Catching up with Cookie Queen, Luane Kohnke
In December 2011 we did a post on Luane Kohnke, R/GA’s Managing Director of Analytics by day and cookbook author and baker by night.
Guess what? All the plans Luane discussed for her cookie [ad]venture have come true! Luane, in partnership with Urban Horizon Kitchen in the Bronx is now baking her delicious cookies and gluten-free cookies for retailers, corporate functions and gifts! She published a second cookbook this September, Sassy Cookies. And, in case you were wondering how she gets it all done, is now splitting her time between R/GA and her growing business.
I love to see people with great ideas, passion and honest effort succeed, don’t you?! Here’s what happened when we chatted with Luane recently. Timely too, since the high season for cookies is right around the corner!
JS: Catch us up. When did you start baking as a wholesaler? What’s your current production? What local stores carry your cookies?
LK: I started baking around February of 2012 at Hot Bread Kitchen Incubates. HBK Incubates runs a program for women and minority start-ups like my business. HBK runs its own bread bakery production in the same facility as the incubation space. This was not a great environment for gluten-free baking because of the possibility of cross-contamination due to flour in the air and in shared work spaces, so, in August of 2012, I moved to WHEDCo/Urban Horizons Kitchen in the Bronx. Urban Horizons is super-clean and has a much better environment for baking gluten-free cookies. My current production is still relatively small, but I am making progress on expanding my distribution into retail outlets.
JS: How did Sassy Cookies come to life? It’s full of eclectic recipes with unusual combinations of ingredients. How did you come up with the idea?
LK: Sassy Cookies is a reflection of my constant experimentation with new flavors and flavor combinations. I get inspired by many things – from reading articles about spices and foods to simply enjoying something new at a restaurant, or talking to friends about their food experiences. Although I own hundreds of cookbooks, mostly I am inspired by a single flavor or an ingredient. The next thing you’ll hear me say is “I want to make a cookie with…” and that is how it starts. Next I will be in the kitchen making a cookie with saffron or lavender or green tea, or recreating the flavor of a coconut-curry-chocolate-bar in the form of a cookie.
Sassy Cookies is the culmination of at least forty of those quests to bring to life a new sweet, savory, or spicy idea. It contains an in-depth exploration of chocolate, fruits, nuts, herbs, and cheese. It includes inspirations from Latin America, Europe, and Asia. I also created eight gluten-free cookies as well, so that those with gluten sensitivities can enjoy the pleasure of new flavor treats.
JS: When did you decide to move to a part-time schedule with R/GA? What considerations (income and otherwise) led to your decision and how did you broker it with the agency?
LK: I initially reduced my hours to 40 per week, which at an agency is a feat. I was successful at getting them down to 45 per week, but that still wasn’t giving me enough time for my business. So I basically back-filled my position as Head of Global Analytics, last October, after an extensive search. I did a four-month transition with my replacement, and then I was ready to leave.
R/GA is a terrific place to work. As I was preparing to exit, they asked me if I wanted to work part-time, and since I was planning to freelance 20 hours a week anyway, I said yes! It has worked out very well. I work about 25 hours per week, Monday through Wednesday, and then I spend Thursday and Friday focusing on my business. If something urgent comes up for R/GA on my off-days, I pitch in to help.
I’ve made a lot of progress on my business since I reduced my hours at R/GA, and because I still have an income, I am not as stressed about the cash flow from my business. It has definitely been a win for me and for R/GA.
JS: Last time we spoke, a bit of advice you gave to budding entrepreneurs stayed with me: Don’t lose the fun. Are you having more fun than ever? What’s next?
LK: Yup, still having fun. Every week I learn something new, meet new people, or take on a new challenge. It is all fun for me. I like adventures.
For my culinary journey, I am pondering ideas for a third book. I am also looking at other culinary pursuits like teaching or consulting. Not sure where I will land, but I want to continue the momentum and build on my accomplishments thus far.
JS: Since you are constantly baking, how do you not weigh 600 pounds?
LK: That is a great question. First of all, baking often involves long hours of standing and bending and lifting heavy things, so I get a good work out. Second, I am around cookies all of the time, and as a professional, I never sample my work during production, and since it is for orders, I rarely even grab a treat for myself. Third, I balance the butter fat in my life with large supply of vegetables. I LOVE vegetables!
Check it out: We, at Nadexa Group, are entering into a partnership with Luane to supply all our corporate gifts, to candidates and clients. Hear that? Lots of yummy cookies in store for you guys that do business with us! Luane has been great to work with, offering personalization on gift tins and shipments. Just like when we worked together a dozen years ago at G2, everything she touches is perfectly and thoughtfully executed.
If you’re interested in where to buy Luane’s cookies, or want to order a scrumptious assortment for a catered function or corporate gift, this is her web site: www.luanekohnke.com