Today we’d like to introduce you to Meliza Watkins.
Hi Meliza, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I was born and raised in El Paso, TX. In July of 2012, my husband and our two children took a leap of faith and moved to Austin, TX. I soon started working at the dental office of Dr. Brian Freidell as a dental assistant and have been there ever since. The group of people that I have found there are truly my second family, and it’s such a great place to work.
As my children grew up, I started to get an itch for a hobby for myself. At first, I looked into photography but it didn’t hit me in the heart like I was hoping. In 2018 my daughter joined Round Rock Ballet Folklorico, which is a great local organization, and that started to keep us busy, so there wasn’t time to think about hobbies. Until one day in 2019, my daughter had a request that would essentially change my life forever. She asked me if I was able to decorate a sugar cookie to look like little Folklorico dancers. I remember her saying to me specifically, “Mama, you can make them, right?” I didn’t want to tell her no, but I also didn’t feel confident that they would look good, so I offered to hire someone who was more skilled than myself. She wasn’t having it.
So it was then at that moment, I started looking into how to make sugar cookies on my own. After a ton of YouTube videos, research, and looking up ideas on Pinterest, I ended up making my first batch of cookies on St. Patrick’s day for my family. Honestly, they weren’t detailed at all. I just dipped the cookies in royal icing and called it a day. We were happy with the flavor, but I knew I needed to work on my decorating skills. I finally got up the courage to make the cookies for my daughter’s dance team, and let me tell you, they were a hit!! Watching everyone enjoy the cookies surprised me. I didn’t know I was capable of making something that everyone would enjoy so much. The feeling I got, in the end, was a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I was so excited about my new hobby.
In the beginning, it really was just for fun. I enjoyed making cookies for friends and family for special events, and it was therapeutic “me time.” It might be odd to others, but it was relaxing for me to sit at my dining room table while Days of Our Lives was playing in the background. And yes, I’ve been watching soap operas since I was 8! I would zone out trying new techniques that I had learned from other cookiers. I had cookie stuff on the brain 24/7!! This is when the idea of turning this hobby into a little home business started.
In the summer of 2019, I started looking into the business side of owning a home bakery, and I set a goal to start selling cookies in August of that year. At first, it was still just friends and family who would order, and in February 2020 I participated in my first pop-up sale with Frida Friday ATX, a multicultural entrepreneurial space that spotlights local artisans. It was truly the best thing I have ever been a part of!! Founder and director TK Tunchez and her team of volunteers were so amazing and knew how to make a newbie like me feel so welcome. Being around so many other artisans was inspiring, and I was truly on cloud nine! Of course not too long after COVID hit!!!
As a dental assistant, I was worried about my job, like everyone else in the world. I wasn’t comfortable selling cookies yet, so I stopped. I was very blessed to have only been out of work for a month, but once we were able to open again it has been non-stop busy in the dental world. Although cookie making was in the back of my mind, it was still in my heart. I started practicing again and used my time to take several cookie classes.
Like so many, I fell into a quarantine funk. During those months, I found a lot of comfort within the cookie community. Let me tell you, cookie friends are real. There are so many women that bake cookies all over the world with decorating skills at so many levels, and they are so helpful and supportive of one another. I am blessed to be a part of the community of women here in Austin. Whether it’s sharing funny memes or cookie tips and tricks, these women have really inspired me to be a better person, artist, and business owner. Once Covid numbers started to go down, things started to get a little better and groceries were easier to find. It was then I got a message from Ada Marguez, Director and owner of Danza Center for the Arts dance studio, with the idea of teaching cookie decorating to her students via Zoom. It was just what I needed. Nervous and completely new to teaching, and even more so on Zoom, I was up for the challenge. So in September 2020, I hosted my first cookie class, and it was a success! Naturally, it wasn’t my last, and Ada was amazing to work with. We have continued to work together ever since.
With the support of my husband and kids, I knew 2021 would be the year for “Thirteen Cookies”. It was off to a great start. I was hosting cookie classes for Danza dance studio, and I reconnected with my good friend, TK at Frida Friday ATX, who welcomed me back with open arms. Cookies have truly been a huge blessing to me. I’m not in it to get rich or leave my dental job, which I love. However, it has been a joy to see my customers smile when they take that first bite, and I am so grateful to be a part of their special events. Not to mention, I have met so many amazing people along the way.
It’s been a roller-coaster of a ride, but I couldn’t do this without the love and support of my family who sits in the kitchen with me just to keep me company. They always give me words of encouragement to keep me going, and without them, I would not be living my cookie dream.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I’ve had plenty of struggles along the way, but those struggles have taught me to be a better businesswoman. A lot of time and money has gone into building my cookie dream. Being an owner of your home business means you have to manage and wear many hats. It really is a one-man show at times! And it’s not just about the baking and decorating that often happens well into the night. I do my own marketing, I’m the voice of my social media accounts, I package up each order, and I do my own cookie photography. It’s a lot of hard work and it takes dedication. And I do it all while still working a full-time job and being a mother to two teenagers. The most amazing part of this journey though is that standing behind this cookie artist is my amazing husband who helps keep our life balanced.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Being a self-taught cookie artist has allowed me to grow and develop my decorating skills and make them my own. During cookie pop-ups, I love to keep it clean and classy with a little Latina humor. Whether it’s a funny Mexican mom saying or Spanglish slang, I enjoy seeing people’s faces when my cookie designs make them laugh.
If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
I would have to say the secrets to my success are my family and my dedication to producing an equally beautiful and tasty cookie. Being from El Paso, TX, it’s all about “la familia.” One thing is for sure: my family and friends have been there for me from the start. They see the passion I have for this, and they know each cookie is made with so much love. They share my business with their extended friends and family because they know they are supporting my passion and my dedication to quality. From sourcing the best ingredients to the packaging at the end, every order comes from my heart as if I was making it for my own family.
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