Platte City entrepreneur teaches the art of cookie decorating
Not all cookies are created equal. April Kolanchick knows this well. After she pulls her sugar cookies from the oven she stands poised, ready to hand-paint flowers atop the royal icing. Just beyond the counter, the camera is rolling and the spotlight shines. This isn’t your average cookie, or kitchen, for that matter. This dedicated space also serves as a studio, where the founder of Sweet & Saucy Life shares her cookie decorating techniques with the world.
Growing an online business straight from her kitchen in Platte City wasn’t always part of April’s plan. She left her corporate job for extended maternity leave in early 2014, not knowing at the time she’d never return. “After having Miss Scarlett, I really struggled with postpartum and anxiety,” April says. “I eventually told them I wouldn’t be coming back.”
Two weeks later, her husband, Josh, a truck driver, was in a horrible wreck. “He shouldn’t have walked away from it,” she says. “His career was now on the line and I’d just quit my job. We had three kids and a newborn and Christmas was coming up.”
The holidays inspired April to try something she’d never done before. To brighten up the difficult season they found themselves in, their family hosted a Christmas cookie day. “I’d never made a sugar cookie before in my life,” says the Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative member. She bought a tutorial online and browsed blogs and Pinterest for ideas. She soon discovered that the cookie day’s success was only the beginning.
“I’d never thought of making my cookies to sell, but people kept asking,” April says. Word-of-mouth spread until she decided to try. “Miss Scarlett was 2 at this point and her sleep patterns were bad. I wasn’t going to bed until 3 a.m. and then I was back up at 6 a.m. with the kids. That was my life for 7 years. I decided then if I was going to be up until 3 a.m. anyway, I might as well be busy doing something, so I stayed up almost every night fulfilling cookie orders.”
Through social media channels, she began livestreaming behind-the-scenes footage while she was baking and decorating cookies. When people showed interest in learning more, she opened up her home to teach classes. “I kept listening to my follower base and they wanted to learn online, so I opened up what we call the Virtual Cookie Club,” April says. “It’s an online subscription group where I teach a new class every month and you have access to everything I have ever taught.”
The first digital product was what April affectionately calls her little e-book that could. “It has my cut-out sugar cookie recipe and all my tips and tricks on how to bake up the perfect cookie,” she says. “I didn’t know when I first started that there was a difference between a drop sugar cookie and a cut-out sugar cookie. I would bake up one of those Pillsbury tubes and I would be like, ‘This doesn’t look like a reindeer. It looks like a hippo.’ That’s because it’s a completely different recipe.”
New content is added once per week on average. From videos explaining various techniques and topics such as color theory, to demonstrations from start to finish and even discussions for business owners with practical questions, there’s something for everyone.
“We’ve had people who have never picked up a bag of icing or made a cookie and then we’ve had people who have been doing this for 20-plus years and have successful, home-based businesses. It’s a wonderful community,” says April. “They come for the decorating and stay because they’ve made lifelong friends in the group.”
April and her creative team — which includes several family members and the occasional little cookie monster — love working from home. They’re always dreaming of new things they can bring to the table. A monthly subscription box focuses on a specific theme and includes custom cookie cutters and other fun supplies. The Cookie Life Box is a different surprise for recipients every time.
“I always film one tutorial for a specific cookie from each box,” April adds. “One month may feature various sports, sea animals or a sock hop. Another might be vintage themed.”
Another recent endeavor is a seasonal online magazine, called Sweet & Saucy Life. This passion project highlights instructors, cookiers and bakers.
If someone asks about a certain technique that April doesn’t know, she doesn’t shy away from the challenge. “You never stop learning. I’m very transparent that I don’t know everything,” April says, adding she’s not afraid to make mistakes either. “I’ve scraped a cookie a hundred times before and I’m really honest about that and people seem to like that. I’m very clear that if you want perfection, I’m not your girl. But I’m real and if I make a mistake, we’ll figure it out together or else I’ll show you how to hide it,” she says with a laugh.
People are often surprised at the detail and time it requires to craft such intricate, yet edible designs. “Depending on the cookie, it can take hours to completely decorate. The very first time I tried, it took me four hours to paint three cookies.”
Inside April’s classes, viewers can follow along as she highlights the various stages from prep all the way through decorating. She loves teaching fun, alternative styles. And her favorite cookie cutters are the ones that can be used for multiple purposes, oftentimes by flipping around and re-imagining the cookie into something new. “Cookies can be as technical as you want them to be or as simple as throwing some icing and sprinkles on it and having fun,” she adds. “There’s no wrong way.”
Like any creative process, though, there’s always a fair share of trial and error. “People need to remember that it’s art,” she says. “Give yourself permission to learn and make mistakes. If your kids were learning, you’d encourage them to keep trying, and that’s what you need to tell yourself. Be gentle on yourself and don’t forget to have fun. It’s just a cookie. You can always eat the evidence.”
To learn more about April Kolanchick and Sweet & Saucy Life, visit www.sweetandsaucylife.com or www.instagram.com/sweetandsaucylife.
Kaiser is a freelance writer from Hartville.