Crumbly apple marionberry pie. Savory salami cheesecake. Passionfruit-filled malasadas.
You won’t find these goodies in a traditional storefront. Instead, some of Snohomish County’s most delicious food offerings are right at your fingertips.
Social media is brimming with local scratch-made goodies: Venture onto Facebook and you’ll find fluffy Portuguese doughnuts, picture-perfect pie flights and bountiful charcuterie boards.
These Snohomish County business owners rely on social media and online sales to reach their customers. They work out of their own homes or rent commercial kitchens. They make their own schedules, partner with other businesses, find niches and use their creative edge to stay ahead of the competition.
While they avoid overhead costs like leasing a brick-and-mortar, they face their own set of challenges. They don’t always have enough space or employees to meet demand. And they worry about solely relying on social media for advertising and making sales.
The Daily Herald talked to the owners of three online food businesses that sprouted up in Snohomish County during the pandemic. They shared how they got started, what they specialize in, business challenges, how they plan to grow and advice for new and future business owners.
Sreylish Tum, Alice’s Goodie-Licious
Social media: www.facebook.com/AlicesGoodieLicious
Pricing: Malasadas range from $11 for a half dozen plain to $30 for a dozen filled. Kolaches cost $18 for a half dozen or $30 for a dozen.
Dishing out: Sreylish Tum sells malasadas, a Portuguese doughnut popular in Hawaii, and savory kolaches, a pastry with Czechia origins that’s usually stuffed with meat and cheese, or fruit spread for a sweet version. Tum, who also goes by Alice, stuffs her kolaches with smoked sausage and cheese, with a jalapeño option. A malasada is a yeasted fried dough known for its slightly crispy exterior and fluffy interior. They are enriched with eggs and butter, lending a brioche-like texture. After being fried, the malasadas are rolled in sugar. Tum sells them plain or stuffed with Bavarian cream, chocolate, lilikoi (passionfruit) cream, ube filling and whatever else sparks her creativity.
Tum moved to the United States from Cambodia in 2015. She worked at a doughnut shop in a tiny Texas town, where she discovered kolaches, before moving to Everett. She later tried malasadas while vacationing in Hawaii with her boyfriend. She couldn’t find similar versions of either one in Snohomish County, so she decided to re-create and perfect her own.
Growing the business: Tum wanted to honor the origins of her favorite bakery treats while building a business out of it. So last year, after tons of research and recipe testing, she began selling her malasadas and kolaches on Facebook Marketplace under the name Alice’s Goodie-Licious. People immediately caught wind of her goodies, bought them on Marketplace or through her business page and shared photos all over Facebook.
Robert Nakihei Jr., the owner of Bobby’s Hawaiian Restaurant in Lynnwood, also found Tum on Facebook. He reached out, asking about her malasadas. She stopped by the restaurant with a fresh batch, and the rest is history. Beginning March 29, Tum will make and sell her malasadas at Bobby’s under Alice’s Goodie-Licious. She plans to sell her kolaches separately.
Without social media, Tum said her business wouldn’t have “blown up this big in such a short period of time.” Her business’s growth has been strategic: She gave more than 300 malasadas away on March 1 at Bobby’s, which attracted even more people to her Facebook page. She now has more than 1,000 followers.
Future goals: Tum wants to expand her menu with street food items from around the world. She plans to buy a food trailer in the next year or so. She might also open a storefront in the future.
A word of advice: Thinking about opening a small food business? “Go for it,” Tum says.
Network with other small businesses, take advantage of the free online advertising that social media allows and be patient. Tum began selling her kolaches last year at Ryan’s REZ-ipes Food Truck, where she worked before teaming up with Bobby’s full time. She worked at Ryan’s five days a week, then built up her business on her days off.
Tum’s baking skills and passion for food gave her the drive to power through long hours, bad batches and the challenges of growing a business.
“It’s not just about taking someone’s order. It’s about making and sharing it, and then seeing the joy on people’s faces, the jaw dropping, the smiles, the ‘mmm’,” Tum said. “It’s amazing. No matter where you are, no matter what country, you always eat. To me, it’s a love language.”
Shannon McDowell, Rumbly in My Tumbly Pie Co.
Social media: www.facebook.com/sorumblyinmytumbly
Pricing: Prices range from $25 to $32 per pie, and $40 for a whole cheesecake.
Dishing out: Shannon McDowell makes picture-perfect, mouthwatering pies. Her menu items include dulce banana, old fashioned apple, lemon tart and peanut butter pie with rich chocolate ganache and Oreo cookie crust. Still no pie hankering? Just head to Rumbly in My Tumbly’s Facebook page.
McDowell, who has loved baking since she was a kid (and yes, she named her business after her childhood favorite, Winnie the Pooh), makes every buttery crust and filling by hand. All orders must be made in advance, and with good reason: McDowell’s pies often sell out within minutes of posting on Facebook. It’s also not rare for her pie flights to sell out in under one minute.
“I have a lot of elderly gentlemen who buy pies from me on a regular basis, like once a week,” she said. “Not to sound cliche, but it does taste like the pies that my grandma made when I was a kid, or that my dad made with me growing up.”
McDowell’s pies are an art form – and even an emotional release for some of her customers: One wrote to McDowell, “This pie was so good my husband wept. He said we need to order one every week.”
Growing the business: Rumbly in My Tumbly began as a baking blog and Facebook page in 2010, when McDowell gave birth to her first child and left her job as a human resources manager to become a stay-at-home mom. She devoted a lot of time to the blog and in 2016, loved ones began asking if she could make them cakes and pies. She baked for friends and family for three years before her husband encouraged her to get the proper permits so she could expand her business.
After realizing that a cottage permit would restrict her from making goods that need refrigeration — like her best-selling key lime pie — McDowell hired a contractor to build a commercial kitchen onto her garage, complete with a pickup window.
“I can’t explain the business I’ve gotten,” McDowell said. “It’s just crazy the amount of business and support you get just from word of mouth.”
McDowell often works 12-hour days to get her orders filled. She’s so busy that she sometimes has to turn down customers, and she can’t take same-day orders.
“I’m a people pleaser, so it’s hard to say no,” she said.
Still, McDowell can take off when she wants, and she gets to stay home with her kids.
McDowell only advertises on social media and has close to 9,000 Facebook followers. She does worry about Facebook locking her out or shutting down, but she’s built up a solid customer base with many regulars.
“I genuinely did not think that I could make enough money to contribute to my family, doing this,” she said. “It’s a legitimate business. I’m making comparable money to what I would have been making in my day job before.”
Future goals: McDowell and her husband are discussing how much they want Rumbly in My Tumbly to grow.
“If we got more space or opened up a real bakery we could hire people to help me,” she said. “I could get bigger but I’d be a lot busier and stressed. I know that right now things are going really well.”
For now, your best chance at snagging one of McDowell’s pies is to follow her Facebook page or place an online order ahead of time.
A word of advice: Take good photos so your product looks as delicious as it tastes. Online photography classes can help, McDowell said. Use those photos on social media, and experiment with the Facebook algorithm. McDowell found that posting once a day, every day gets the most traction.
Her husband does her bookkeeping and taxes, which takes a lot of stress off, she added.
McDowell said her ability to take an order for any kind of pie gives her a leg up over competitors. Want a layer of peanut butter in your banana cream pie? McDowell can do that.
“I would encourage people to do it and go for it, and believe in themselves,” she said.
Stephanie Allen And Lindsey Mease, Charcuterie by Stephanie
Pricing: Prices range from $36 for a smaller charcuterie board to $89 for a wooden tray that can feed up to 20 people.
Dishing out: Stephanie Allen and Lindsey Mease know how to make a beautiful, can’t-stop-snacking charcuterie board. So they made a business out of it.
Charcuterie by Stephanie’s boards come with Allen’s award-winning olive tapenade as well as her homemade buttery pesto cheese torte and savory, herby layered salami cheesecake. Let me repeat: Savory. Salami. Cheesecake. They also fill their boards with grapes, sharp cheddar slices, a hunk of bleu cheese, super crunchy olive oil crostini and Italian dry salami roses.
Their homemade items and quality packaging set Charcuterie by Stephanie apart, Allen said.
She recently called up one of her customers, an Everett family, to ask how they enjoyed their plate.
“Well, we took it down to our wine cellar to have wine, and we never made dinner,” the happy customer told her. “We just ate it for dinner.”
Growing the business: Allen has been in the catering business for more than 20 years, including when she ran a national company called Dream Dinners. While sitting at a winery with her husband one day, she realized they didn’t serve any food. They went to another winery. Same thing.
“I can’t sip wine anymore,” Allen remembers thinking. “I’ve got to have something to eat.” She went home and thought about all the recipes she’d created throughout her catering career. Then she called up Mease, her food development right arm, and got to work at the tail-end of 2021.
The pair decided on their board sizes, sent emails out, set up a Facebook page and took their product to a few local schools for the staff to try them, as well as a bank and a few other businesses.
“The phone just started ringing,” Allen said. “We were like, ‘We better set up the website.’”
Allen can smell a profitable niche a mile away, from tailgating parties to car dealerships.
“When you buy a car it takes forever to close on everything,” Allen said.
“And they don’t have food at car lots,” Mease added.
Allen found that wineries could provide consistent business, so the pair teamed up with a few local ones and expect to partner with more come spring.
Future goals: Allen and Mease are projecting their business to have a 25% gain every month. They currently prep all the food at a commercial kitchen in Everett, then package orders at Allen’s Tulalip home. Their current setup works well, but they may need a bigger space soon.
A word of advice: “Work within what you’re gifted at, and then let someone else help with the thing you’re not gifted at,” Allen said. “It’s just so important to let people help, and you don’t even have to hire full time. You can hire someone for an hour or two at a time. Then you’re not burned out.”