Semester I Special: English teacher decorates sweets, owns tracycakes

[media-credit name=”courtesy Tracey Harman” align=”alignright” width=”225″] English teacher Tracy Harmon elaborately ices sugar cookies.

by Hilary Brumberg

“I really don’t like to bake,” said special education and English teacher Tracy Harmon ’91, who is the owner of tracycakes, a home-based bakery in Framingham.

“I like to decorate cookies, cake pops and cupcakes,” she said. “Baking doesn’t come intuitively for me because it is pretty precise and formulaic. It goes against my creative, artistic nature.”

Harmon explained that tracycakes “started like any mom baking business. I made stuff for my kids’ birthdays, and people kept asking me, ‘Can you make stuff for my birthday?’ Then, people suggested I start selling it.”

During the summer of 2011, Harmon decided to focus on tracycakes instead of teaching summer school. She sold her decorated baked goods to friends and family, setup up a website and created Flickr and Facebook accounts to post pictures.

Since then, Harmon takes on about one order each week during the school year and more during the summer.

Although tracycakes offers cupcakes and cake pops, the small business specializes in cookies. Harmon offers five shortbread-based flavors: lemon, orange, chocolate, almond and vanilla bean.

She charges three to five dollars per cookie, with a minimum order of a dozen, depending on the size of the cookies and the number of colors and details of the decoration.

Although most of her orders are from local family and friends, Harmon occasionally makes cookies for people who do not live in the Boston area. In those cases, the cookies must be individually bubble wrapped and shipped, which “can get really expensive,” she said.

Harmon said that although there is a high demand for her intricately decorated cookies, she decided to keep her baking as a hobby and not as a highly profitable business. “I try to keep a rule that I do not take and keep orders that will be stressful and I will not enjoy,” she said.

A local store asked Harmon to make novelty cookies to sell at the store. However, she explained that with the retail opportunity comes “a whole legal side, including getting licensed and insured, that I don’t want to get into,” so she turned the offer down.

Harmon is also currently in contract negotiations with a department store, whose name she cannot disclose, to make cookies for product launch parties. Although it would be “really good advertising,” she wants to make sure that the company understands that orders “can’t be bigger than what I can realistically manage.

“They can’t call me in the middle of the month when I am teaching and expect me to drop everything,” she said.

With the current size of the tracycakes business, Harmon can manage her own finances by keeping all of her receipts and giving customers invoices. “Most of the money goes back into the business anyway because it’s a hobby and not meant to be profitable,” she said.

In order to have such a profitable cookie business, Harmon constantly expands her cookie decorating and baking repertoire. She learns techniques online from blogs and videos. “You can find anything on the Internet these days,” she said.

Harmon has hundreds of cookie cutters, which she keeps in containers labeled based on the type of shape. “My cookie cutters are out of control. The problem with a home-based business is that the materials start to take over your house.”

Harmon said that one of the strangest orders she had was for cookies that look like Bridgit Mendler, who plays Teddy on the Disney television show “Good Luck Charlie.”

“I’m not good at making cookies look like people,” Harmon said. “They turned out like scary blonde ladies, but the nine-year-olds were happy with it. Having a plate of many Bridgit Mendlers looking up at me for a couple days was kind of creepy.”

The cookies were for Connections director Jodie Whidden’s daughter’s ninth birthday party. Widden said the “cookies were delicious, and my daughter was very happy with the cookies.”

Jen Vereker ’92, who has known Harmon since they attended this school, hired Harmon in July to make New York Yankees cookies for her boyfriend’s birthday, though they “slipped in some Red Sox ones for fun,” according to Harmon.

Vereker, the owner of Vereker Designs, said she chose tracycakes to make her cookies instead of a larger business because she, too, is a small business owner. “I do whatever I can to support the other local, small businesses. I believe it is crucial for our disastrous economy, and it’s good karma.”

Additionally, “Tracy takes pride in what she does, unlike most major corporations who wouldn’t be too concerned if you were less than happy with your purchase.”

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