News | December 30, 2015


Alum finds recipe for success with cookies

5 - minute read

Elizabeth Mahon is savoring the sweet taste of success as an entrepreneur in Washington, D.C.

Her startup confection company, District Baking Co., specializes in custom-made cookies and recently was featured by The Washington Post under the headline “Are these the prettiest desserts in D.C.?” She has baked and bedazzled treats for superstar John Legend and for corporate clients including Choice Hotels, Anthropologie and UNICEF.

Elizabeth Mahon says she learned a lot of life lessons at FGCU.
Elizabeth Mahon says she learned a lot of life lessons at FGCU.

Mahon, who graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication, turned a hobby into a thriving company with the help of other FGCU alumni, through word of mouth and by way of mouthwatering social media pictures of her cutest creations. District Baking Co.’s Instagram followers grew from 500 to 10,000 in about six months, she says.

FGCU360 asked the D.C. native to take a break from the kitchen (during the harried holiday season no less) in order to answer a few questions about her company and her time at FGCU.

Have you always been a baker? What was the first recipe you mastered?

Actually, no. I’ve always enjoyed creating things in the kitchen but never imagined I would have a baking company. I’ve played around with a lot of recipes, but my favorite is my spiced sugar cookie recipe. My recipe has white pepper, which adds a nice element of spicy to counter the sweet icing.

What persuaded you to take the leap and start your own bakery business? What were the pros and cons?

To be honest, my small baking hobby grew a lot bigger and faster than I imagined, so starting a business was just the natural progression. I went from making a dozen cookies every couple of weeks to producing 25+ dozen cookies a week, so I decided to take the plunge. The pros are getting to meet so many wonderful new people and having the opportunity to make people happy via a creative outlet; it’s a win-win. The cons are lack of sleep and having to prioritize my business over fun time with friends. I’m a huge proponent for work-life balance, so I often slow down and take a little time for myself, but “I can’t, I have to make cookies” is a pretty common phrase around here.

Cable-knit sweaters become the cutest of cookies in Elizabeth Mahon’s hands.

Do you operate a storefront retail bakery, or is it strictly an online business?

I don’t operate a storefront bakery (yet!), but I frequently teach classes and have pop-shops to teach others fun tricks and sell my products. All of my marketing is done online and majority of my business is word of mouth. Pretty grassroots, but it’s perfect for District Baking Co. right now.

What’s your favorite part of the cookie making process? Designing? Baking? Decorating?

Admittedly, I don’t even really like baking. I know, crazy. I enjoy creating new recipes, but my sugar cookie recipe is my most common, and I could make it with my eyes closed. So baking is the monotonous part of the process. I just love decorating the cookies so much so when I’m baking I just remind myself that I’m essentially making lots of little canvases and that gets me excited. I love having the opportunity to be creative on my cookies. I am fortunate that I rarely have repeat designs so it’s always something new, which is challenging and fun.

What’s the most unique or unusual or challenging design you’ve done?

The most unique design was a set of metallic gold and silver pigs for a wedding shower. They were a ton of fun and super funky to make. Logo cookies are typically the most challenging because there is a limit on the creativity, and I have to be very meticulous when designing.

How has business grown since you started?

There has actually been a ton of trial and error and I’m still learning. Things are going better than planned, and I am constantly surprised that people believe in and enjoy my products. I briefly touched on it before, but I never imagined I would be making more than 1,000 cookies a month. I’m very grateful.

You’re active on Instagram and Facebook. Have you found social media helpful in building business?

The majority of my business has come from Instagram. I remember celebrating having 500 Instagram followers roughly six months ago, and it’s crazy that District Baking Co. is on track to have more than 10,000 Instagram followers by the end of the year. I am insanely humbled by the growth of District Baking Co., and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Mahon says she enjoys decorating cookies more than baking them.

You have one employee now. Do you see the business expanding in the near future?

I wouldn’t say the near future, but I really enjoy making cookies and watching something I love grow. I definitely see a big future for DBC — just not sure how fast.

You were a very engaged student at FGCU – active in Greek life, in student government, serving as an Eagle View Orientation leader. Why was that important to you?

I love meeting new people and making friends, so involvement was a no-brainer. I am so thankful for my involvement in Greek life because some of my very earliest supporters were friends from Greek life, and they are still some of my greatest clients. DBC grew so rapidly because of a pre-existing network of friends that believe in me and my big dreams. I made my greatest friend in Zeta Tau Alpha, and I wouldn’t change my experience for anything. I would recommend Greek life to any incoming students — my involvement changed my life.

How do you think FGCU helped shape the person you are today?

I learned a lot about myself at FGCU and learned some of my greatest life lessons in my Communications classes. I learned how to be compassionate and kind, and I also learned how to tolerate and appreciate people with personalities that vary from mine. It’s always a challenge, but I’m a better person for having studied at FGCU.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

If it scares you, you’re doing it right. Take chances when you’re young, find something you love and never stop chasing it.

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