On a Friday night, over pizza and juice boxes, while visiting my longtime friend Kelli and her son, we asked our children, ages 5 and 11, what they would like to do if they had their own "club". Their answers proved to be inspiring and from that we literally launched a business. We felt destined to create something unique and extraordinary for our kids and knew that if our kids loved it, so would others.
Armed with a degree from UCLA in education, years of teaching both preschool and elementary school and directing a preschool, Kelli started gathering the data and doing the research. With the mindset of everything coming from the heart, Kelli ultimately put together the exoskeleton of a much needed studio offering art and science for children, boys and girls of a cross section of ages. My degree from Marymount California University in Early Childhood Education and years of teaching preschool provided the foundation to create Genius Kids Club with Kelli.
We absolutely knew that we wanted a space where all children could explore, test out theories, express their identity and figure things out for themselves. We had found the key to our new business and now it was time to unlock the door.
The door to the studio was officially unlocked and opened for business on Monday, August 22 with open houses in the days preceding. Genius Kids Club was welcomed into the Studio City community with open arms; parents expressing their thanks at providing a "club" that every child was welcome to join. There are classes every day for ages 10 months to 10 years. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are art days with Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday featuring science. Sunday is a combination of both art & science.
The true joy of having a business where the clientele are children means it's chalk full questions and every day is filled with a plethora of teachable moments. Just when you think you know something, along comes a child to show you how to look at it differently. Be it the clients or one of our own, Kelli and I have learned that the collective of children's thinking is changing and since opening the studio, the kids have made it clear that art and science are not mutually exclusive nor gender specific. While primarily there is a balance of boys and girls in each of the classes, it is still an ongoing campaign to encourage girls to participate in science. Science camps have experienced a larger enrollment of boys so everyone is experiencing the idea of a gender specific genre such as science. Genius Kids Club strives everyday to not have gender labels when is comes to art and science. Whether they are painting mugs as a gift for their parents or wanting to find out the chemical reaction between and a base and an acid, there are girls and boys sitting at our tables with their aprons and science goggles on, anxiously awaiting what's next.
Bet you're thinking "how do you do science with an 10 month old?" Science is simply the study of the world through observation and experiment. Looking, noticing and trying. That is exactly what we do with these precious babies and that is the way they are figuring out absolutely everything. The basis is to work with their 5 senses and how they use those senses to understand all that is around them.
Now the 3 - 10 year olds, they are all about the mess, the bigger the better and and the motto is "Bring It On!" Be it a girl or a boy, making a mess and not getting trouble for it is AWESOME! Recently there was an experiment (an acid, a base and a little red food coloring) with some kids and unexpectedly, the experiment wasn't doing what it was supposed to do, the container was opened at the precise moment that all its contents exited with intense velocity and suddenly the studio was covered with goo! The squeals of laughter, the questions that followed and on why that happened facilitated a discussion with the kids ultimately proving once again that they are listening and very curious and want to explore. Of course using a mop to clean up the ceiling was memorable for all there and an experience like no other.
At Genius Kids Club, every kid has a place to explore, to discover and ask their questions. Kelli and I have created a space specifically for kids, where parents can confidently drop their little ones off and know that they will be having a discussion on the way home using words like chemistry, polymers, acid, bases, among other things.
We sincerely LOVE what we're doing everyday, and look forward to expanding and reaching out to more and more kids. We truly believe that there is a little genius in every child just waiting to show the world what they can do!
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.