Ginny Simon’s girlhood dream was to have a house full of kids gathered around the kitchen table, the heart of the home. After her four sons were born, she lived out her dream by serving them organic, nutritious meals, and baking delicious, but health-conscious desserts.
Simon loved being a full-time mother, but as her sons grew older, she began to wonder what she would do when she “grew up.” So the Miami Beach mom began tinkering around with baking mixes, then baked cookies and bars. Today Simon is CEO of ginnybakes, a line of all-natural baking mixes and sweets.
Here is how she did it.
The Big Idea
ginnybakes is a line of organic, kosher and gluten-free baking mixes, cookies, biscotti, bars and brownies with names like “peace, love and crumble muffin,” “sunshine biscotti bliss” and “naked love butter crisp.” The products do not contain genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, and come in vegan varieties. Treats are sold in two-packs, by the dozen, and in mini sizes. Bags of a dozen treats range from $5.99 to $7.99, and can be bought at Whole Foods, Epicure, natural food stores and online.
A self-proclaimed “health nut,” Simon did a short stint as an interior decorator before immersing herself in her role as a full-time mom to sons Scott, 24; Michael, 22; Mark, 19; and Kevin, 18. She thrived in that role, but felt herself becoming lost as the boys grew older. Simon took online courses from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and became certified as a holistic nutritionist and drugless practitioner. She also taught whole-food and gluten-free cooking.
Husband, Steve, practiced law for 26 years before joining ginnybakes full-time in 2011 to handle operations. Son, Michael, earned a degree in chemical engineering and will join the company this summer.
After Simon’s cooking students started asking her to recommend healthy baking mixes, she began looking online. Not finding any to her liking, Simon saw a business opportunity and decided to develop her own. Always a home baker, she looked online to learn what goes into a commercial mix and in what proportions.
She deconstructed her grandmother’s biscotti recipe to analyze ingredients. Simon also went into grocery stores to review products, price points and flavors. “I was almost afraid to move forward, because I didn’t think I knew enough,” she said.
Simon began tinkering with recipes she liked to use for her family, choosing organic ingredients like coconut, dark chocolate, nuts, fruits and gluten-free flours.
“I thought, ‘What would I want to serve to my kids?’” she said.
For packaging, she started with a round tube for her baking mixes, but realized they were expensive and cumbersome. She settled on a paper bag that was more economical and easier to handle. She consulted with attorneys to learn proper wording for the packaging. She learned about vacuum sealing and how to keep the bag from leaking.
In 2010, Simon began selling four different baking mixes on her website. She worked out of a small space in a commercial kitchen, and when she entered Epicure in Miami Beach in early 2011, began baking two packs of cookies called “go packs” that retailers could keep on countertops. Simon researched how to extend shelf life in preservative-free baked goods, and started packaging treats by the dozen.
In the fall of 2011, Simon moved to a 1,200-square-foot kitchen and became certified organic, kosher and gluten-free. In February 2013, the company moved again to an 8,500-square-foot space that includes kitchen and offices.
Along the way, Simon tweaked recipes to keep the product affordable, to adjust to different ovens, and to meet customer demand for flavors and varieties. But she also tried to remain true to herself.
“I really wanted to be inclusive of the vegan and gluten-free worlds, but I can’t be everywhere. My products are low in sugar, but I’m not a diabetic cookie,” Simon said. “You have to understand what will work for your company. If you go in too many directions, nothing will work.”
Simon developed an eCommerce website and is active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Though others in the company make posts, Simon considers her social media to be very personal. “You can get a strong sense of who I am from the posts. It was important to me to be the real face behind my company,” she said.
The company has 15 in-house employees, including bakers, operations and administrative staff. She has reps around the country to help introduce the product in new markets by visiting retailers and doing in-store demos.
ginnybakes also has given product to include in gift baskets to target populations such as those who eat vegan and gluten-free.
Simon said she worked with public relations consultants, but didn’t see the correlation between media placement and sales. “Next time, I will try it with someone with expertise in the food field,” she said.
About $25,000 was spent in initial capital outlay, for web development, packaging, ingredients and labor. ginnybakes products are sold in Whole Foods, Fresh Market and other natural markets nationwide. She was accepted into Publix in May 2013 and on Amazon.com in June 2013. Simon hopes to hit $3 million in sales by the end of this year. The company became profitable in February 2013.
Knowledge – “I didn’t grow up in this field, and a lot of people in this industry have been in it since their 20s,” Simon said. Supervising employees and learning how to motivate them also were challenges.
Simon is preparing to unroll three new flavors of bars this year. “I have a big line of products, so that’s all I’m concentrating on right now,” she said.
Simon rises at 5:30 a.m., meditates, then does her first check of email. She gets organized, then prepares a big breakfast for her son Kevin. She exercises six days a week, without fail, then heads to the office or out to stores from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
She tries to arrive home before 4 p.m. every day, so that she can be home when Kevin returns from school, and make him a snack. Simon cooks dinner five nights a week.
“I was a very traditional mom who went off in a different direction,” she said. “I had horrible guilt when I first started, because I was spending hours on the computer … But now I feel I’ve shown my sons what a woman and a mom could do.”
Simon does one last email check about 7 p.m.
“I’m trying very hard to establish boundaries,” she said.
“Do it with heart and passion and drive, and realize it’s not always going to be easy and fun.”