by Leslie Maxwell
photographs by Eric Waters
Before 2015, Angie Tucker, 36, and Christin Kubasko, 28, spent their days as Wake County high school guidance counselors. Evenings, they baked.
Using Tucker’s home oven and a standard KitchenAid mixer she’d received as a wedding gift, the duo baked and decorated custom sugar cookies and cookie cakes in Tucker’s home kitchen late into the night. About two years in, Tucker realized their work had doubled her electricity bill, and that the two, calling themselves Southern Sugar Bakery, were doing little besides going to school, baking, and decorating. They were making up to 40 dozen cookies a week.
So when the school year kicked off again last fall, the pair made what Kubasko calls a “leap of faith” and decided not to return to their counseling jobs. Instead, last August, Southern Sugar Bakery, at that point two-and-a-half years old, moved to a dedicated space and began selling its offerings online.
Tucker’s KitchenAid mixer was retired to make way for a floor mixer they nicknamed Betty, and sea salt chocolate chip cookies were added to their offerings, all of which are now made with the help of five full- and part-time workers. In February 2016, the partners appeared on The Today Show, showing host Matt Lauer how to make lemon vanilla roll-out cookies with royal icing in the shapes of New York and North Carolina.
It’s been a fast-track to success. On a shelf under a counter at the Southern Sugar Bakery kitchen are a dozen clear plastic boxes filled with more than 1,000 cookie cutters that provide a visual history of the company’s rapid growth. Each is labeled: holiday, wedding, baby, birthday, alphabet, hobby, animals, and shapes. There are oak leaves and acorns for the City of Oaks. There are custom cutters made for clients with something unusual in mind, like Sir Walter Chevrolet’s Corvette.
Despite the glut of work and the many changes the company has undergone in the last three years, Kubasko and Tucker say their success is in part due to their commitment to detail.
“I don’t ever want the quality of our cookie to go down,” Kubasko says.
A 14-inch Ghiradelli chocolate chip cookie cake always takes five pounds of dough, for instance; a 16-inch needs seven. Each sugar cookie is made to order from all-natural ingredients and decorated by hand – often using a paintbrush. Every order includes a handwritten note from Kubasko and Tucker. “We want our customers to feel special,” Tucker says. “They get cookies for some of the most important events in people’s lives,” Kubasko adds. “We always want to make sure people are happy.”
The company’s finely drawn decorations, which range from monograms to college mascots to hand-painted dog portraits, are its calling card. Kubasko and Tucker share photos of their custom cookies on Instagram and Facebook, earning them hundreds of “likes” – and new customers close to home and far beyond the Triangle. They regularly ship cookies to clients as far away as California, Alaska, Hawaii, and even Australia.
The time they spend making all of those cookies can make them a little punchy. One late night in April of this year, Tucker, Kubasko, and several of their employees found themselves in the kitchen and in need of a break. Their dance routine to Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 had its moment of fame on Instagram and Facebook.
“It’s a job and hard work,” Tucker says, “but we still have fun.” Kubasko agrees: “We just take it one day at a time.”
The two have long been a part of the Raleigh community. Kubasko, who grew up in Raleigh, and Tucker, who grew up in Kinston before moving to Raleigh to attend Meredith College, met when Tucker led a Bible study that Kubasko, then a high school senior, participated in. Years later, when Kubasko, who also attended Meredith, was earning her master’s degree for school counseling, she interned with Tucker at Leesville High.
“Raleigh gave me so much growing up that it’s fun to be a part of it now,” Kubasko says. “The community support we have,” Tucker adds, “is just amazing.”
Aunt Molly’s Scotcheroo Bars
Christin Kubasko shared this “treasured family recipe” for Scotcheroos. “My Aunt Molly makes these for family gatherings,” she says, “and since we all live in different parts of the country, the desserts we enjoy are a tradition, and we can’t go without them.”
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
6 ounces milk chocolate chips
6 ounces butterscotch chips
Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat, and add the peanut butter and the rice cereal and mix until combined. Press the cereal mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan or onto a jelly roll pan (depending on desired thickness). Melt together the chocolate and butterscotch chips, and pour over the cereal mixture. Spread until the mixture is evenly distributed over the bars. Let set until firm; then cut into squares and enjoy!
To see more of Southern Sugar Bakery’s custom projects: