Husband and wife duo Jenna Park and Mark Sopchak run a successful pastry business that has required them to bring forth their two sharpest skills: culinary arts and graphic design. With fourteen years of experience between the both of them, they dropped their previous jobs to pursue a company that would turn out to be a success story. We sat down to chat with Jenna Park on Whimsey & Spice’s humble beginnings, the trials and triumphs of working with a significant other, and imperative baking essentials.
How did the idea of Whimsy & Spice come about?
Jenna Park: We started our business almost 5 years ago in 2008 when an opportunity presented itself one day in the form of a sudden unemployment situation. We were on a very short timeline because we wanted to debut our business at the very first Brooklyn Flea, so we had only 2 months to get our product line ready and branding and packaging designed. We tossed around a few ideas including ice cream, but we chose to focus on cookies because it required less upfront investment. We didn’t know much about running a business then, but we learned that between the two of us and our years working as a pastry chef and a graphic designer, we had all the skills and experience to get the company up and running in a short amount of time.
Tell us about the products you offer.
JP: We make cookies, marshmallows, and other baked goods, often incorporating spices into our recipes. Mark has always experimented with spices in his desserts while he was working as a Pastry Chef in restaurants in N.Y., so it was a natural progression to add spices and other interesting flavor combinations to cookies and marshmallows as we brainstormed product ideas.
Who is behind the culinary creations?
JP: Mark is the baker, but we do often come up with product ideas together. Sometimes he’ll try experimenting with coming up with a cookie from a dessert he’s made in the past. Other times I’ll have suggestions for flavor combinations, or sometimes we can be inspired by a single spice or herb and we’ll slowly add other flavors that we think will compliment it. After the initial idea, it’s a lot of trial and error to get the balance of flavors right.
Are Whimsy & Spice products made with local ingredients?
JP: We use local ingredients whenever we can—the espresso for our brownies come from Crop to Cup, a local roaster, and the beer for our seasonal stout marshmallows are from Brooklyn Brewery.
What are some of the challenges of running a tight-knit husband-and-wife business?
JP: Clear, honest communication and being open to constructive criticism without any emotions (or trying to anyway!) is key, but inevitably emotions can get in the way from time to time. It’s also much harder to leave your job at the office when you’re a small business owner so it’s a challenge to keep family and business life separate when the boundaries are so blurred.
JP: You have to be comfortable with a certain level of risk when you’re an entrepreneur, but the hard part wasn’t the beginning when we first made that leap. The hard part for us was years later when we were more established. You have to keep working hard to stay relevant, to keep up with growing competition, and to grow in a way that makes sense for your business. We’ve learned that being an entrepreneur means to always stay on your toes and learn to adapt with the changing nature of business. I think this is one of the keys to survival.
Baking essentials include…
JP: …butter, flour, sugar, precision, dedication…and a love of repetition (for mass baking, that is).
By popular demand, top three Whimsy & Spice products?
- Hazelnut Whisky Sandwich Cookies
- Massaman Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie
What’s next for the company?
JP: We’re hoping to get our products into more retail outlets around the city and expanding our product line beyond cookies and confections.
Where can Whimsy & Spice products be found?
JP: We sell online through our website http://www.whimsyandspice.com and at various retailers around N.Y.C., including Dean & Deluca, The Plaza Food Hall and Foragers Market.