Kelley Hart truly loves what she does. When she was growing up, her parents encouraged her to pursue whatever interested her, and she credits their support with influencing her decision to become a world-traveling saxophone player. After she became a mom, she eventually gave up her musician life to spend more time with her son, Emmet. This lifestyle change opened the door to two more of her childhood passions: designing clothing and baking cookies. Sugar cookies, to be exact.
Hart, owner of Kelley Hart Custom Cookies, was born on Christmas Eve, and she says baking sugar cookies was and remains a treasured family tradition. In fact, the recipe that Hart uses today is the same family recipe her Grandma Wetter used. And while she admits that she may never become rich baking cookies, she says she is rich in her heart. Her cookies are little works of goodness and art that she crafts by hand and hand-delivers to her customers.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in Georgia. When I was 2, my dad took the family to Maryland for his job as a research scientist with the USDA. At 10, we moved to [Cheyenne] Wyo., which happened to be the same time my future husband, Andy, relocated to Cheyenne with his family. We met in our high school art class. He took a job in Torrance after art school, while I finished college in Colorado. In 1986, we married, and I joined him. Best decision of my life. I love Southern California!
When did you go from professional traveling saxophone player to baking cookies?
I began playing the saxophone when I was 10, and it became the focus of my life when I went to college at the University of Northern Colorado as a music major. In Southern California I [taught] band and orchestra at Wilmington [Junior High School] for years. I had the opportunity to audition for a traveling saxophone band and tour the world. I played with the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra for 10 years, touring Scotland, China, Taiwan, Japan and all over the U.S.
Though I was focused on my music career, I always made time to make my sugar cookies for friends and family, for holidays and special occasions. And we made time to have Emmet, our one and only child. When he was 7, I had a revelation while standing on the Great Wall of China. I realized I would rather be in San Pedro, watching my little boy play soccer, than play with a saxophone band. I felt it was time to be at home full time and leave the road behind. That’s when I started my home business, Kelley Hart Creations, designing handmade children’s clothing (another hobby I had learned in childhood). In 2008, when the economy took a dump, sales did as well. So, in order to help keep the mortgage paid, I decided to add sugar cookies to my business. Slowly but surely, through word of mouth, support-ive friends and family, my cookie sales took off, and I phased out the clothing biz. Turns out, you can’t buy special handmade sugar cookies at a big-box store! I was able to work my schedule around our son’s school schedule and activities, working mostly at night and on the weekends. Now that he’s grown, I work more than full time.
Describe your typical work day.
The best thing about having my own home business, versus a brick-and-mortar shop, is that I can set my own hours. I have three part-time cookie “elves” that help with my production. All three happen to be kids who grew up on my block. Rylee Daluisio actually went to culinary school, specializing in pastry. Henry Newcomer and Paloma Banuelos are cousins. I’ve worked with them all to learn the special techniques to create Kelley Hart Custom Cookies. I do all of the complicated designs, while they do background work, wrapping and so many other tasks involved in keeping the business rolling. We start working at 10 a.m., and I often work into the night, depending on the season and how many orders we have.
What’s your personal favorite cookie and why?
I started my cookie business with my maternal grandmother’s vanilla sugar cookie recipe, which I have been making my whole life. As a child, we always made them for Christmas. I’ve since added delicious gourmet cookies, including chocolate chip pecan, salted turtle and chocolate peanut butter, among others.
What do you want the world to know about Kelley Hart?
I may not be getting rich, but I’ve managed to help support my family, doing work I adore. I enjoy collaborating with customers to provide delightful and delicious handmade sugar cookies for their special occasion, big or small.
For more, visit www.kelleyhart.com.