This article was published 13/10/2018 (939 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a day and age when those of us in the mainstream media are forever being accused of peddling "fake news," we thought we’d kick things off with a story that’s 100 per cent factually True.
On the second Monday in June, Jenn Strauman was checking her phone while on a break from her job as a medical laboratory technologist at Health Sciences Centre when she spotted an email carrying the subject line, "Cookies!"
Her initial thought was, "Great, another order." After all, as the co-founder of Scientific Sweets, a home-based biz specializing in intricately decorated confections, the majority of the communiques she and her business partner Mary Lou Vendivil, also a lab tech at HSC, receive revolve around cookies.
Except this particular inquiry was more than their standard, everyday cookie request. After coming across their Instagram page, which boasts eye-catching shots of superhero cookies, dinosaur cookies, even cookies that appear to be slices of pepperoni pizza, a person claiming to be an associate of TV reality star Khloe Kardashian wanted to place an order for a party scheduled for the following Sunday in Los Angeles to toast the California homecoming of Kardashian’s two-month-old daughter True.
"Our first thought was this has to be a joke," says Strauman, seated next to Vendivil in a Taylor Avenue coffee shop. "But after reading it out loud to our co-workers, everybody agreed it sounded totally legit."
Given free rein in terms of design, Strauman and Vendivil opted for cookies that, icing-wise, bore a striking resemblance to baby True and her mom. Hours after the gathering, none other than Kardashian herself posted photos of the talented bakers’ handiwork on her social media accounts along with the comment, "I have never seen cuter cookies in my life."
"Khloe didn’t specifically tag us in her announcement ("Yeah, thanks a lot, Khloe," cracks Vendivil, winking) but it was great publicity, nonetheless," Strauman says, adding what amused them most about the entire episode were the "gazillion" people who viewed pictures of their cookies online and left catty comments along the lines of "Yum, who wouldn’t want to eat their baby’s face?"
"We were both like, ‘Ha, this is totally awesome.’"
Strauman and Vendivil met nine years ago when both worked evenings in HSC’s chemistry department. Back then, neither was what you’d call an accomplished baker, they agree, but that didn’t stop them from showing up with a Tupperware container packed with cupcakes or muffins whenever there was a job-related birthday or holiday to celebrate.
Six years ago, a few days before a co-worker’s baby shower, Strauman was still debating what sort of treats to bring to the get-together. At Vendivil’s suggestion, she searched the website Pinterest for ideas, ultimately settling on cookies shaped like animals and onesies, "because I’m a Type A personality and couldn’t just choose one shape," she says with a chuckle.
Strauman is the first to admit her cookies looked better than they tasted. But because she enjoyed the design part of things so much, she decided not to park her piping bag, just yet. Soon, the married mother of one was spending a fair chunk of her spare time studying baking blogs, taking note of how others decorated their treats. Practice makes perfect: before long, she was fielding orders from friends and friends of friends, people who’d heard about her elaborately detailed cookies and wanted a dozen or two for their birthday party table.
Vendivil, a married mother of five, was on maternity leave with her fourth child in 2013 when, impressed by what her pal was turning out, decided to try her hand at ornately decorated cookies, too. A straight-A art student in high school — she originally intended to study fine arts at university but opted for lab sciences after her parents told her "art school won’t get you anywhere" — she fashioned a slew of cartoon-inspired cookies for her son Jax’s birthday. She snapped a pic and sent it to Strauman with the message, "Hey, look what I just did!"
"She got back to me right away saying something like ‘Good job, keep it up,’ and everything just kind of went from there," Vendivil says.
For the next three years, the two women baked and sold cookies separately. In the summer of 2016, when both were entertaining the idea of trying their luck at craft shows, they agreed to join forces. Needing a catchy tag, they dubbed themselves Scientific Sweets, aka "science nerds who bake," a name they felt summed up their dual careers perfectly.
Strauman and Vendivil made their official debut as Scientific Sweets Oct. 1, 2016, at a craft show in Transcona. Not sure how many cookies to bring with them, they spent the week leading up to the event baking "a ton" of primarily "Halloween stuff, Angry Birds… things we thought kids would be attracted to," Vendivil says. Let us guess: shoppers were blown away by their talent in the kitchen and couldn’t scoop their cookies up fast enough, right? Wrong.
"It was a total bust," they say practically in unison. At the end of the day, they had sold barely enough to cover their $50 table rental fee.
A second sale, held a few weeks later at a hotel near Polo Park, went comparatively better. Their third attempt, a Christmas pop-up market at The Forks, was more successful again. Things continued to build and by the time Kardashian’s associate got in touch with them in June, not only had they become a fixture at juried markets such as Third & Bird, they had also expanded from appealing primarily to the younger set, and were filling orders for everything from bachelorette parties to wedding ceremonies to university grads. (When asked what their most unique request has been to date, Strauman scratches her head before recalling a person who wanted cookies shaped like "cute hairdryers." "I still have no clue what that means," she says.)
Flavour-wise, Strauman and Vendivil’s cookies are primarily their take on a traditional sugar cookie, though they do switch things up on occasion and offer chocolate, lemon and gingerbread as well. What sets Scientific Sweets apart from the competition most is the owners’ willingness to try anything once; to turn anything they see, pretty much, into a cookie.
"You do NOT want to watch TV with either of us," Vendivil instructs. "We’re forever hitting pause and taking pictures of things, figuring this or that would be fun to make into a cookie one day down the road."
Take for example one of their latest creations, a completely edible fidget spinner, right down to the caramel "ball bearings" that allow the dual-layered cookie to rotate on its axis.
"Everyday, we’re just trying to do something a bit better than we did yesterday," Strauman says. "Even if it’s not something we think would necessarily sell at a market, we’ll still try it out anyways."
As for future plans, they did spend a bit of time this summer researching what they’d need to do to kick things up a notch, and get their wares into retail stores and bakeries.
"It’s definitely something we’ve thought of but then it becomes a life balance, how much time it would take us away from our families when we’re already working full-time at the hospital," Strauman says.
"Plus, I think with it right now feeling more like a hobby than a business, it makes it more fun than if we were stuck baking cookies all day because that was our job," Vendivil chimes in, responding, "Ha, not so much," when a reporter comments her kids must count their blessings daily that they have a mom who’s a cookie whiz.
"They like them for sure but sometimes they’re just as happy with a bag of Oreos. Maybe it’s because back in the day when we weren’t selling out, I’d forever be saying, ‘Guys, we can’t let these things go to waste, you have to eat more,’ and they’d be like, ‘Cookies? Again?’"
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.