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Richie Garcia

There are quite a few things that are out of the ordinary about Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes. Maybe its appeal at local farmers markets is rooted in its beginnings as a bake sale, or its standout exotic pastries — or maybe it’s the fact that the company’s stall is almost always manned by its 16-year-old CEO, Richie Garcia.

For regulars at the farmers market, Garcia is a familiar face. He drags himself out of bed around 4 a.m. on these summer mornings to do the work he believes will pave his way to a brighter future.

“I’ve always seen Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes as a means to go wherever I need to go in life — like if I want to go to a fancy college, that type of thing,” Garcia said.

The company had humble beginnings, with Garcia and his family digging out recipes to make for a bake sale outside of their church one Sunday in the fall of 2018. “It started as a fundraiser for my sister’s school trip to San Francisco,” Garcia explained. “And it worked. She went to San Francisco.” The bake sales had potential, and Garcia and his sisters saw it. To raise money for another school trip to Washington, D.C., Garcia decided to sell more pastries. That trip was canceled due to the COVID pandemic, but the fundraising effort sparked in Garcia an entrepreneurial spirit and ambition. “I started realizing that hey, I made all this money,” he recalled, “and I have a whole summer ahead of me. So, might as well make some more.”

With the help of his sisters, Sasha and Kiki, Garcia got to work bringing baked goods to farmers markets. While the farmers market display at Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes features a variety of French pastries, some of which have been modified by the Garcias, what’s really taken off is the vegan shortbread cookies. The cookies are now carried in nine stores across Colorado Springs, Denver and Aurora, and will likely be in Whole Foods by 2023. The family goes to a manufacturing plant in Denver every few weeks to turn out more shortbread cookies, which are all made from scratch.

The shortbread cookie is a family recipe that was passed down from Garcia’s great-great-grandmother. Garcia’s mom, Nicole, has always played with flavors and ingredients for the shortbread cookies. “People expect that we are bakers, you know, or went to culinary school, or something like that,” Nicole said. “No, it’s just like, we know how to bake.”

While Nicole was pursuing a Ph.D. in international relations and diplomacy and running her own business consultancy for warzone conflict and post-conflict areas, Richie and his two sisters grew Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes on their own, deciding to build the bake sales into a brand. Nicole’s business advice to her kids blends pragmatism and passion. Her children’s love of baking sustains the business, but the Garcias don’t hesitate to kill their pastry darlings if a favorite cookie at home is not a top seller at the markets.

“Smart cookies: bake it to make it” is Garcia’s latest brainchild. The idea is to sell cookie kits to students so they can sell baked goods to fund their own dreams, like Garcia did. This initiative captures the very ethos of the business — it’s a means to buoy Garcia and his siblings to reach future opportunities.

Tell us about getting ready for the markets.

For our two weekend markets on Friday and Saturday I usually have to get up between 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning. I have to help pack the car, I have to make sure that everything we baked during the entire morning and the night gets cold and cooled so it doesn’t go bad in the car. And then, well, we drive for about an hour [from Pueblo]. Wednesday markets are a little easier on me because the market starts at 3 p.m. so we can leave anywhere between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We have most of the day to bake so we don’t have to stay up all night and yeah — that one’s kind of a break for us. 

Do you see yourself being involved with Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes for a long time?

I think that keeping up with the business will help me pay for everything I want to do in life. I think it’s a good thing to keep up with — looks good on a lot of résumés. Recently in high school I’ve become very good with chemistry and I think involving myself in the medical field — which I’ve wanted to since I was a kid — is something that I’m considering pursuing. For Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes it was more of the selling stuff … more of the buying and selling of goods, the marketing and strategizing of branding. That type of stuff, that’s what kept Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes interesting. The baking was fun, but it was always going to end up in us evolving into something greater, and that’s what kept me. I kept very in touch with the package designing, keeping in mind that whatever we create now on this bag is probably going to be our future brand — something that we want to continue forever. We will create something iconic that will keep the business Kiki’s Cookies and Cakes on for a while.

Tell us about your manufacturing.

Currently we manufacture in Denver. We drive up almost every Monday, Tuesday and we take our midnight shift and we make our cookies. We have nine stores that we sell to, each of them ordering an average of about four to five boxes of our five flavors, and we need to keep up with the demand, so every once and a while we go there, and we produce. Over there we make the cookie dough, we process it through a machine that we bought about a year ago that basically slices the cookies for us in even, good marginals, and then we bake them. So it’s become a little bit more streamlined in production but it’s still tedious work to lift the dough into the hoppers and stuff, and having to organize the pans and put them away. It takes us about 5 to 8 hours to do our orders for the next two weeks, because we go every other week about.

What is your best-selling pastry?

Um, that one’s kind of difficult because recently we’ve started incorporating the savories and the sweets, so we like to keep those two distinct. As for the savory, we do a French item called a croque monsieur — it’s a very good sandwich that we do untraditionally by rolling it instead of doing it between two breads. As for the sweets, we introduced a traditional French dessert, it’s a slice of bread that we soak through Grand Marnier syrup with an almond cream and put sliced almonds on top. Recently we’ve been having a couple variations with it, including a pistachio cream on top instead of an almond cream with black cherries and a rosewater infusion, and our next step we think is going to be a hazelnut chocolate version. The savories just kind of came out of nowhere. At one point in our first year we started selling brioche rolls. It’s a brioche that my grandma used to make for us all the time and we decided that hey, if we’re selling pastries, this would be a good start. So we started doing that and then afterwards my mom thought maybe it would be a good idea to sell a savory item. So we sold one savory item which was the croque monsieur. We sold it as it’s traditionally made, which is the two breads with creams and stuff. People really started enjoying it. Then we started incorporating something from our own town, Pueblo, so we did the Pueblo chili-cheese and bacon roll. That one really pulled us out for the savory. 

What has been the most challenging aspect of running this business for you and for your family?

I’d think of how constant and present it’s become in our life. You can’t really walk around the house without finding something related to the business. To a degree I think it’s a good thing — it keeps us reminded of what we’re doing — and to a second degree it kind of overwhelms you sometimes. But it’s something you work with, and if you want to build something, you have to surround yourself with it. 

Do you ever take breaks from the business?

That’s not necessarily what we do. We’re occupied for the entire duration of the summer; we don’t take breaks, we don’t take weeks off. This year, we have three markets a week, but we have to bake for each one of them, so we have like a five-day work week and we work all five of those days and we take a little bit of rest on the weekend and then get back to work. So, yeah, the summer’s a very constant thing. But when it comes to the off season, from October to the beginning of summer, we work on our building in La Junta. We are trying to figure out how to make that our own manufacturing plant. We are working with plumbers, we’re working with health inspectors, we’re getting everything sorted there so we can finally start production by our own means. That’s what usually fills the off time. Other than that, we still do Christmas bazaars, Christmas markets, craft shows. 

What motivates you to keep doing this, despite it being so all-consuming?

I’ve just really become used to having this all around me. I like that I’m working for myself at a young age, and I think that’s pushing me. I’m going to markets pretty much by myself and I’m selling, I’m doing things. Sometimes it’s hard to wake up to do markets, but then when you get there, you just realize you’re

really doing something.