By Scott Etkin
The Grand Bazaar market on Sundays at 77th Street and Columbus Avenue attracts vendors from all over New York City. But sometimes the people behind the folding tables are our neighbors.
Shin Kim, founder of For Us Cookies, is one of the locals who is using Grand Bazaar to grow her business. She has been an Upper West Sider for nearly 20 years and bakes her vegan and gluten-free cookies out of the kitchen in a vacant apartment in her building on West 83rd Street.
“It’s a one-woman show,” said Shin of her cookie business, which she founded last year after her catering company was shuttered by the pandemic.
Shin has had a winding road to entrepreneurship in the food industry. She started off her career in finance, earning an MBA from the University of Chicago. “I was very much a finance person, but the whole time I was thinking about food,” she said. “When I thought about what I’d regret when I retired, it would be not going to culinary school.”
That lingering thought led her to sign up for a weekend program at the Institute of Culinary Education in lower Manhattan. This was around the time of the 2008 financial crash and the downturn spurred her to fully pivot her career from finance to food.
For Shin, working in a restaurant was eye-opening. “It brought me back to my South Korean background because as much as I learned the system and the discipline that’s required for the job, I just wasn’t used to using that much salt and cream and butter,” she said.
Shin grew up in Seoul and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 16. In the home-cooked meals she was used to, “vegetables took center stage,” she said, while meat and fish were used more as flavoring.
This emphasis on vegetables can be traced to Shin’s current venture selling vegan cookies. She started experimenting with vegan baking when her catering business was stalled by the pandemic.
At first, she was skeptical. “I had the perception that gluten-free and/or vegan would lack flavor,” she said. “But I felt I was using a lot more variety of ingredients that are more natural.” One trick she picked up was using flax seeds and chia seeds as egg replacements.
It’s common for Shin to see this same skepticism at the markets where she now sells her baked goods. “I noticed that a lot of people gloss-over as soon as they see vegan or gluten-free. I used to be that person,” she said.
“And then there are a few people who see the sign and their eyes light up. That’s an incredible feeling. When I see them looking at the sign and then coming towards me, I know, you’re my people!”
Shin said that interacting with customers directly at markets like Grand Bazaar has been important for getting feedback. While the response has been “encouraging,” some people tell her that the cookies are expensive. On the website, a pack of 6 is $34 and a pack of 12 is $60. “With everything getting expensive and as a small business, it is difficult,” she said. “I want to make a great product that comes from my heart, so I hope people are understanding.”
Shin plans to continue having booths at markets around New York City, including in Bryant Park and the Hester Street Fair at Pier 17. “It is incredible to see people face-to-face and answer their questions,” she said. Her next date at Grand Baazar is July 24.
“It is very hard to get a space there, but I’ll be at Grand Bazaar one to two times a month for the rest of the year, and more if they let me!”
Sorry but five bucks a cookie is too much.
I don’t think $5 is outrageous. There are stores on the UWS selling small cupcakes and muffins (greatly reduced in size this past year) for $8. I look forward to trying one of these cookies. : )
Cookies at By The Way bakery are all GF and cost $2.50. And $5 is the bulk discount. You have to buy a dozen at $60 to get them at $5 each.
I’m sorry you feel that way and I do understand. I feel higher prices in all fronts from my personal grocery shopping to business expenses. Please note that these cookies are much thicker, bigger cookies than many cookies out there. We also pride on using premium vegan, gluten-free ingredients and sustainability-conscious packaging materials that are compostable/recyclable. All of these mean higher costs for us. I hope that some of you are open minded enough to come see the products at the market before making the decision for yourself.
Gluten free prices are just outrageous in general. I have to be on a gluten free diet and it’s so wonderful to have some yummy options! I can’t wait to try the cookies! They look amazing!
very cool and good luck to her! i liked the comment on the skeptical nature towards gf (and i am one of those myself), but i think that she’s convinced me to give it a try!
I’ll look for these on Sunday! They sound amazing. <3
Thank you for sharing!
Baked dough. How yummy!
And not a bit of gluten.
My colon says “Thanks”!
If you shipped your cookies of course I would buy them. Your price is fine with me. I buy much off of Etsy. I wish you the best!
I thought you weren’t allowed to sell goods made in your kitchen. That a commercial kitchen was required?
Registered home processors like me can sell certain baked goods, including cookies. I’m a bit hesitant to go into a shared commercial kitchen because I feel that what I currently have is a more controlled environment which is used only for my cookie baking.
I love love the focus on vegan and gluten free cookies! Long May this business flourish!
I was excited about this business but disappointed to see that For Us manufacturers its products on equipment shared with common allergens including wheat. As a matter of safety this information should be on the product pages alongside ingredients, not buried in the FAQs.