Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Swoon wants you to fall in love with the sugar cookie

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2012 at 7:51 AM

Swoon can make just about anything into a sugar cookie.
It took 200 snowmen to convince Lauren Wendlandt that she might be in the wrong business. She walked into her architecture studio in the last few days of 2010 and saw drafting tables and counters covered with piles of Frosty-inspired sugar cookies. The iced treats represented the first major order for Swoon, the custom-cookie company she runs with partner Sofia Varanka Hudson.

“There were cookies everywhere,” Wendlandt says. “And I thought about it: When people get cookies, they’re happy. There’s no arguing. It’s like getting flowers. It’s just nice.”

The cookies were, at first, a way for Hudson to lure more people on First Fridays to Hudson Home, her kitchen-design shop. Hudson baked them with her mother-in-law, Paula Hahn, and they called their enterprise PS Sweets. When Hudson Home moved to 15th Street and Grand, Hahn (who still lends a hand on big orders) stopped readying cookies for the monthly art gathering in the Crossroads. But PS Sweets’ customers wouldn’t let her stop baking. Hudson attributes this to Hahn’s buttercream frosting.

“The icing never completely hardens like royal icing,” Hudson explains. “But we’ll stick with handcrafting. We’d rather they look pretty and taste wonderful than be perfect and taste like a hockey puck.”

In June 2010, Wendlandt approached Hudson about becoming partners. The two were acquaintances from a small-business networking group for Missouri Bank customers. Wendlandt was an experienced baker, a skill that had helped her pay for architecture school at Kansas State University. Later, she sold her biscotti at farmers markets. By the time their snowmen order came, customers were requesting cookies featuring hula girls, tie-dye designs, and the leg lamp from A Christmas Story. The pair also started baking cookies to give to acts appearing at the Midland — recently, pudding pops for Bill Cosby and album covers for the Fray.

“This will never get boring because we’re always doing something different,” Hudson says.

Earlier this year, the duo enlisted the Kansas City—based branding firm Meers to help develop a new name, a logo and a Kickstarter campaign to remake PS. The cookie company, rechristened Swoon (justswoon.com), raised $15,910 in June, enough to pay for a brand-launching commercial kitchen.

“This is something we think we could grow into a lifestyle brand, like Dwell,” Wendlandt says.

Hints of Swoon’s future can be found in the Kickstarter campaign — Swoon pint glasses and aprons, evidence of Hudson’s furniture-design degree from the noted design school Parsons. But accessories don’t comprise the only expansion in the works; Hudson is experimenting with flavored sugar cookies, including chai with cardamom icing and chocolate with chili-chocolate icing.

First, though, Wendlandt and Hudson have to build out Swoon’s kitchen.

“We don’t have an interest in being Keebler elves,” Wendlandt says. “We’d just like it to be viable. Sure, we’d take it if we could work 20 hours a week and make a ton of money.”

“But we’d settle for 40 hours a week and nice money,” Hudson adds.

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