Sandbar Sweets (Rachel Sanchez)
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It was a lop-eared rabbit that nudged Rachel Sanchez into launching a cookie business. Rachel’s family and friends had long been impressed with her beautifully decorated cookies and they encouraged her to start a home-based business. The opportunity to be at home with her three children and earn an income appealed to her and she had begun to seriously consider the idea. Then she learned that the required home inspection and certification did not permit indoor pets. That presented a problem as her daughter’s beloved rabbit was hunkered down in the house. It was the only barrier to Rachel taking that leap of faith. “I couldn’t ask her to give up her precious pet,” Rachel says. But then, out of the blue, her daughter decided that the bunny would be much happier outside. “That was the green light for me.” She developed a business plan, secured an industrial oven and mixer at a reduced price, passed the home inspection, someone kindly offered to build her website, and family and friends provided phenomenal support. “Everything seemed to fall into place. I give a lot of credit to the Lord,” she says.
At Sandbar Sweets, Rachel produces made-to-order decorated sugar cookies for all of life’s celebrated moments. The blank canvas of the cookies come alive with whimsical designs of mermaids, beachballs, starfish, Christmas sweaters, company logos, seashells, lighthouses, etc. Whatever the occasion calls for, Rachel is up to the challenge. With a pastry bag of royal icing firmly in her grip, her creativity knows no bounds as she creates cookie masterpieces. “My goal with every order is excellence,” she says. If someone sends her an inspiration picture, she asks herself, how can I improve on this? “I strive to have them look amazing, but I also want them to taste delicious.” And to attain the highest level of amazement, Rachel has a secret weapon in her cookie decorating bag of tricks. An instrument that projects the design onto the cookie, allowing her to trace the image and fill in accordingly. And just like that, cookie decorating goes high-tech.
Rachel began her business focused on decorated sugar cookies, but she was intrigued with macarons – a confection that’s considered a bakery delicacy. A sophisticated sandwich-like cookie that’s filled with jam or buttercream, their meringue shells enrobed in an array of colors from pastel pinks to vivid yellows, attract appreciative (and mouth-watering) attention. Made with almond flour, the preparation and baking process tend to be a bit fussy and labor intensive. However, on her first attempt, Rachel met with sweet success. As a result, she added macarons to the cookie line-up at Sandbar Sweets – much to the delight of her customers. “They’re especially popular with people who have a gluten intolerance, as almond flour is naturally gluten-free,” she says.
Despite the ever-present aroma of fresh-baked cookies, it was an adjustment for her family having a business in the home. “My biggest challenge has been time – how to prioritize around family needs,” Rachel says. She works 4 – 8 hours most days and tries to avoid working on the weekends. “Weekends are reserved for my husband and family.” However, as in any business, there are occasions when duty calls and schedules must be adjusted. “Sometimes things take twice as long as I thought they would.” There are nights when all through the house, not a creature is stirring – except for Rachel toiling in the kitchen, putting the finishing touch on an order, and slipping individual cookies into cellophane wrappers to be heat sealed for freshness.
Rachel utilizes Facebook and Instagram and participates in local markets but most of her business results from word-of-mouth advertising. Inquiries can be made through her website, via email, where customers can send a query with the date, theme, and number of guests for the event. “I’ll reach out the week of the event with order confirmation and schedule a pick-up time,” she says. “And I’ll provide a picture of the finished product to make sure there are no problems.” Although pretty much a non-issue, she says the cookies should be eaten within two weeks and they freeze well. Rachel’s youngest son can attest to the viability of the frozen cookies as he’s a frequent visitor to the stash of broken or “misfit” cookies in their freezer.
Rachel enjoys participating online with a large community of bakers. “If I get stuck with something, there are opportunities to post a question and receive good feedback.” she says. “I believe that the more bakers help each other, the better they become.” She has enjoyed meeting local bakers, sharing stories and extra supplies. “I would like for those relationships to grow even more.” Case in point: a bakery in Currituck now stocks Rachel’s macarons. And once a month, Rachel shares her cookie artisan skills with others in classes offered through AR Workshop (located in Kill Devil Hills).
“Most business owners want to grow their business large and fast,” says Rachel, “but I don’t feel that way. The amount of business I have now is manageable and I’m happy with that. Perhaps in the future, things will change. My goal was to be home with my family, earn an income, make people happy, and have flexibility. It’s been a big blessing and a fun journey. I’m most proud that people enjoy something that I make. I love the look on a customer’s face when I hand them the box of cookies. It’s humbling that I can do something like that to brighten someone’s day.”
And that’s just what she does. Cookie after cookie, day after sweet day.