Kerri Prince, 35, has been cooking ever since she can remember. Her Italian family was “always in the kitchen,” she said. So she naturally gravitated to that room in her home.
Plus, her maternal grandmother Margo Guadano taught her how to cook by letting her play in the kitchen.
“I would grab one of her mixing bowls and just throw stuff in,” Prince said.
Once her concoction was made, her grandmother formed small pancakes of her mixture and threw it in the oven.
“We never actually ate them,” Prince said.
Now she is creating “whirled piece” through sweetness one cookie at a time. And her grandmother’s influence is ever present. The logo for her 2-year-old cookie company, Whirled Piece, features a rolling pin to commemorate her grandmother.
However, it was the overwhelming hunger of patrons at an annual Christmas shopping event that prodded Prince to start her own cookie company.
In 2014, Prince brought her gourmet goods to Marketplace, a holiday shopping market sponsored by The Medical Center Auxiliary, where local vendors sell their goods or services. Prince sold out of cookies by 3 p.m. the first day.
“It was a huge success,” she said. “(Before Marketplace) I told myself, ‘I’m going to have the guts, and be brave, and put myself out there.’”
That night, she went home and baked until sunrise to sell more gourmet cookies the second day.
The positive response drove her to create a business out of her love for baking, and she’s continued ever since.
Whirled Piece is run inside Prince’s home kitchen in Gainesville. But the businesswoman is upgrading it to an industrial-level kitchen to accommodate her incoming baking orders. The new kitchen will have a bigger oven and more racks for cookies.
“It will streamline the process,” said the mother of Ellie, 9, and Alex, 5, who attend Lakeview Academy.
Prince’s husband, Jesse, has even stepped in to help package orders in the past when she’s gotten bulk orders of up to 800 cookies. On those days, Prince said she rises at 8 a.m. and doesn’t stop until midnight.
During the work day, her main commitment is to providing a tasty treat with guaranteed freshness, Prince said.
“They are made-to-order,” she said.
Whirled Piece offers 12 signature gourmet cookies and four shortbreads. Her most popular is the Georgian cookie, which features caramel morsels and pecans.
“I wanted something Southern,” Prince said, noting she wanted to create a cookie that felt like her hometown of Gainesville.
And Prince uses only the best ingredients for her cookies, such as Land O’Lakes butter and Ghirardelli chocolate.
“I like to make sure they’re good quality, since they are gourmet,” Prince said. “I don’t spare (on those expenses).”
Once she’s made her dough out of the ingredients, she bakes them in her three-rack oven. It allows her to make 18 cookies at a time.
And she has a routine in place to utilize her oven, counter space and time most efficiently. Since the highest rack heats them the fastest, she pulls those out first. Next, she moves the two other trays up and places a new batch on the bottom.
“It’s a lot of counting,” she said, noting she uses a timer but keeps count in her head.
She cools the cookies on sheets and then wire racks. Prince said the cooling time changes depending on the cookie.
But she does not rest while the cookies bake and cool. Instead she starts the packaging process. She puts all of the boxes, labels, strings and packing paper together herself, unless she calls for backup.
Once the cookies have cooled, she packs them up, shrink wraps and weighs the box, and ships it from her post office.
Prince offers next-day shipping to all of her clients nationwide.
One of her clients, Corrie Grace Hulsey of BB&T Insurance Services, heard about Whirled Piece from Prince’s mother.
“I love supporting local businesses, and the story of why she began and her passion was very inspiring to me, not to mention they are delicious cookies,” Hulsey said.
Her favorites are the Georgians. She eats them and gives them out as gifts to clients.
“(Prince) is accommodating to whatever your specific needs are,” Hulsey said. “She’s very quick to respond, and it’s a unique gift for clients.”
In a busy month, Prince can fill up to eight or 10 orders a week. They vary from one individual cookie to 10 dozen or higher.
Her busiest time of year is from September through February. Spring and summer are her slowest seasons, for a reason she hasn’t quite nailed down. She said it may be because of her lack of social media presence that causes slower business. But she doesn’t stop trying to provide the best for her clients, new or old.
“I’m a yes girl,” Prince said, meaning she doesn’t say no to clients even when she’s up to her ears in cookie dough. “This is my baby.”