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Traditional American Cookies meet Traditional American Tattoos

Posted by Lendy Hensley on

Like many nine-year-old American bakers, my first baking success was The Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. (A little fun thing about me, the yield on my Tollhouse cookies were always mysteriously about half of what the recipe makes, never figured out why.) When we started Bite Society, we wanted cookies to be one of our biggest featured items. We had been making cookies for over 20 years and who doesn’t love a cookie? 

 

First off, cookie research is fun. You do it by discussing, baking and devouring cookies…lots and lots of cookies. We dove into recipe creation with the goal of making cookies that are tasty straight out of the package and that didn’t include preservatives. For our Before Dinner and After Dinner Cookie Collections, we combined elements of Le Sable (a French Shortbread) with flavors from all over America: Pecan, Chocolate, Sesame, Citrus, Chipotle, Ginger…and our killer version of a classic Nilla Wafer.

Katy, Shana and I sat in our backyard brainstorming unique cookie ideas and deciding what to call our cookie collections. Brainstorming got us this list:

The Sweet Collection

-After Dinner

-A grown up cookie

-Cookies for adults & kids

 -Cookies for milk

The Savory Collection

-Before Dinner

-A very grown up cookie

-Cookies for adults

-Cookies not for milk

                                           

We played with “Before 5 Cookies” and “After 5 Cookies”, but if you’ve ever dined with a Spaniard you know that distinction is meaningless.

 

Our tiny test batches of cookies were delicious but we knew our expansive cookie dreams meant we needed to make more than 20 cookies at a time (or ten if I am your baker). That’s when we found Seattle’s cookie cowboy, a man with one name and one purpose: Chiro, the cookie expert.

Chiro recommended a cookie depositor to quicken the process. This large piece of equipment automatically portions out our dough for each cookie and positions the dough balls in straight lines on sheet trays. From there, the cookie sheets go straight into the oven for baking.

It wasn’t easy to wrangle the cookie depositor but Chiro was definitely onto something and he enjoyed supervising our cookie machine’s maiden voyage. With all of the high fives and pride of chefs who have been wrestling a machine for over six hours, Chiro and Bob presented us with our first cookie: An Open Sesame cookie, roughly as large as my head.

 

I wanted to share in their triumph, but confidentially, I faked it. I faked my enthusiasm for the enormous cookie. I said, “This tastes great!” After some congratulatory cookie bites, I gently called out the elephant in the room. “What do you think of the size?” (This cookie might not fit through some doors.) It was a bit of a buzzkill, but Chiro assured me that getting the dough through the machine was step one. Check. Got it. I may not have slept that night.

 

In the end, why would I ever doubt a cookie cowboy? Bob and Chiro dialed in the size, of cookies. Shortly after, we quickly learned that a standard toolbox is actually a required part of the machine, and we were off and running. Commercial cookie making is a lot like cookie recipe creating. You test your batch by snacking on one and declaring it delicious and then it’s entirely focused on the “how”. How do you get people to fall in love with your cookies as opposed to someone else’s? At Bite Society, we use reusable packaging for our American Sables in American flash tattoo artwork. In 2021, that’s cookies for the cool kids.

 

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You....Complete...Me

Posted by Lendy Hensley on

Catering by basket is a little different than catering by tray. I have many memories of slightly tipsy, very tired, sometimes physically soggy (hey, PNW) mothers of the bride thanking me profusely at the end of a long rainy day of wedding and reception. “The salmon was perfect.” “Everyone loved the duck!” and always my favorite: “This was so much better than my niece’s wedding.” When you handed people food or drink, the feedback was universally good and always immediate.

With gift baskets, it takes a little time. It is impossible to build a gift basket and not wonder about the recipient. What will they like most? What will they do with the basket or the tins? Which bites will they share and what will they keep for themselves? Sometimes, I miss knowing their answer.

(Enter a man named Dan)

Dan is a writer and left us a lovely email and review that’s worth sharing:

Incredibly Thoughtful and Delicious Gift Basket

“A very generous and thoughtful client sent me this gift basket to celebrate us working together and it's, to date, one of the best, kindest, and most surprising gifts I've ever received. More importantly (for the sake of this review), it was also the most delicious gift I've ever received. There's not a single item in this gift basket that I found unpalatable. In fact, the item I liked "least" -- the Peach Buds, given I'm not a big fan of peach -- was more delicious than even some of my favorite and typical snacks. As a huge coffee drinker who measures my intake in pots instead of cups, the Ethiopian coffee was rich and smooth. The cookies were buttery and sweet and the nuts were so good that I, admittedly, finished them in a single sitting. There is not a single thing I could complain about after having received this basket, and I'm enormously grateful both to my client and to Bite Society for such a great gift basket. I think I've found the perfect gift for those in my life who are typically hard to shop for, to boot!”

 

fabric thank you so much gift basket

That thoughtful client Dan mentioned was Fabric Inc on our Thank You So Much gift basket. They typically send our baskets along with their branded mug, showing appreciation for all, nationally and internationally. To Dan, we say thank you for taking the time to make our day. I still miss a slightly tipsy mother of the bride but I invite all of the (tipsy or not tipsy) recipients, to drop us a line and let us know what you loved best.

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Our Woman Owned Business

Posted by Lendy Hensley on

October is "Celebrate Women Owned Businesses" Month.

 

At Bite Society, we are crushing this. We are a women owned business. Jessica* asked me to write a bit about what it is like to be a woman business owner. That made me laugh. Katy and Shana, like me, have worked almost exclusively for women owned businesses in our years as grown-ups, so we almost don’t know any other way.

We have occasionally bumped into the real world and quickly scampered back to the one we made.  A couple of years ago, the three of us were hired as consultants for a major tech campus food service program. We took a rideshare to a fancy downtown architect’s office and sat around a big table filled with various project stakeholders (we learned a lot about jargon). The table was impressively large. The view was distracting, and the snacks and complementary beverages were flowing. Back in our shop, the conference room is called the “hidey hole”, everyone has to stand if someone needs to get around the table, and anyone over 5’8” has to duck to enter. We were in a new world.

We brought some good ideas. Bakery adjacent to the loading dock in an alley, on-site craft brewery, something called the Fruit Butcher (that one is Katy’s, don’t use it). We also for the first time ever, had the experience of having some of our dismissed ideas relaunched out of the mouth of a male stakeholder to great interest. Stories like this were all over the news, and yet, the experience was news to us. We also met a super smart engineer who truly judged everyone by his estimation of their brain power (nerd alert, he loved Katy).

We continued to work on the project until our contracts were up. Unlike the two women architects working on the project, we had little to lose at the meeting. No promotions were on the line, we were not up for more projects, we were playing out of bounds, and trying something new. I cannot imagine engaging in a steady stream of those meetings, and it appeared to be second nature for them. In the end, we had the privilege of being back in the Hidey Hole, feeling heard and moving forward on ideas from every part of the room.

I asked Shana what she thought about owning a business, and she delivered in Shana-fashion what I think we all want and wish for:

“As a mother of two young girls, it has become more important than ever before to demonstrate that women can become whatever the eff’ they want to in life. I look forward to the day that being a "woman owned" business isn’t really that big of a deal. Don’t get me wrong….I think it’s fantastic that we are highlighting an entire month to Women in Business, but I’d rather discuss accomplishments as a result of hard work, perseverance, and grit; not conversations of one’s gender.

Change my response if I sound like an asshole.”

Nope. Definitely didn’t change her response. Here at Bite Society, we have grit. We are determined. We clear the entrance to the Hidey Hole with ease (except when Shana wears heels.)

*A word about Jessica. J-Bakes. JB. (Full disclosure, she is married now with a different name, but I am still hanging on.) Jessica handles social media and email marketing in addition to some account management. She is also a fancy culinarian, a former caterer, and disarmingly hilarious. We have photos of two things at Bite Society: Food and Jessica. Sometimes, they are together.

 

 

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Tattoo Artists vs. Branding Company in a Virtual Cage Match

Posted by Lendy Hensley on

In my last post, I told you a little about our history as Seattle catering giants...who got a little crushed in 2020. Cut to our heroes now sitting on the couch in April of 2020, grateful for a year's supply of flour and yeast, but getting a little restless. Even the dog was bored.

The idea of becoming a 300 year old British food company was still rolling around in the back of our collective minds. But how does one start a gift basket and food company with house made products that are wrapped in original artwork while the entire world is shut down? There are probably 300 ways to go about it, but we started in the kitchen testing recipes, dropping off samples with the neighbors and trying a whole lot of food. 

It was hardly a straight line from "Hey, let's do this" to making more than 40 products in the Bite Society line. We tried cookies while working on mustard. We spent a lot of time making fudge. I found a recipe for something called Penuche that is a regional favorite in New England and the South. We didn't know how to pronounce it until Katy's Wakefield, Mass Dad said, "Oh, Pen-ooo-chie." I went pretty deep into the Wellsley College origins of American fudge before we decided to table that product for a bit. (Confidentially, buttermilk fudge is dreamy.)

In addition to tasty products, we needed a direction for our artwork. Packaging was key. We all wanted something that reflected our history, working in kitchens and that was uniquely American. That is where Salty's arm came in. Salty was our kitchen manager at City Catering. If you have an image of a handsome guy, greying at the temples, who rocks a clipboard with a smile until he gets a little bit salty, that is Salty. His tattoos are a travelogue. He has a fantastic hula girl, an owl with the ace of spades wearing a top hat, a dagger and more. He adds another piece on his annual vacation each year.

We wanted to bring American Traditional tattoo art together with our food in packaging that didn't quite exist just yet. We connected with a Seattle branding company, and it started with all of the promise of every first meeting and went a little bit downhill from there. We might have been the most offended when they questioned the authenticity of our lion logo idea. When Shana said, "It's the king of the jungle," I might have busted out laughing. Salty would have never gone for artwork of a wedge of cheese with a dagger that was pitched to us. After a month in, it was time to make the best decision we ever made. We said goodbye to the branders and set off like kids in a fairytale lost in the woods.

On a walk with the dog (how many good ideas start at the end of a dog's leash?), I realized that tattoo shops were closed nationwide and there were a lot of really skillful artists who were out of work. We put ads in Seattle, Portland, New York, and Chicago. We pitched our products and the ideas and artwork started flowing. We fell in love with an artist outside of Portland who just understood us. He loved the lion, he drew the lion, he drew the lion with a monocle and he drew the lion with parted hair. He even drew the lion with a top hat when we asked him to. He worked as tattoo artists work, collaboratively, and with a lot of great ideas. (Note: We skipped all of our ideas and went with his.) Sister Carol's designs were from D Dia Diaspora, a tattoo artist from Utica, New York. Ideas and art poured in, and we were set off on a ride that has been non-stop.

Next Up: Traditional American Cookie meet Traditional American Tattoos


 

 

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The Classic Question: If You Could Do Anything, What Would You Do?

Posted by Lendy Hensley on

Today, a customer popped in to grab a basket for a work gift. He had about 30 seconds to handwrite the card before dashing out the door. As his voice trailed off, he asked, “Can you do corporate holiday gifts?”.  We immediately did a cheerleader pyramid in the form of “Yessirree, Bob!”. (We are talented cheerscapers.)

It occurred to me, while I was making the bottom of the B in Bob, that we don’t always do the best job of telling our own story. Our About Us is snappy and sassy and tells the story in less than 50 words. It doesn’t answer the question, “Why should I trust you with putting together 400 gift baskets for my best customers?” in a way that might make you feel like letting us put together 400 holiday gift baskets for your best customers. Now feels like a good time to explain just how we went from 0 to 60 as both a gift basket company and a retail packaged food company, and why you can trust us to send out your corporate gifts.

Twenty years ago, I started a catering company: City Catering. We got kind of big, kind of quickly. Our first 1,000 person event was in our 3rd month of business. Our first 2,000 person event was in that same month. We marched a steady path up from there. We catered for fancy people in fancy places, opened our own cafes, and generally felt like we had the world by the tail. We also made a lot of tasty food, met some great people, had some hilarious antics with trucks that didn’t fit into loading docks, ovens that didn’t work, fire marshals that did work, and more..so much more.

The year 2020 offered me, us and just about everyone an opportunity to re-imagine their life and their businesses in a new way. We were given a full stop. Our commissary and warehouse that was once teeming with cooks, packers, loaders and servers was empty (except for a ton of flour, yeast and beer). You know that self-help book question, “If you could do anything, what would you do?”? My old answer was, “Yeah, right”. My new answer was, “Hold my 100 pound sack of flour, I have an idea.”

Many years ago,  I fell in love with a 300 year old London company called Fortnum & Mason. At heart, they are caterers with department stores devoted to food. The candy counter is like a jewelry display and the packaging is artful, delightful, and very British. I ordered a hamper as a thank you for a friend who hosted me while I was visiting, and I was inspired. I thought, "Someday, I want to do that". The somedays got a little further away as the catering and cafe business grew. But, then 2020 happened and someday came.

We had a chance to take all that we learned as caterers and dive into something new. We took our recipes, our know how, our incredible logistical experience and turned it into what our fancy copy writer called “Picnics by Post”.

It took us about 9 months and 20 years to put Bite Society together, so I think it will take more than one blog post to tell our story. We kicked our first blog post off with a list of what we did, and in the next few posts I will share a few stories of how we got here.

Next Up: Tattoo Artists defeat Branding Company in Virtual Cage Match

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