Karen Guastella of Keene, owner of Karen’s Kosmic Cookies, had been selling her cookie mixes at a few local stores and craft fairs before the pandemic hit last winter.
When people emerged following quarantine to return to their regular tasks, and there was a shortage of disposable face masks, Guastella saw an opportunity.
“The cookie mixes weren’t selling,” she says — in fact, she’d lost about 90% of her business. “I saw people making face masks using different patterns online.”
A neighbor shared a pattern with her, which she modified, and using lifelong sewing skills, she began making her own in late April.
Soon after, she brought some of her masks to Hannah Grimes Marketplace to sell there.
“I had held off (from selling them),” she says. “I thought of myself as the cookie lady — there are already vendors at Hannah Grimes who sew.”
But they began to fly out of the store: she sold more than 50 in a week.
“As time went buy I got better at it,” she says of her craft.
The masks, which she began to make in many different patterns (including seasonal and holiday themes) and are reversible, have an iron-on interfacing that acts as a filter and flexible, one-size, over-ear elastic that works for all face shapes and are between $8 and $10 apiece.
After ramping up her production, she says she “lost count” at 600 masks sold. They provided Guastella’s main income throughout the year.
At the same time, she launched a website for her mixes: In addition to cookies and “gluten safe” baked goods, she offers s’mores, cocoa and soup mixes both on her website and at Hannah Grimes Marketplace.
Guastella received a $2,000 pivot fund grant from Citizens Bank, which administered $100,000 to microbusinesses statewide from the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority. The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene received $24,000 of these funds to issue a dozen grants to businesses in the region.
She used her grant money to hire a professional photographer to take pictures of her products to put on her website and an accountant to work on her finances, and a web expert. She also was able to pay to renew her business insurance and her food license.
Karen’s Kosmic Cookies is a name her son, Spencer, came up with for her business that led to her slogan, “My cookies are out-of-this-world delicious,” and inspired her packaging design of a cookie drawn to look like a planet with a Saturn-like ring around it.
Guastella offers about a dozen cookie mixes in such varieties as “ginger spice,” “mocha minties,” and “raisin roughs.” They are designed to save time: After the baker adds a few wet ingredients and stirs, it takes 20 minutes to bake them.
Since the pandemic, she began offering delivery service within a 30-minute drive from Keene, and she said she’s seen a 10% increase in her business this past December from December of 2019.
While her mask business is slowing down, Guastella has increased her craft making.
When she lived in Florida before relocating to Keene, she did tole painting, a folk art of decorative painting on utensils, objects and furniture. She employed this technique to create gnome figurines from wood and felted wool. She also sewed masks with a gnome pattern, which have been selling.
The gnome figurines and her “pin cushion pals,” which are wooden and beanbag figurines with tole-painted faces, are also for sale at Hannah Grimes Marketplace.
Learn more at www.karenskosmiccookies.com. T
Nicole S. Colson writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.