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Starting a Bakery: Spotlight on Katie’s Fine Cookies in St. Petersburg, Florida
It’s easy for the owners and managers of food-based businesses to miss the forest for the trees. When there’s an endless list of supplier invoices and employee problems every day, it can be hard for people to remember why they opened their doors in the first place. However, this internal drive is what propels brands forward and what makes owners like Katie O’Beirne, the founder of Katie’s Fine Cookies excited to get up and go to work in the morning. Follow Katie and her journey of starting a non-traditional bakery in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Katie has had no shortage of problems since she first started baking. However, her internal drive and focus on the big community picture have made her a staple in her city and a favorite vendor amongst local businesses.
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hello. i haven’t done this in a while, so i’ll say hi. i am katie, i’ve been the sole owner of this little business for about three years now. it started as a semi-whimsical art project “idea.” it has provided me with life insight, beauty, purity, trouble, grace, grit, anxiety, courage, euphoric accomplishment, down in the dumps failure, and more. i have learned a lot about operating a very small food/hospitality-based business. i attempt to have brave, loyal, ethical, upfront standards. i aim to give back to local nonprofit chapters, and i try to be lenient to those who cannot afford my product. i admit my shortcomings, and i try to smile at the bummer shit. as for me, i have a background in early childhood education, ceramics, art mediums that are inexpensive and accessible for all, bizarre music. i was raised by a single dad. i like colors. i used to live in nyc in my early twenties, and it aged me approximately 25 years. i like peace and quiet. i like twilight and the sky. i like to keep myself moving, even slowly — running, sometimes climbing, walking, and more. thanks for watching me and supporting me — even when i’m upset, fumbling. or happy and yelling out loud. it means so much to me. #womanowned #woman #womeninbusiness #stpete #stpetersburg #florida #smallbusiness #tampa #tampabay
Meet Katie and her fine cookies
What has become one of the most popular treats in St. Petersburg started off like any other hobbyist or maker brand. Katie O’Beirne’s set up next to other vendors for the first time St. Pete Indie Market along Baum Avenue, about three years ago.
“It was a rainy day and it started off a bit wobbly,” O’Beirne says. “I brought along (all of the ‘experimental nature’) some scones, toffees, galettes, cookies, and jams.”
Since that first booth, O’Beirne has honed her recipes, labeled at countless markets, and grown her business significantly. Today, she supplies fresh products twice weekly to coffee shops, breweries, food halls, and more.
When asked about a few highlights from the past three years, O’Beirne has an impressive list of features:
- She has expanded to cater weddings and other life events.
- She met with ice cream wonder woman Jeni Britton-Bauer (of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams) at a women-owned business luncheon.
- She has been featured by the Tampa Bay Times on her success and growth.
- She has traveled to Europe to get inspiration for new flavors.
- She has connected with one of her favorite musicians and stays in touch with them after sending over a box of cookies.
With a resume like that, you can see that Katie’s Fine Cookies is more than just a baked goods vendor. Restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops across St. Petersburg and Tampa actively seek out her goods in order to complement their menus.
Sweet delights built on a solid brand foundation
It takes more than just a good cookie to stand out in St. Petersburg. Katie’s Fine Cookies has become a symbol in the area, a larger brand beyond just a sweet treat. This is due to how O’Beirne runs her business and what she does with her revenue.
“The cookies serve as an artistic (and hopefully tasty) medium. Something for me to really tinker with, to re-create over and over again, to revive from time to time, and so on. But the cookies are also a ‘token’ for sharing so many more pertinent messages within my community.”
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O’Beirne works to manage her reputation as a woman-owned business and help others when she can. She regularly gives back to local nonprofits in the area and offers discounts to low income or underrepresented communities and students.
“I give back to my community as often as I can, and I aim to be a righteous and honest business owner, every single day.”
O’Beirne has built her cookies on her values and respects every client she works with – from popular restaurants in the area to small-batch markets. You will even see her running around St. Pete dropping off boxes of cookies to fans who ordered a few dozen on Instagram.
Authentic messaging without the hype
To get an idea of how the brand of Katie’s Fine Cookies stands on its own buttery merit, consider how O’Beirne markets her business. Katie’s Fine Cookies has an Instagram page and a website, though her web presence is minimally designed and rarely utilized. She also doesn’t have a linked Facebook page to her Instagram presence.
“I enjoy the idea of building up a loyal, authentic following that seeks me out because they believe in my products and they believe in the business owner,” O’Beirne says. “I actively avoid blasting my brand via paid advertisements or partnerships. Is this counter-intuitive? Probably. However, if you really want to enjoy my business and support me, and if you want to seek me out, you’ll find a way to do so.”
O’Beirne compares her brand to a few “cult pizza places in Brooklyn that barely have a working phone line.”
“My ‘marketing’ skills mainly come from what I have to say, the causes I believe in, and the current health of my business.”
The result is a refreshingly honest social media presence. Fans come for captivating cookie photos but stay for what O’Beirne has to say. Her posts make you feel like you’re talking with a close friend about how her business is doing.
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Coming to terms with being a social media influencer
As O’Beirne continues to grow her cookie following and Instagram fanbase, a few people have noticed her influence in the area. With more than 3,500 followers and an average engagement of 300 likes post, she certainly falls into the category of a micro-influencer. If O’Beirne wanted to promote a brand that she loved or talk about a bad experience in the area, hundreds of people would notice – and many would act on her recommendations. While this doesn’t put her in the same influencer level as say, the next Bachelorette winner, it does give her a certain amount of pull in a city the size of St. Petersburg — something she is grappling with.
“I do not [consider myself an influencer], though I am sincerely flattered if someone believes I am,” O’Beirne says. “I am still trying to figure out my own feelings on this one.”
O’Beirne emphasizes that she has never accepted a paid partnership — though she supports brands and social accounts that do. She continues to focus on her organic, grassroots presence. However, the power of her social media presence isn’t lost on her. She is aware of the impressions and reach that can come from a simple photo uploaded from the comfort of her couch, and what that means for the brands or people she mentions.
Growth based on the big community picture
The reason so many people flock to Katie’s Cookies is because of her honesty, and you can see why she wouldn’t risk damaging that with paid promotions. O’Beirne is just as eager to connect with a customer with a sweet tooth as a fellow restaurant owner or a community leader trying to make a positive impact in the city.
“It is elevating my own relationship to myself — I have a renewed relationship with grit,” she says. “I run my business in a manner that is open-ended, exploratory, experiential, and whimsical.”
The small food business isn’t easy to crack. It only has a five percent success rate over five years. There’s no doubt that O’Beirne will need her community’s support in the next few years. She says that she has already received more than she could ever have imagined — and this is largely in part to how much she gives back already.
“My ‘why’ is this: Because it is mine, because (so far) I have defied many odds, and because I have found a medium to be brave for myself…The artistic token is cookies, but the gusto & messaging behind the cookies is where it all really matters to me.”
When is a cookie more than a sweet treat? A cookie becomes something more when it builds up local community members and gives local business owners the strength to push through bad times. Katie O’Beirne’s cookies (and her Instagram presence) are more than fine, they are part of the glue that holds St. Petersburg together and moves the city toward growth and better days.