BY TERESA HAMMOND

Photo contributed
Sweet Pea Cookie Co. and sugar cookie artist,
Gina Black works on the piping of a cookie. Black recently started the cottage business from her Oakdale home after close to two decades of making the cookies for friends and family.

Gina Black has found her passion.

The wife, mother and former Stanislaus County employee officially quit her day job and found a way to turn a longtime hobby into a business. During the fall of 2018 Black launched her business, Sweet Pea Cookie Company.

“I’m one of those moms that everything has to be a theme,” she said of her early days as a mother, throwing parties for her daughter Skyler Murphree. “I started doing sugar cookies as place cards and it always matched the theme. That’s how I started, about 19 years ago.”

Black’s cookies, however, are not simple sugar cookies with basic frosting, they are works of art. Each cookie is not only made by Black but frosted and hand painted as well.

“It’s something that I kind of fell into,” the cookie enthusiast said of her business. “It’s something I never thought I would do full time — ever.”

The workmanship, not to mention tastiness of her cookies, quickly found her making them for parties of family members and friends. She stated that demand spread early on, yet she was cautious to keep her skill to those she knew and baked on her off days.

“It’s a recipe I found online and I kind of tweaked it, but it’s a basic sugar cookie,” she said of the base for her artwork. “I’ve never strayed from it. Nobody’s complained and I think if I did, I would get complaints.”

She added that initially, “It was just a little side thing,” making cookies for her direct circle.

Recognizing both her skill, as well as her passion, Black and her husband put together a two-year plan to enable her to transition the business from hobby to an income. A timeframe she shared that came up quite quickly.

In late spring of last year, her husband came home one day and suggested she give her two-week notice and get the ball rolling for the business.

Photo contributed
Black sets no limits on the creations she can make for customers. Each and every creation is made by the business owner personally from scratch, a process which takes approximately three days per order.

Her designs are a collaboration between a client request and clip art she finds online. Communicating primarily through messenger and e-mail, Black is able to offer mock ups of what the client is looking for by way of the cookie design. Once the design is approved she uses a projector to superimpose the image onto the cookie.

“It’s all hand piped or I paint it,” she said. “It takes a long time. It’s almost like an assembly line process.”

The process takes a total of three days from beginning to end to complete an order. The baker works solo on every single order. A fact she shared which is primarily due not only to her pride in her work, but her attention to detail and perfection.

“Everything I’ve done with this I’ve researched online,” she said of building the business, as well as her craft. “Pinterest has been great.”

Currently her business is mostly through word of mouth and social media. While business is steady, a consistent cookie base of 200 ordered per week would be the most ideal for the businesswoman.

As for the business name, Black confided that her intent was to stay away from the trend of using her own name.

“Sweet Pea is my daughter,” she noted. “She’s my sweet pea; she’s been sweet pea since she was a baby.”

And her daughter contributed to the business in other ways as well.

“She actually did my logo for me,” Black said proudly. “She’s a great artist.”

Not all projects are easy however, yet the artist doesn’t shy away from a challenge. In fact she embraces new ideas brought to her by clients.

“I love it,” she said of the business. “I’m a glutton for punishment sometimes but it’s a labor of love. I absolutely love it. I hope that never changes. The reaction I get from customers that love them so much, it makes it worth it.”

As for the career change and the impact it’s had on her life now as an empty nester, Black shared she could not be more thrilled.

“It never dawned on me and no one ever told me, figure out what you absolutely love to do and find a way to make money doing it, because it will never be work,” she said. “It’ll be your job, but it won’t be work. I wish I’d have known that back then, even back in high school.”