editor-in-chief Chuck Strouse described her organic, gluten-free Chocolate Chip Love cookies as tasting like "upscale Chips Ahoy" (that's pretty generous coming from him), and my mom said Simon's Coconut Oatmeal Bliss cookies are "exquisite."
Simon chatted with me about her story, her products, and what would happen if her cookies came to life and became famous TV personalities.
Beet Reporter: When you started the business, did you have any idea it would take off the way it has?
Ginny Simon: No. Actually, originally I told my husband, "I think I'm going to start a bake-mix line," and he said, "No you're not!" And that's when I really decided to definitely, without a doubt, make it work. He didn't mean it in a bad way. But now he's shut down his law practice of 26 years and he works for Ginnybakes.
What have you learned along the way?
Just because my kids are grown up and they've moved out of the house doesn't mean that my journey has to be over. I'm in my upper 40s, and it's a cool thing to be able to show people that you don't have to just retire and stop living and growing just because you get a little older. Life can start over and grow at any time.
How do food-sensitive folks react to your products?
If your Naked Love Vegan cookie were to come to life as a TV personality, who would it be and why?
Your new vegan bars are free of extracted oils. I like that. Was that something you did on purpose, or did it just come together that way? And why don't you include that on the label?
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So what's next for Ginnybakes?
Do you have a few sweet closing words?