Ginnybakes, Miami-Based Organic Treat Sensation, Rolls Out Scrumptious Vegan Cookies and Bars

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.

What is your proudest success? 

Ginnybakes is the pride of my life, besides my kids and my husband. It's all about taking a passion and seeing it through. I never worked a full-time job in my life. I raised four kids. And had I known where it was going to go, I probably never would have started the journey. My biggest pride is showing myself and my four sons the power of determination and passion. I believe I'm doing well for people. It makes me go back to my roots and say, "This is a passion; we're going to make this work." It makes my world and my small slice of it a better place.

How do food-sensitive folks react to your products? 

I've had people come up and hug me in the store and say, "Thank you for making your cookies," because they're gluten intolerant and have never been able to find a product they could eat and they always felt left out. Or because they wanted to have a great dessert for kids or a dessert to bring to a holiday that's delicious. [As someone who has lived with a gluten intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome all her life, Simon knows the feeling of missing out on yummy eats.]

If your Naked Love Vegan cookie were to come to life as a TV personality, who would it be and why? 

Hmm, I think it would be Katie Couric, because on the outside, she looks very simple, like the sweetheart of America. But Katie is not simple at all. She's complex, interesting, and smart once you get below the surface. The Naked Love vegan cookie looks simple and plain on the outside, but when you bite in, it's also very complex. It's rich and there's a mix of flavors, like brown sugar and even a little bit of salt in there. That's funny -- I've never thought of my cookies as TV personalities. But please don't ask me to do another one!

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?

I didn't label it because it wasn't a priority for me to make them oil-free. A lot of people ask me what kind of oil I use, but usually not whether I use oil or not. What I was trying to do with the bars was to make something that was accessible to as many people with specific health concerns as possible. I often have people come to me and say, "Well, I'm vegan. I bet you don't have anything for me, do you?" and I always felt really bad, especially because I was a vegan for many years. So I made the bars vegan, and also good for people who can't eat grain, oats, or wheat. I would have used honey, but I wanted to make sure it was OK for the vegan people, so I used agave instead. I wanted to include everybody, so I made them dairy-free, organic, kosher, and non-GMO. I thought that was a lot to put on the label already, so I guess that's another reason I didn't think to add oil-free to the label.

So what's next for Ginnybakes? 

We're coming out with "Ginny Minis," go-packs of sample-size cookies. They were put into motion at the same time as the Naked Love vegan cookies, but they're rolling out just a little bit later. They come in boxes, and there are six bags of the mini cookies in a box. They're like the 100-calorie packs, except we don't pay much attention to the calories. Ours are about 130 to 140 calories. The three flavors we're offering first are the Coconut Oatmeal, the butter crisp Vegan Love, and the Chocolate Chip Love. We're also going to expand the vegan cookie line. The other thing I can see getting into is granola, but we won't be doing that until 2013. And we're moving into a new facility in February. We bought it last week. We're really excited.

Do you have a few sweet closing words?

I feel like the whole state of Florida has been so embracing. My dad always said to find humble work that does good in this world, and I feel like that's what I'm doing. And I couldn't be happier.

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