Kim Casciero’s cookies have earned her a trip to Hollywood, an Ellen appearance and dinner at the Florida Governor’s mansion. But her recipe for success was the result of a problem that’s painfully familiar to many women in business: the need to balance family caregiving with earning a living.
A Gulfshore Dream
Casciero first set foot on Vanderbilt Beach in 1980 and fell in love immediately. She later bought a home in Naples and became a snowbird. In 2003, her career shifted from printing to finance, but the market crash of 2008 pushed her to move to Florida full-time, where she started a new life as a baker and entrepreneur.
Casciero’s homemade cheesecakes and pound cakes had been popular gifts for her clients, and she was eager to turn her baking talents into a full-time business. She began marketing the decadent treats to Florida country clubs and restaurants under her new business name, Be Happy Cakes.
A Painful Setback
But there were more changes in store for Casciero. During her first year in business, her brother passed away and she became a full-time caregiver to their parents, who both suffered from dementia. She could no longer be gone all day delivering baked goods and building new accounts. How could she run her business while also caring for her parents?
It seemed impossible, but Casciero isn’t a woman who surrenders easily. She went to the beach to mull over her options, and the answer came to her: shipping. The determined baker headed back into the kitchen.
In 2011, Kristi’s Key Lime Cookies (named for her niece) became Casciero’s flagship product. The confection is a two-bite taste of Florida; a gourmet vanilla cookie topped with fresh key lime frosting, packaged for shipping all over the country.
The Taste of Success
A born marketer, Casciero introduced her cookies to corporate events, gourmet conventions, and party planners. In May of 2011, she had two local clients: Naples Botanical Garden and Naples Beach Hotel. Both are still going strong, and the client roster has now grown to about 30 outlets. Weddings and wedding planners snatch up about 20 percent of the cookies that come out of Casciero’s kitchen, hotels grab 25 percent, and e-commerce is at 25 percent and growing (with an Amazon storefront coming next month). Corporate events and gift shops make up the remaining mix.
In 2011, the company producing “swag bags” for the News & Documentary Emmy Awards in New York ordered her cookies— and in 2015 they called again, wanting cookies for the Daytime Emmy Awards in Hollywood. Somehow Casciero parlayed that phone call into an invitation to attend the ceremony and the after party, and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Casciero is an advocate of slow, sustainable growth. She is that rare salesperson who loves to do cold-calling, but most of her corporate clients have found her through her website, where a quarter-pound bag of cookies sells for $9.
This spring, a last-minute donation for a gala fundraiser earned Casciero a spot at a Governor’s Mansion dinner, where a representative from Johnson & Johnson handed her his card in case she ever wants to sell her business and retire.
Casciero keeps the card in her wallet, but for now she’s happy to keep running the operation. Her parents passed away four years ago, just as the company was starting to build a dedicated 1800-square-foot kitchen in Bonita Springs. This year the business began shipping internationally, so the whole world can fall in love with Kristi’s Key Lime Cookies.