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Katie O'Beirne talks about growing St. Petersburg-based Katie's Goods from scratch

Katie O\u2019Beirne, owner of small-batch bakery Katie\u2019s Goods in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy Katie O\u2019Beirne.
Katie O\u2019Beirne, owner of small-batch bakery Katie\u2019s Goods in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy Katie O\u2019Beirne.
Published Aug. 24, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG

Katie O'Beirne has had her fingers in a lot of pies. From making galettes, scones and other small-batch pastries for local coffee shops, to installing beamwork at Ichichoro Ane as part of a woodworking apprenticeship, to selling cookies and handmade dish towels at independent markets with her business Katie's Goods, the 30-year-old St. Petersburg native is a modern Renaissance woman.

"I just have all of these interests pulling at me that I can't say 'no' to," she said recently over coffee at Black Crow Coffee Shop.

For the most part, she sells her baked goods at markets around town. But recently, she started packaging her cookies, flavors like salted chocolate Belgian chunk, Dutch cocoa and red velvet, and ginger molasses. (They can be found around St. Petersburg in places like Green Bench Brewing Company and Bandit Coffee Company.)

O'Beirne hasn't always been mixing cookie batter and hand-crimping packaging, though. Her background is in elementary education. After several years of teaching she moved to Brooklyn with "just a cardboard box full of clothes," and worked as a nanny, explored the city and learned to cook from her roommate. Enjoying the connection they established through cooking meals and eating together, O'Beirne brought that idea back when she returned to St. Pete.

That's why her labels, which she individually hand-presses onto her packaging, feature a drawing of her hands. It's why she's made honesty and transparency a prominent feature of her business model and brand. And it's why she still works at markets, where she can meet and connect with the people who are buying her goods.

"I've tried to proceed as fearlessly as I can, always keeping in mind that food is a connector," she said.

She sat down in her childhood neighborhood, St. Petersburg's Old Northeast, to talk about her vision of food, her dedication to authenticity and the importance of setting boundaries as a woman and a business owner.

Where did Katie's Goods start?

Food is something that I fell into after deciding that I need to back away from childcare and education. I was doing something for so long that wasn't necessarily mine, but (with Katie's Goods) I could create something that was mine and that I was proud of, and that was enjoyable for so many reasons.… So I thought, "Okay, I'll apply for my very first indie market." I realized that the food was the connector there, and I really value some type of connection with others and with the community.

When did you decide to switch from pastries to just cookies?

I used to make blood orange scones and toffee bars with lavender and biscuits and muffins and galettes, but what I really found that people loved were these cookies. It's a cozy and relatable and familial experience. Combining the idea of food and connection, I think I found the perfect little token for that.

Throughout the months, people have been reaching out to me to say, "I surprised my fiance with these on our trip to Denver" or "I gave these to my nephew for his first birthday," or "I gave these to my grandma who lives on a rural farm in Odessa." So the connection is sort of radiating outward, and I think that's important.

What do the hands on your label mean?

I literally make everything by myself from hand, but also it's like: me, giving something to the food, and then giving it to you. Call me crazy, but I feel like that matters. I feel like that translates. It's as simple and pure as I can get it. Those are my hands, and I made this for you.

How do you come up with cookie flavors like Earl Grey cardamom shortbread, chai-spiced shortbread, and toasted pecan with clover honey?

I'm working on a coconut clove nutmeg oat golden raisin cookie and I spotted really nice coconut flakes that I wanted to try. I had nutmeg and clove on spice rack, and I thought, "Oh, this would pair well with an oatmeal raisin staple." ... I also like to use as much as I can without being wasteful. I had a surplus of some marmalades and jam that I made, so I just put them in a shortbread. It just starts with one central idea or ingredient that I'd like to explore or something that I have a surplus of.

Where do you get your ingredients?

As much as I would love to buy eggs from my friend who owns chickens, it's just not possible, primarily due to legalities. I do a lot of shopping at wholesale supply stores. I bought a 36-pound box of butter within the last seven days, and I can go through that in a week. I do make a fairly regular run to Publix for some specific, small add-ins. I buy my sea salt flakes at Mazzaro's, and I'm working on a peanut cookie and I buy the crushed peanuts from Rollin' Oats.

What happens when you make a cookie and then decide it doesn't taste good?

Mess-ups happen all the time. This morning, actually, I made a big batch of coconut and oat cookies and I gave them to my friends because my proportions were off. I ask for a lot of honest, genuine feedback from friends, and the waste turns into feedback. I'm willing to try over and over and over again to make sure that something I'm putting out is something I'm very confident in.

You said that you have all of these interests that you can't say "no" to, but has there ever been a time when you have had to say "no"?

I've ultimately said "no" to so many special offers and so many promising offers from folks in the area because I just wanted (Katie's Goods) to be at my tone and my pace and my identity and my authenticity. In saying "no" so many times, I've kind of re-established this lack of worrying because it's mine, and it's on my time. With my brand, and my identity, I've taken it into my own hands and given myself permission to not be worried. It seems complicated. It seems stressful and agonizing and worrisome to start a business. And yes, day to day, it is very challenging. But I'm not worried.

If you had three words to describe your cookies, what would they be?

Genuine, nurturing and delish.

This interview was edited for clarity and length. Contact Carlynn Crosby at carlynncrosby@yahoo.com