About Cathy & Her Cookies
In January 2012, after moving from Omaha NE to Sarasota FL, Cathy VandeMheen, a former teacher, decided to start a custom cookie hobby business in her home. By June 2013 she opened up a bakery and turned her hobby business into a new career, combining all the things she loves doing: baking, decorating cookies, making edible crafts, working with children and creating fun curriculum activities.
The Cookie Cottage is located in the Sarasota downtown area, in THE HISTORIC DOWNTOWN VILLAGE, one block west of Washington (Hwy 301) and right off Fruitville Road. Each business is in it's own stand-alone cottage. Every 4th Friday all the businesses stay open from 5-9 p.m.
The Road Less Traveled
Cathy's daughter recently wrote this expanded story about Cathy's journey to The Cookie Cottage in Sarasota, Florida...
Stepping foot inside the Florida-based home of Cathy Vande Mheen, one would realize instantaneously that this unique, rambunctious woman has a very particular passion, not a past life on the opposite end of the spectrum. The first thing one might notice is the flour lightly dusting her granite countertops, or maybe a second glance is taken and the realization sets in of the scattered mixing bowls that are glazed with colored frosting. No matter where someone would turn or what kind of presumptions one would have, you can easily tell, through in and through out, that Cathy is a cookie connoisseur with a knack for decorating.
This brings us to the next topic: What kind of secret past does this woman have? For starters, it was one known to many but most likely never assumed by a stranger. It required patience, planning, and careful execution so as not to harm someone’s future. It was intricate work with tiring days and late nights. It was, as you may have guessed, a life of teaching.
Leading up to the creative frenzy of the baking life that Cathy now lives, she began the slow process that eventually got her to today. Back when she was deciding of what and who she wanted to become, never in her wildest dreams was she an owner of a cookie company. In fact, her ultimate goal was to become a teacher, something she achieved very early on in life. She made the executive decision as a second grader, mainly because of how nice her teacher had been, and stuck to the plan. It probably helped that the majority of her family was in the educational field as well, which ultimately pushed her in that direction.
Back in 2004, after years of being in the classroom, Cathy decided the school setting wasn’t suiting her wants and needs, so she started looking elsewhere for teaching jobs. Stumbling upon a very unique job, much like herself, she knew it was an offer she couldn’t
refuse. The pay wasn’t the greatest, but how do you turn down a job at the Henry Doorly Zoo? You don’t, Cathy realized. She became the Camp Coordinator there for awhile, and would write curriculum for different programs in her spare time. Although Cathy had always been interested in baking, especially once her children were born, this was a crucial year for her. She took her first cookie decorating class, and that ultimately revved her up for the future. All she wanted to do from that point forward was teach kids how to decorate cookies. Luckily, being the camp coordinator, she was given the opportunity to make thematic cookies for birthday parties the zoo would host. Cathy absolutely loved it, but when the time came to move on to bigger and better things, cookie decorating still wasn’t on the list of potential careers, that is, until 2011 came along.
It all started out one day a few years ago as Cathy was headed to Florida for vacation. Being the talkative woman that she is, she struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to her on the airplane, who happened to be going to meet her Realtor boyfriend down in Siesta Key, the final destination. The two got to discussing how great Florida was and eventually the conversation got Cathy to thinking. She realized there was so much more to life and went out
on a limb, deciding to move to Florida with the help of her new realtor friend. From there, she attained her license to bake out of her home, and her new journey began with her first customer and friend. From there, she began the strenuous path down the road to the Cookie Cottage.
Taking a look back at Cathy’s kitchen and lifestyle, you would have never known that she was once a very calm, cool, and collected teacher. She definitely has the capabilities, but the cookie business is a very messy, fast-paced industry that she is single-handedly trying
to dominate. This got me to wondering just how successful Florida was panning out to be. According to her, everything seems to be coming along quite nicely, contrary to what I believed. “The particular area I live in is booming with visitors. In fact, Siesta Key reported their best year ever in tourism.” Although walk-by traffic helps tremendously, it’s not enough to keep her head above water. For this reason, Cathy had to make a strong customer base, which is exactly what she did.
Today, I now stand in the kitchen of a locally renowned cookie decorator in the Siesta Key, Florida area. Business is really starting to pick up, mostly from the friendly faces around town and word of mouth from networking groups. Cathy can only hope that once her actual business, The Cookie Cottage, is opened by the end of the month, employees will be needed to help out with the rush of new clientele. Seeing as we’ve all been students, I’m sure everyone is
pretty aware that a teacher has to wake up early, teach all day, stay after to help students, and ultimately take their work home with them. It is a very tiring job with long hours, but worth it
in the eyes of a growing child. You’d think Cathy would have traded up in the aspect of less hours and less work, but as we all know, the cookies can’t make themselves. 6 a.m. wake up call, prepare cooking utensils, grab a cup of coffee, spend the day rolling and cutting out cookies, prepare frosting, clean up, get ready for the next day, done by 4. Just listening to the long days she has when baking stressed me out, so I asked how she handled it all. “It’s funny because I’ve always handled stress by baking. It helps me to concentrate, and sometimes it just helps me to stop thinking about everything else.”
Cathy has lived an adventurous life, but the real adventure is only beginning. As you can see from the two lives this remarkable woman has experienced, sometimes people are destined for greater things in their life than what they originally set out to do. Thankfully my mother, Cathy Vande Mheen, is one of the lucky few that was given the chance and is now making her way down that path.