We're so excited to kick off a new series at The Front Porch! RWC Locals is focused on local businesses and the people who run them. We believe that small businesses add so much vibrancy and character to the city and are a huge part of what makes Redwood City such a wonderful place to live. We are looking forward to meeting more folks around town and supporting their work and business.
For our first interview, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Rachel Lipkin, owner of Rachel's Bake Lab, a newly opened online shop for fresh, homemade cookies. She runs a Class A Certified Cottage Food Operation right out of her home kitchen in Redwood City. Not only did we get to sample some of her delicious Strawberry Cheesecake Cookies, we also got to talk to her about starting her business, moving to Redwood City, her love for libraries, and becoming a part of the community.
Can you tell us a little bit about your business?
It started as just an Etsy shop. You can buy anything on Etsy—antiques, jewelry, marshmallows. I wanted to figure out a profitable way to bake and sell my goods on Etsy.
I make batches of a dozen cookies. As soon as you place the order, I’ll bake the cookies within 48-72 hours. The same day I bake, I’ll let the cookies cool, then package, and ship them.
When I moved to Redwood City, I wanted to do something more local. We realized that there was a big community here and that people know each other, or at least want to get to know each other. Now we have a Redwood City Local option on the site. I charge a flat fee of $5 and I will personally deliver the cookies. I offer delivery Sunday through Tuesday and I’m hoping to get to the point where I can offer delivery every day of the week. Right now, I work a full-time job so the turnaround is a little slower.
Where is the farthest place you’ve shipped cookies to so far?
So far, just New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. I haven’t shipped internationally, but I’d like to!
How did you get started in baking?
I was an assistant baker for a gluten-free, vegan company in Hoboken, New Jersey called Om Sweet Home. The woman who runs it is amazing. Her name is Dawn and she really inspired me. I was watching her do this all by herself and thought, “Why not?” I can try to do this and see how it goes.
When I was growing up, my father always baked. To this day, he bakes chocolate chip cookies every Sunday. He’s a man of routine, needless to say. So I grew up always having sweets in the house. After awhile, I would help him. My mom also has dietary restrictions and makes a lot of cakes. We would experiment and see what happens when you use this or that flour. We didn’t Google anything back then, so we just tested different things to see what would happen, and if the cake would deflate or not. I’ve always generally loved baking. Then I had the opportunity to work for Dawn in New Jersey, and it was the most satisfying job I’ve had.
What kinds of ingredients do you use in your cookies?
Love! (I think everyone will say that and that it’s cute and kinda corny at the same time.) I actually use mostly organic and/or local ingredients for my products. I love King Arthur Flour. I love their company and their brand. They are based in Vermont and their flour is just really awesome. I also love Guittard Chocolate. I use their green mint chips for my Double Chocolate Fudge Mint Chip Cookie; they are delicious and bright green, which give the cookies a pop of color. Guittard is local, just up in San Francisco.
Why do you love baking?
I think it’s the same reason why I got into librarianship: for the sense of community. I think Julia Child said, “It’s never a party without a cake.” So you never show up to a party and don’t expect dessert, like a cake, or brownies, or chocolate chip cookies. There’s a sense of community that comes around a baked good whether that’s vegan, or paleo, or gluten-free, or all-fat, all the butter in the world. No one is sad when they are eating a cake, or at least I hope not.
There is a sense of community and I hope that when someone buys my product that they find that. They are bringing a box of cookies to a meeting or a friend’s house, or they are sending it to somebody. I’ve had customers send dozens of cookies to a friend just because or for their birthday. Being able to send that homey-ness, that’s freshly baked, carries a sense of love. You don’t usually send somebody a box of cookies unless you really like them. I want to be part of that experience between two people, or within a community, or a group of friends.
What are your favorite baking sites or blogs for inspiration?
My number one is Sally’s Baking Addiction. She’s awesome. I don’t know how I stumbled upon her blog. If you don’t know her, you should definitely check her out. She has wonderful photography and does everything from recipe creation, to food photography, to baking books. She’s just really cool. I really like her site. She just started doing baking basics which is also awesome. Like what’s the difference between using baking soda vs. baking powder. A lot of people don’t know, they just follow the recipe.
What motivated you to start a business?
I think my boyfriend, Rob, motivated me. I never thought that people would pay for something that I made. I always just really enjoyed baking for people. Then people started saying, “This is wonderful!” or “I really love this,” or “Can you try this?” So I would try a new recipe and bring it in.
I also read this wonderful book that Rob gave me, which is called $100 Start-Up. I thought it was going to be super technical and boring, but it was the complete opposite. It was very inspirational, maybe a little too inspirational actually. I got super excited and was like, “I can do anything!” and then was like, “Okay, tone it down.” I knew if I wanted to do it for real, it had to be efficient and cost-effective. Once I got over the initial fear of what if it fails, what if it’s awful, I realized that I just needed to do it. So if all else fails, then at least I tried.
We heard that you just recently moved to Redwood City. Where were you living before?
We lived near Lake Merced in San Francisco. If we wanted to go anywhere we had to drive, so we were kind of in the middle of nowhere. We were closer to Daly City than anything, so we went there for groceries and to catch BART. Even though technically we lived in San Francisco, we never wanted to go anywhere in the city. We always ended up going down south because it was easier.
And what brought you to Redwood City?
To be honest, it was the location, but also the community. There is a downtown, but there’s something about it that’s less urban than other areas. When we lived in San Francisco, we lived so close to Daly City so we were wondering if moving to Daly City would make a difference. Then we looked at Millbrae and Burlingame, and those places are really nice but we thought if we’re going to move then let’s move to the best of the both worlds, where we’re close to a bridge, 101 and 280, and close to San Francisco and San Jose.
When we first moved here I was unemployed for a little bit and then I got a job in Redwood City so Rob and I carpooled together. We got to know the area pretty well so it was just very familiar. And we liked it here: there’s great restaurants and community, but it didn’t seem too crowded and crazy yet. It’s like a hidden secret, no one knows about it yet. So it was like we have to get there while we can.
There’s also a lot of trees. I missed being close to trees and mountains. A lot of it had to do with safety too. I felt really safe here. Especially with the area we live in, we got really lucky. We can make a right and we’re in the suburbs, or we make a left onto El Camino and we’re close to downtown. I mean, we can walk to Yumi Yogurt!
What are some of your favorite spots to eat in Redwood City?
If we’re talking coffee, we recently found Bliss Coffee. I love their mint cold brew. They have a great little spot.
For sandwiches, obviously The Sandwich Spot. It’s addictive. Have you been? It’s amazing. Of course you have. You live here!
I also love Broadway Masala. We went for the first time 2-3 weeks ago and their food is just on point, really great.
What else? Yumi Yogurt! Delicious. So happy they are open until 10:00PM.
I really want to try Kristi Marie’s. The little coffee shop on the corner by the train station. It’s just never open when I’m off of work, which is a shame because I would love to go. But I saw they have wonderful reviews.
One thing that I really love about Redwood City is that it doesn't seem like it closes at 5:00PM. The whole town doesn’t just shut down. There are still people out walking around. So I feel comfortable going for a walk to Yumi Yogurt.
We have heard you talk a lot about community. How do you feel about being a part of the local community in Redwood City?
I really love the events. I think a lot of it has to do with the presence in downtown. It’s very family-centric. Actually, I was familiar with the library system before we even moved to Redwood City. When I was transitioning jobs I was looking for a library position at first. I got to know a lot of the Redwood City librarians and they are just an awesome group of people. They have a great library system. For me, that’s a direct representation of how the community views education and a reflection of the diversity in that community.
I definitely feel like the more we get involved and show up to the free events, like the concerts or movies on the square, I’ll be able to meet more people. The other night we went to Broadway Masala and actually got to chat with the two people sitting next to us because we were sitting at the bar. I feel like that’s a little unheard of in San Francisco. It’s a rarity you would sit at a bar and feel comfortable talking to the person next to you. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking that, but in my perspective, city life seems to be much different amongst younger people than it is when you come to a smaller community.
I think Redwood City does a great job supporting small, local businesses. So hopefully people will see the recent changes downtown as an opportunity to start something of their own. That would be fun to see.