Whimsy & Spice
It can't be just a chocolate chip cookie.
That was the direction Mark Sopchak '94 and his wife Jenna Park '94 took when they started the Brooklyn confectionery, Whimsy & Spice. “I'm not trying to start a revolution with food, just trying to make something you haven't had before,” says Sopchak. “If you take a bite of something that makes you think, that's even better.”
An Olympia native, Sopchak developed a love of spices when he spent two years of his childhood in Yemen, enjoying the different scents of the street vendors he saw daily. His love of savory flavors comes through in the unexpected combinations of his pastries, from pink peppercorn sandwich cookies and rose and black pepper thumbprint cookies to chocolate chili cashew biscotti and handmade cardamom marshmallows.
“It's a creative process,” Sopchak says. “The whole idea is to try interesting combinations of things, let go of your preconceived notions. That has become my style, putting different flavors into desserts where you wouldn't expect them.”
People are surprised when they learn Sopchak didn't go to cooking school. He studied music at Evergreen, and followed that passion to New York after graduation, working in restaurants “to pay the bills.” Sopchak went on to become the pastry chef at several restaurants, including the well-known Soho eatery Zoë and Central Park's Boathouse restaurant. “I started cooking for a living because I needed the job, but found I liked the process,” he explains. “You see this new field opening and you see the possibilities and you just go with it.”
Starting their own business wasn't expected either. In 2008, Park and Sopchak were sitting in their Brooklyn apartment, trying to decide their next path, as his Boathouse job had just ended. “All of a sudden, we came up with this plan,” Sopchak recalls. “I can't remember a time when both of us were more excited about something.”
Park, a graphic designer who also studied music at Evergreen, came up with the Whimsy & Spice name. Today, she does all their public relations work and takes the photographs on their website.
Starting the business during a major recession was challenging, but they've found a niche for their spicy-sweet offerings. They made their first sale at the Brooklyn Flea market on its opening day, and their products are now sold in a number of places around the city, including Dean & Deluca and the Ace Hotel, as well as through their own website. Media from the Cooking Channel to The Martha Stewart Show have recommended their treats.
They still do all their own baking, packaging, shipping and deliveries from rented kitchen space near their apartment. Sopchak also does consulting work with the Boathouse. They are mulling the idea of a Whimsy & Spice storefront, but for now, Sopchak would rather grow their current model.
“It's easy to get burned out by the whole day-to-day process, but in the end, I make cookies,” he says. “It's hard work, but I'm making people happy in a small way. I never thought starting a business was me, but this idea just inspired us. We kind of had to do it. And the rest is history.”