Something sweet: Russellville baker finds joy in cake and cookie creation
When her son Rhett was about to turn 1 year old in 2015, Aymee Gandy began planning a massive birthday celebration. The 37-year-old knew she wanted to go all out, but when it came to the cake, she started seeing dollar signs. With the expense of a large cake proving prohibitive, but her vision for the “Rhett in One-derland” cake clear in her mind, the lifelong home baker had a revelation. “I decided, ‘I think I can do that.’”
The surge of confidence resulted in a cake that Gandy said self-deprecatingly “tasted fabulous but looked horrible – but I loved it. It was so much fun.” Far from being discouraged by that first partial flop, Gandy said the birthday cake ignited a passion, and her journey began – down sugar street, to her now-booming home-based bakery, Sugar Street Sweets.
With a Facebook page boasting 1,500 fans, Gandy receives cascades of orders to keep the bakery busy. Her early passion transitioned into a business as friends and family praised her sweet treats. “I would see a recipe or a design and think, ‘I want to see if I can do that.’” Successful experiments would find their way into the hands of neighbors, family and friends. “Everybody said, ‘You have got to start selling what you do.’”
Emboldened by that success and encouragement, Gandy began researching the logistics for selling her sweets. That’s when she found Alabama’s Cottage Food Law, established in 2014, which provides guidance and information for cottage food entrepreneurs. The law allows people to produce and sell certain foods in their homes for sale to other individuals, as opposed to restaurants, novelty shops or grocery stores. With training and certification, cottage law producers are cleared by the state to sell items like candy, jams and jellies, dried herbs and, of course, delicious baked treats.
For Gandy, who is often the primary caretaker for her young son, as her husband Brandon works on the road, being a home-based baker jives well with her responsibilities as mother and homemaker. “I love that I have the flexibility to make my own schedule. I can take him to school, work all day, pick him up and then have time for him,” she said. While she doesn’t consider her confectionary a career, it’s become a profitable venture, and “it’s just something I love to do.”
The Russellville native creates cakes, of course, but her true passion is decorated cookies, which she added to her repertoire a couple years ago, amassing cookie cutters and other supplies to create an ample variety in all themes. “Once I started those, I fell in love,” she said. Gourmet cupcakes and macarons are also among her offerings.
Gandy isn’t the only one in love with her creations, which have continued to draw the praise she first garnered from friends and family before her business began.
“I saw someone post her cookies on Facebook and knew I had to have them,” said Shannon Gray Baker, a long-time repeat customer. “I asked for her info, and the rest was history. I have used her for almost four years now.” Baker said as an artist herself, she always has specific visions in her head of the treats she wants Gandy to create. “Aymee’s work is perfection. She does such a great job with her designs. I throw semi-elaborate celebrations for my daughters’ birthdays, and she never fails to deliver excellence.” Baker has put Gandy up to the task of unique creations like purrmaid – cat mermaid – cookies. “I give her very specific instructions, pulling ideas and designs from a multitude of places, and she always follows them to a T!”
Gandy said hearing her customers’ delight in her creations is one of the things she loves most about baking to sell. “It makes my day to know I made something with my hands that they love,” she said.
Like Baker, many customers come to Gandy with a specific order, and she’s had the opportunity to bring a number of themes to life. She said she loves doing characters, but she especially enjoys out-of-the-box requests that allow her to stretch her skills and creativity.
The week of Christmas found her churning out more than 2,000 cookies – some of them as decorator kits families could buy and decorate themselves. In an average week, she might fill several orders, requiring eight to 12 dozen cookies a week. Two or three cakes per week is also average, for about 30-40 hours a week spent in her baking biz.
“Her cakes are so tasty,” said another repeat customer, Lacy Graham. Graham described Gandy’s cakes as providing “the perfect amount of sweetness” and said they are “so moist and the icing so creamy – probably the best icing I’ve tasted.” Graham has ordered her son’s first birthday smash cake, as well as cookies and other birthday cakes, from Sugar Street Sweets. “Aymee is great. She’s so incredibly sweet and the easiest to work with.”
Renee Francisco is another return customer. “She has made me so many birthday cakes as well as cupcakes and cookies. She is my go-to when I need a birthday cake or cookies,” Francisco said. “I love her work. When I send her ideas of what I’m looking for, she always goes above and beyond my expectations. Everything she has made for me has been beautiful.”
“I absolutely love her treats,” agreed Lariza Delgado. “I have ordered cookies and cakes. I love that I give her ideas and based on those ideas she created absolutely stunning treats. The cookies and cakes are not just beautiful; they are tasty as well, with the right amount of sweetness.”
Francisco said her favorite among Gandy’s cakes is red velvet. Gandy’s own favorites are strawberry and German chocolate cakes, and her orange creamsicle cupcakes and strawberry milkshake cupcakes are two other customer favorites.
In addition to the positive feedback she gets from customers, Gandy said she often relies on fellow bakers for support. Some of them have come together as a “baking club” and will refer customers to each other if one is booked, or if the request isn’t as much in her wheelhouse. “I’ve met so many nice people,” Gandy said.
Cake- and cookie-lovers aren’t Gandy’s only fans. Gandy said husband Brandon, her high school sweetheart at Russellville High, supports everything she does, lavishing praise on her baking. “He and Rhett are my world.”
Although some customers have encouraged Gandy to go all in on the bakery and open a storefront, she said she is happy with her business as it is now, with the current workload and the way it allows her to keep her focus on parenting. “I don’t want to think of it as work. I want to think of it as fun,” said Gandy, adding that she appreciates the ability to take her time, working meticulously to fashion the perfect treat and “make other people smile, especially during times like these.”