Kathleens Cookies readies for opening in Brighton

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It’s just days before Kathleen McKay hopes to open the doors to her first retail location in Brighton and the workers on site to install her phone service can’t do it. The service order hadn’t found its way to them yet.

Calls are made and the workers promise to return. McKay takes it in stride.

She’s just back from a trip buying European-style tableware and entertaining items, as well as other wonderfully beautiful and eclectic products to sell in the store.

It’s been a whirlwind four weeks.

Kathleens Cookies, for those not yet familiar, are wonderful baked works of art, packaged to match. McKay’s mostly specialized in corporate gifting, starting slowly, working in her home.

Then, things started happening, great things for the entrepreneur who, as an interior designer, found herself struggling with the all-too-familiar story of Michigan’s economic collapse.

When it came time to reinvent herself, she turned to her roots.

McKay hails from a long line of bakers. Baking, one might say, is in her blood. She was a fourth grader when she won a cake-decorating contest at Henry Ford Greenfield Village. At 22, she made her mother’s wedding cake. When she had children, her home became the hot-cocoa-and-cookies headquarters of her neighborhood.

Then, her life began to change. Her daughter was seriously injured in a car accident eight years ago; she got divorced five years ago; and her employment situation soured when Michigan’s economy collapsed.

She took a deep breath, took stock of her talents and decided she could make a living doing what she loved.

She began to bake — with a purpose and a plan.

“If you’re desperate enough, survival mode kicks in,” McKay said. “You have to have a sense of tenacity about your life.”

So began Kathleens Cookies.

McKay studied and planned, and reached out for knowledge, help and inspiration. She surrounded herself with people whose energy and knowledge inspire and help her.

She especially likes working with younger people: “They’re so raw, creatively,” she said. A friend of her son’s, Kevin Bertram, designed her distinctive logo and built her website; Chris Didyk, a student in Schoolcraft College’s acclaimed culinary arts program, is baking with her. Her son, Kevin McKay, plans to play the violin at her grand opening.

Her cookies were a part of the recent Wine for the Spirit fundraiser at the Detroit Institute of Arts, benefitting the Oakwood Hospital Foundation. She also supplied the “Clays for Kids” fundraiser of the Detroit Gun Club to benefit the Center for Exceptional Families. She took on some new corporate clients.

Things started snowballing. McKay found herself with so much work that she needed to find a commercial kitchen in which to bake — FAST!

“All the connections fell into place,” she said.

McKay found the perfect location in the former Cookies by Design store on Grand River Avenue, east of Old U.S. 23, by Kroger.

That was four short weeks ago, four weeks jammed with planning and painting and permits and purchasing, details large and small. Not getting her phones installed when she expected was but a small bump in the fast lane to the finish line: her grand opening.

“It’s all about God’s grace,” McKay said.

The store combines her two loves: interior design and baking, and it is lovely, decked out in Kathleens Cookies signature chocolate-and-blue. When it’s ready for customers, there will be a couple tables for those wanting to have a cup of coffee and a cookie or two. One of the displays for the items she’ll carry used to be in her home; it’s been refashioned for her new store and this exciting new phase of her life.

McKay plans to start a new tradition, harkening back to when her children were small.

“I’m going to have happy hour twice a week,” she said. “But only for people under 18.”

At Kathleens Cookies, happy hour will be right after school, featuring cookies and hot chocolate.

Taking the next step in growing her business and opening this store is a huge commitment and undertaking, but McKay takes it all in stride.

“Every day I wake up scared,” she said. “But I keep putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Before you know it, it’s like I finished a marathon.”

McKay offers some advice to other entrepreneurs.

“If you follow through on your gut instincts, people will come forward to help,” she said. “My story is no different than that of Michigan’s. There’s a creative wealth in Michigan. We’ve fallen to our knees and we have to get back up again and recreate it.”

The mistakes most people make, McKay says, is that they quit just before they reach the finish line, and that they don’t open themselves up to receive help.

“One person changed the whole direction of my business,” she said.

In the back of her shop sits the biggest mixer either of us has ever seen. The Kitchenaid mixer she used exclusively before sits on a shelf.

She laughs.

“My old one looks like a Barbie mixer, doesn’t it?” she says.

As she straddles the chasm between home business and retail outlet, that big mixer stands out like an entrepreneurial talisman, a symbol of the move McKay is making.

For more information on Kathleens Cookies, check out the website by clicking here.

You can also check out the Kathleens Cookies Facebook page by clicking here.

About Maria Stuart 211 Articles

Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.