For Heather Smith, owner of Smith-O-Lator Cookie Shop, it all started with a blog. Not her blog, understand – the blog of a famous person who was not-yet-quite-that-famous: Ree Drummond. You may know Ree now as The Pioneer Woman, but back then, before her world exploded into the cooking/blogging/merchandise/cookbook/Food Network empire it is today, she was a humble food blogger on a ranch.
And back then, Heather worked in swimming pool construction, doing everything from drawing plans to selling pools to managing construction of big resort pools…which is about as opposite of creating designer cookies as one can get. “But I needed a creative outlet,” she admits.
In 2012, she decided “on a whim” to try cookies as Christmas gifts. Surfing for recipe ideas, she came across the Pioneer Woman’s blog. Dating back to photos only, pre video, YouTube or TikTok, the blog simply featured Ree’s guest Bridget of the Bake at 350 blog. Bridget brought a batch of gal-pals, all gathering at Ree’s ranch and baking cookies.
“I was obsessed,” Heather confesses. In true baking-addicted fashion, she leaned in, clicking links and falling headfirst down the cookie blogger rabbit hole. “I would stay up until 2am on my laptop, searching for and reading cookie baking blogs,” Heather cheerfully admits. “Blogs were my cookie gateway drug.”
Heather baked Bridget’s cookies for Christmas gifts and – spoiler alert – everyone loved them. An epiphany: “I could exercise that creativity muscle and just walk away; I didn’t have to hang a painting. My cookies made people happy.” But Heather adds, “I never intended to make it a business, it was just a creative outlet.” One of her first public sales venues was MACFest, in Downtown Mesa.
With her family living in Downtown Mesa, walking their dogs, riding bikes, her husband’s band playing at The Nile, she knew Downtown Mesa would become a destination. “I wanted to be a destination within this destination,” she says. After spending a year working on a business plan, the location at 124 West Main became available.
As luck would have it, the location had a history of food-related merchants: The Grill on Main (mom-and-pop burger joint); before that, The Bistro; and before that, a catering business. All that meant the shop already had a kitchen – one renovation task to cross off the list. Heather added many upgrades, created a viewing window in the kitchen and added a back door entrance. “When people come in through the back door, they walk by the window and see what we’re baking,” she explains.
It takes a genuine entrepreneur to survive, say, a two-year long pandemic shutdown. “In 2020, families couldn’t gather to celebrate all the big holidays together. We sold a lot of cookie decor kits - so many Easter decor kits - all shipped out or for curbside pickup,” Heather says. “And virtual classes! From 12 students to hundreds, lots of corporate team building or HOA/property management events – and those are still ongoing!”
Teaching classes remains her favorite part of the job. “If you can squeeze a tube of toothpaste, you can decorate cookies. I love demystifying cookie decorating for people.” First and foremost, it’s all about the decorating. “I wanted people to do the fun part, the decoration,” Heather explains. “If they liked the instant gratification of decor, they could easily learn to make cookies or icing from scratch.”
Reflecting on nearly 8 years of business in Downtown Mesa, Heather counts the supportive Downtown Mesa community as an important aspect of her success. In the spirit of collaboration, many downtown businesses ordered specifically designed cookies: Oro Brewing, History by George, i.d.e.a. Museum, Pomeroy’s Men’s Store, The Nile. “We’ve developed really good lifelong relationships with other Downtown Mesa businesses - I didn’t expect that,” Heather says. “It’s a ‘Cheers’ sort of vibe – everyone knows your name. I can confidently invite people to Downtown Mesa and say, ‘C’mon, you’re gonna discover something new and have a great, memorable experience!’”
Heather’s only daughter was in high school when the business started in 2015 and is now soaring on her own as a pilot in the Army. But Heather has high hopes for her granddaughter who loves coming to the cookie shop. “She’s my Research & Development department,” Heather says proudly.
Oh, and what’s the scoop on the name Smith-O-Lator? “It’s a play on my last name and my love of mid-century Americana, like all the gadgetry in my grandma’s kitchen,” she explains. “First, it was the name of my blog, then it became synonymous with my business, and then it just stuck.” The gadget in her logo is the Toast-O-Lator; the one on her counter she purchased from Antiques Plaza in Downtown Mesa. “It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in person,” Heather laughs. “And I just had to have it!”
Learn more about Smith-O-Lator Cookie Shop at the link below: