By Staci Soslowitz
Photos by Maureen Tricase/Capture Your Memories
As you enter into this little bakeshop in Downtown Syracuse, you are greeted with the delightful smell of freshly baked cookies. Pink and lime green walls surround the space with cookie-centric decals, including a quote from the famous Cookie Monster. Neatly wrapped cookies are organized and on display for all to enjoy. These cookies, made by Cathy Pemberton of Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen, have become a staple of Syracuse, especially when it comes to baked goods.
After working for the Syracuse City School District, Cathy Pemberton she wanted to do something on her own, something that she was passionate about. She settled on baking and ultimately chose to bake and sell cookies. For 15 to 18 hours a day, Cathy worked simultaneously in the school and on building the business. Using a single wall oven, she baked 400 cookies a day, but only a dozen at a time.
Trying to start a business as a woman is a challenge in itself. In her own opinion, the best way to start your own business is to do something you love doing.
“Don’t do something because it will make you money, do something you enjoy because you’re going to be doing it night and day,” Pemberton said.
She had to overcome a lot of negative feedback.
“You have to overcome a lot of patronizing, condescending comments, like, ‘She doesn’t really know what she’s talking
about,’ kind of attitude,” she said. You have to also be comfortable going out of your comfort zone to make important phone calls, ask questions and ask for help.
While being a single mother and working a full-time job was a challenge for Pemberton, she also had to focus on financing her business, getting licenses and permits and baking dozens of cookies a day. Pemberton enlisted the help of some organizations downtown like WISE, the Small Business Development Center and the Small Business Association. Other than their help with the process, Pemberton ran the business all on her own.
“I called everybody for money and financing, I read everything I could get my hands on. I researched everything,” she said.
She’d sell the cookies at different festivals, like the Downtown Syracuse Arts and Crafts Festival, Beer Festival and Jazz Fest. As her cookies generated more buzz, other local businesses, like Peppino’s Neapolitan, became interested in buying the cookies wholesale. Once she established enough accounts, Pemberton decided it was time to look for a larger kitchen to work in.
Right at home
Finding a location for a commercial kitchen wasn’t easy either. She worked out of a church kitchen for a while until she settled in her storefront on West Jefferson Street.
“It just made sense that if I was going to have a commercial kitchen to open a little storefront,” said Pemberton.
Pemberton bakes 50 to 70 dozen fresh cookies daily including flavors like S’mores, Milkyway, and caramel pretzel. Not only does she make these decadent cookies, but she also makes a variety of gluten-free, keto and vegan products as well, which are extremely popular.
“Every time we put them out, they sell out!” she said.
A lot of Pemberton’s business also comes from Syracuse University parents looking to send something yummy to their kids. She offers a wide range of care packages, as well as an “SU Cookie Club” where she sends the student a monthly package throughout the semester. Parents can select items like cookie cakes, Rice Krispie treats, cupcakes and even edible cookie dough.
Cookies for a cause
Pemberton’s business goes even further beyond wholesale and care packages. She donates cookies or gift certificates to a variety of local organizations throughout the year. In the past, she has worked with MOST for their Savoring Science and TAP events, and the March of Dimes’ Farm to Table event. Additionally, Pemberton has had proceeds of her daily purchases go towards McMahon Ryan House, the CNY Diaper Bank, and Helping Hounds Dog Rescue.
Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen has grown a lot in its six years of business. She’s established relationships with other businesses and organizations, cemented her business in the form of a store and gave back to her community. In the future, Pemberton hopes her business will continue to grow both in size and profits. She recently received her Woman-Owned Business Enterprise certification from New York state, the only bakery in Syracuse to receive the designation, and she’s already begun working on plans to expand her store either into another location, or reconfiguring her space to make it more efficient.
The best thing about owning her own business, Pemberton said, is the freedom and the joys of success.
“There’s definitely an appreciation when you get to a certain level and see your ideas come to life,” she said. “Saying, ‘I did that’ is a cool feeling.”
Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen is located on 266 West Jefferson Street in Armory Square. They are open noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. For delivery, visit www.cathyscookiedelivery.com/