Meet Sarah Niesyty — teacher by day, baker and cookie decorator by night. Her Tampa, Florida-based home bakery began when she found herself wanting a last-minute cookie order for an event. She knew she couldn’t order from a baker with such short notice, so she made the cookies herself.
Keep reading to learn more about Sarah and how she’s grown her cookie business.
What do you do outside of Cookies by Sarah?
“I am a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing,” Sarah said. “I work in a public school and support 4th and 5th graders. This is my sixth year doing that. It’s something I enjoy.”
What is the Cookies by Sarah origin story?
“The first time I ever made sugar cookies was in September 2020 for my daughter’s first communion.”
“I wanted cookies and we were only a week out from the event — I knew there was no way I could book someone that last-minute. So, I did what anyone would do… I found recipes on Pinterest.”
“From there, I was always bringing cookies for holidays and for birthdays into school. People asked if I sold them, and I said no. When I moved to Florida, though, I started to sell them. My boyfriend was really the one who gave me the push to start selling. I thought that I might as well, because there was nothing to lose.”
“Right now, I’m focusing on decorated sugar cookies only. I’ve thought about adding other things to my menu, but I know what I’m really good at and don’t have the time yet to expand.”
How would you describe your products in one sentence?
“Delicious custom cookies for any occasion.”
“When I talk about my business, people usually ask what kind of cookies I make. I always point them to my Instagram to show them exactly what I do and what my style is. There are so many cookiers out there, and everyone is different in their own way, so it’s important for me to show my skills to customers.”
What's your favorite way to enjoy your cookies?
“I love my un-frosted, plain sugar cookies with no icing,” Sarah said. “They’re soft and moist. I know that people hate that word, but fresh out of the oven, they’re so buttery and delicious. The icing is great too, when I have extras that are iced — it just adds a little bit of sweetness to the cookies.”
“My daughter and boyfriend always ask if I have extra cookies because they love them too. One thing that I always do is make a ‘smash cookie’ — it’s a cookie in whatever shape the leftover scraps makes, that I bake for myself. Somehow, though, someone else always ends up eating the smash cookie before me!”
Who is another food entrepreneur that you follow and support? What do you love about their business?
“On Instagram, there are a couple of local cookiers that I follow and love to see grow. Cookies n Crumbs Co is a baker based in Florida. Her cookies are phenomenal and I hope to one day be that good,” Sarah said. “The Sugar Lion is another Florida cookier who I really admire. Her cookies are incredible too.”
“I also follow a lot of cookie cutter shops, like Kaleidacuts, and I go and look at them for inspiration. I’m always on Etsy buying new cookie cutters and trying to support small businesses when I can.”
“Of course, I also check out the explore page on Instagram and find new people to follow all the time there.”
What's the best thing about this job?
“My favorite thing about my cookie business is that I am really able to help pull an event together with cookies. Cookies are like the cherry on top of a great event,” Sarah said. “You have decorations and a venue, of course, but cookies that are customized to your theme and your event are just the cherry on top.”
“I enjoy decorating, and when I’m done I like to take pictures of the finished products. And nothing beats when I give someone their order and they’re just blown away. They don’t see the minor flaws that I might see — they see something that is really going to make an event or day special.”
What do you think has been your key to success?
Instagram has been a major driver of Cookies by Sarah’s growth.
“When I moved to Florida, I knew nobody and I grew everything on Instagram,” Sarah said. “All of my orders have come through there and that’s how I’m driving traffic to my store. If you really want to grow locally, search through local hashtags and interact with the people who you want to be your customer.”
“For me, that’s usually moms and people who are getting married. I find local schools, scour their Instagrams, and interact with their followers. Don’t ever buy followers, you want to grow organically. Who would have thought that spending hours on your phone would count as work?
Do you have any marketing tips to share that have worked for your business?
“One thing that I started doing at the beginning of the year is buying props for my pictures. I’m working on improving photo quality for the ‘gram,” Sarah said.
“I’ve joined a few groups on Facebook, like Sugar Cookie Marketing, and I've learned a lot there.”
What advice would you share with food entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
“Just do it. Just start,” Sarah said. “I was so scared of starting my business, and somehow getting something wrong. Even still, sometimes someone will send me an inspiration picture of what they’re looking for in an order and I’ll think to myself ‘that’s above my skill level,’ and then I’m able to make it happen. You can do it. If I can do it, so can you.”