St. Louis’ Erica King Is Living the Sweet Life With Her Shorty Mix Gourmet Cookies
click to enlarge
Erica King was walking around Chicago enjoying the summer splendor and eating Garrett popcorn when she realized how much she would miss her adopted home.
Preparing to move to St. Louis, King took stock of everything she would miss: the beautiful months of June, July and August, the scenery, and the sweet and salty taste of this popcorn. She tried to think of another food that captured that flavor perfectly when it hit her, and then it struck her: why not create one yourself?
“I was walking around with my boyfriend and was like, ‘Oh boy, what else is there that has that magical cheddar caramel flavor that I can indulge in when I go?'” King recalls. “I couldn’t think of anything. Popcorn has this crazy mix of different flavors, but then I thought, ‘What if it was in a cookie?’ My friend looked at me like I was crazy. I’m always the one in the friends group who has these crazy ideas, but sometimes these crazy ideas actually work. ”
Looking back, King now sees that the road to the launch of Shorty Mix Gourmet Cookies (www.smgcookies.com) began long before its reveal in Chicago in 2014. Growing up she was incredibly close to her grandmother and has fond memories of she was in her house and smelled the incredible flavors that came from her kitchen as she tried to get Danish shortbread from her signature blue tins – even though she usually comes with it Loose change or sewing supplies were filled and not with sweet treats she was hoping for.
Those memories stayed with her when she went to college and began her career in marketing. Baking was always a source of stress reliever for her, and she returned to the kitchen when she needed to decompress. These culinary skills came in particularly useful when she returned to St. Louis and was unemployed and living at home with her mother. She wasn’t sure what the next step was. She found an old cookbook her grandmother had given her and took it as a sign that she should put her energy into baking. With her mother, brother and neighbors as taste testers, she began researching and developing what would become her brand of biscuits.
“Baking was my salvation at the time,” says King. “I figured I had this idea so now I had to do the real science of it. I started testing and researching and was a perfectionist about the products. My mom and brother were tasters, but I went too around my neighborhood. knocking on people’s doors – I was that weird person who asked them if they wanted to try my cookies, but they loved it. ”
Although King was passionate about baking, she wasn’t quite ready to go all-in, so she put her biscuit business on the back burner. She returned to marketing where she worked for a number of years in a job that she enjoyed, even if she couldn’t get rid of the feeling that something was missing. About two years later, that feeling became too strong for her to ignore.
“I felt so unhappy and felt that there had to be something more,” says King. “I started traveling again – I used every work vacation to go somewhere. Looking back, I see that I was looking for something and wanted something better in life. About a year later I found my grandmother’s cookbook, and then I did it. ” said, ‘OK Grandma. I hear you. I will do it.’ ”
King quit her marketing job and devoted herself to setting up Shorty Mix Gourmet Cookies. King drew on both her grandmother’s influence and her own experiences traveling around the world. He developed several shortbread-based recipes and started building their brand. With the help of the local startup incubator Square One’s business bootcamp and local commissioner and food incubator STL Foodworks, King received the entrepreneurial know-how and guidance to get their business up and running. Now that she has several farmers’ markets and pop-ups with her, she is confident that she is fulfilling her calling: bringing joy to others through delicious food and delighting herself by doing what she loves.
“I’m the kind of person who just likes so many different things – the word ‘cosmopolitan’ applies because I just like so many different things,” says King. “It was difficult for a long time because people said I have to choose one thing that has to do with my life, and I’ve struggled with it for the longest time. With these cookies no one is going to make me choose just one thing I will Creating 500 different flavors – OK, not really, but I like targeting that because it gives me a place to start. ”
King took a break from making her signature shortbreads to share her thoughts on the state of the St. Louis food and beverage community, her passion for travel, and why her grandmother stays a part of everything she does.
What do people not know about you that you wish for?
When I sell my cookies, I feel the pride of my grandmother and my ancestors. My grandmother, Earlie B. King, retired from Lambert St. Louis International Airport as a flight chef and was hailed for her exceptional talent. She also often gave me the last to help me travel to new places that sparked my cookie business concept. Their passion, their skills and their love of food live in me. I feel empowered by the greatest black chefs and bakers in our country to do what I do.
Which daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Morning meditation with essential oils and burning sage. My day just doesn’t feel as focused or comfortable without him.
Who’s Your St. Louis Food Crush?
So many! Oceano, Southern, and Sauce on the side.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Seasoning because there are so many varieties and they add such a bold taste.
If you weren’t in the restaurant business what would you do?
I would be a singer who would travel the world with a band.
As hotel professionals, what do people need to know about what you are going through?
It’s tough right now, but it feels great. I’m used to tough conditions. I was a college graduate during the recession. I am the older millennium who seems to encounter life as everything changes so quickly. As a hospitality startup that wants to grow, I don’t allow myself to move as fast as the rest of the world to be on trend. Moving at my own pace is satisfying because my goal is to learn from today for the future. I want to bring my business to the people in a way that will stay here. People need to know that not all of us ride a wave; We are serious about what we do and want to be part of the community.
What do you miss most about the way you did your job before COVID-19?
I miss people! I miss being able to speak freely to them without a mask, shaking hands and hugging them. I am a sensitive person. Making pop-ups was great for me when I started because I had to watch people take the first bite of my cookies. I was never disappointed when I experienced this with them, and neither was they.
What do you miss the least?
To meet! I don’t miss being invited to countless personal meetings. Meeting from home suits me quite well.
What have you been eating / drinking under stress lately?
My stress eating involves everything quick and drinking all the sugary drinks that come with the combos. Most of the time I cook my own meals, but when I’m stressed all I want to do is have a quick bite to eat. I don’t have to think about it or plan, I just go and get it. The only problem is that I always feel bad afterwards … but apparently I’ll forget that feeling next time!
What do you think will be the biggest change in the hospitality industry when people are allowed to return to normal levels of activity?
I believe the biggest changes will be the way it looks to work, and in return the cost and tradeoffs in compliance. Limiting the levels of contact and points of contact with people will continue to be part of the experience. Currency exchange options for products is one aspect of the new process that shows how technology continues to shape our future. We all need to be tech savvy and have multiple service structures in place so that employees can contact us in the ways that they feel most comfortable and secure with. It will require constant decision making taking into account many factors.
What gives you hope in this crisis?
Conversations about helping small, local, black and minority businesses give me hope. Slowly but surely, these conversations lead to changed behaviors and identities. It’s refreshing to see people feel they have options where to buy and to see more people like me feeling empowered to join the company. The cherry on top sees us as a great business partner.
We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]
- Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get the latest news, activities and restaurants straight to your inbox.
- Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.