cookies, brownies, and toffee from Sue GeorgeBaked-goods 'boutique' turning into a sweet deal

By Nathan Lamb
Staff Writer, Nashoba Publishing

HARVARD -- To Susan George, the word "boutique" suggests an establishment that's gourmet and whimsical and possesses a certain flair.

That's the image she had in mind when she established the online Harvard Sweet Boutique in January.

She saw the demand for her baked goods skyrocket after being featured in the online trade publication, The Daily Candy, in March. Now she's discovering that being an entrepreneur is more than a full-time job.

"Since I announced my Web site back in March, I've been literally swamped," she said. "I didn't expect the kind of volume I've gotten, and I'm still getting it three weeks later. I think it kind of jump-started my business."

To date, her biggest client is a major NBA franchise, which has retained her services to do birthday gift packages for the entire organization, she said, but the orders have been rolling in from points as distant as California.

The central idea is to produce top-shelf baked goods, such as brownies and cookies, which are then shipped in a festive package that makes it something special, said George. She presented a zebra-striped box with a bright green lid, pink ribbons and a gift card as an example of what her company delivers.

"It's not only sending a package of brownies, it's sending a beautifully-packaged gift," she said. "I think probably 90 percent of my orders have been from somebody sending a gift to someone else. I think it's something new and different. I haven't found anything like this in my research."

That would make George a singular talent, which is an appropriate term, since she's currently a one-person operation.

Being the owner, proprietor and baker is satisfying, she said, but it's certainly far removed from her previous career as a software engineer for Digital. After 15 years of building operating systems for that company, George walked away in the late 1990s to become a full-time mother and active parent.

With her children getting older, she said the time is right to try a new venture. Having cooked truckloads of cookies and other goods for the Parent-Teacher Association over the years, she said she thought of taking that to the next level. The trick has been finding a way to do that without the baker's workday, she said, which typically begins at 3 a.m. She said the boutique is the perfect compromise.

"I've always wanted to have my own bakery, but with two young kids that's pretty unrealistic," she said. "I thought this would be a great way to balance things."

Though she studied briefly at a culinary institute in the past, George is largely a self-taught baker who collects recipes and modifies them to her tastes. To date, her largest sellers have been mint brownies and double-chocolate fudge brownies.

Though her products are available at the Harvard Cleaners and Bolton Orchards, the boutique remains essentially an online entity. Given the recent upward trend of business, George said it's entirely possible things will grow into an outlet location. She said she may even need some employees at some point.

"That's my hope," she said. "I don't want to be a one-person show forever."

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