Editor’s Note: Bramblewood Treats is now closed.
A classically trained opera singer, Amy Goetz says she wasn’t “diva enough” to pursue a lifetime musical career. And the owner of local favorite Bramblewood Treats is certainly taking a very un-diva turn this year, voluntarily downsizing her business to take care of her ailing parents — and rediscover her love of getting her hands dirty in the process.
Goetz’s buttery shortbread, based on her Nova Scotian great-grandmother Viola Hadley Kirk’s recipe, have been her livelihood for 16 years. Sold at upscale grocery stores and gourmet foods markets throughout the Twin Cities, as well as various farmers markets, the delightfully dense treats made the transition from her mother’s kitchen to a commercial one years ago when she enlisted the help of a co-packer to produce larger quantities of her family’s beloved cookie. But Goetz found that bigger isn’t always better — the co-packer’s decision last year to use new equipment that made the shortbread more brittle and crumbly led her to discontinue their partnership and re-examine her business plan.
“I always had this idea that going big was the thing to do, but you have to give things up, and sometimes you give up the thing you love the most,” she says. “It’s my great-grandmother’s recipe. I can’t sell it without selling a piece of my soul.”
When her mother and stepfather were then each diagnosed with cancer three months apart, her decision to scale back became obvious. She halted production through the busy holiday season and had even planned to cancel her table at St. Paul’s annual Scottish Ramble in February when the event organizer told Goetz she could participate for free and sell whatever stock she had on hand. And then when her mother suggested that Goetz bake her new inventory in the cozy, brass-accented Tangletown kitchen where the business started, the pieces started coming together again.
“I felt myself pull back together. I started this to bake and share treats, not go into business,” Goetz says.
So for 2011, Goetz’s game plan is simple: Sell her home-baked signature shortbread, along with cream scones, coconut macaroons, hand-rolled caramels, fudgy brownies, and sweet popcorn, at the Mill City and White Bear Lake farmers markets while keeping her wholesale business on hold. Thanks to the state’s “pickle bill” for non-perishable food items, Goetz can sell the treats that are baked in her mother’s kitchen as long as she discloses their origin. This allows her to be available to help her parents and still churn out enough baked goods — one pan at a time — two or three days each week to keep her fans full of shortbread.
“This home is very meaningful. My parents were married here. I live in White Bear Lake now, but I grew up in South Minneapolis and it’s my favorite part of the Twin Cities,” she says.
And because the shortbread isn’t being produced in mass quantities, Goetz has the opportunity to experiment with its base recipe and create new flavors throughout the farmers market season. In addition to perennial favorites lemon zest, espresso chocolate chip, orange chocolate chip, and lavender ginger, customers may find orange black pepper or rose varieties from time to time.
“I’ve always said I can’t leave well enough alone — I’m always fiddling with recipes,” Goetz says. “It gives me the freedom to play around again. I need a little creativity to keep going.”
The flexibility also has allowed her to lower her price to $3 for a package of four shortbread.
“I don’t want it to be an expensive treat. It’s already a caloric treat!” she laughs. “If you’re going to have a treat, have a treat! Have something that’s worth the calories and the fat.”
While Goetz one day may resume wholesale production with a new co-packer, for now she’s content to keep her focus on her artisan products. As she pages through her grandmother’s hand-written recipe book with her mom while waiting for a fresh batch of lemon shortbread to finish in the oven, she seems at peace with her decision.
“It didn’t feel right to have the business go away, and it didn’t feel right to sell it, either,” she says. “I do this because people love it.”