From Scratch: Q&A with Deena Sisco, baker and businesswoman

Always on the go, Chick and Hen Baking Company owner, operator and sole baker Deena Sisco has grown her business from a farmer’s market favorite – in several counties- to a wholesale brand.

The motherly hen looking down at a little chick on her logo (born from a doodle on a napkin) are popping up all over the area with her goods gracing the menu at Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market in Gloversville, The Orendaga on Northville Lake and most recently the newly reopened Inn at the Bridge in Northville.

Sisco’s creations range from sweet to savory, including desserts, empanadas, spinach pie, breads and more.

She lives on Bleecker Mountain where, yes, she raises the chickens who grace her logo, and maintaints her own garden.

As the business approaches its two-year anniversary next month, The Leader-Herald caught up with her to ask a few questions about how she got started and what’s in store for the home-based business.

Her answers provided via email are below:

The Leader-Herald: When did you begin your business, and what was your motivation to start the company?

Deena Sisco: The concept of Chick and Hen Baking Company began about a year before it actually opened in July 2011. My motivation was to own and operate a business that offered a back-to -basics approach to food. I wanted to combine my new found love of living on Bleecker Mountain, gardening and raising chickens with my oldest joy, cooking and baking. The concept of providing scratch-baked sweets and savories doing just the same is where Chick and Hen was born.

LH: Please describe your business. How many employees do you have? Is it a family business?

DS: We are a baking business as the name indicates. We are located on Bleecker Mountain and provide to the public – via wholesale and retail at the farmers markets – scratch-baked, preservative-free sweet and savory goods. Though described as a company, my hands are the only two making all of the goods at this time. My husband, Tom, and his children have all had a role in the company as well as my extremely supportive parents. Help at the farmer’s markets is always most appreciated!

LH: What was your career choice before you started Chick and Hen?

DS: My career choice before Chick and Hen was probably something that resembled owning a business similar to Chick and Hen. In 2009, I relocated to this area to be closer to my family from Albany. There, I had owned Mezzo Marketplace & Eatery, which was a wonderful business offering fresh food, breads, baked goods, unique pantry items, and beer and wine. With the 2008 shift in the economy, and a personal health battle, I decided to close the doors and sold the building and contents to another wonderful Albany business. I knew that moving back home was going to be challenging in the career area, and that I was desirous to carve out my own niche again. I have always loved to bake and felt that if I took all the great items that we’d seen success with at Mezzo, I could create a company locally and offer just the same.

LH: How did you come up with the name Chick and Hen?

DS: The name Chick and Hen describes the big players in the business: myself as the “chick” and my egg-laying “hens.” I sketched out the the logo and the brand was born.

LH: Where do you sell your baked goods, and how has that increased since you started the business? What can you tell us about your partnership with Inn at the Bridge in Northville?

DS: Since opening softly in 2011, I have been a vendor at many of the area farmer’s markets and some of the local festivals. This year specifically, Chick and Hen has taken on more of a wholesale direction with two of my primary accounts including the wonderful Mohawk Harvest Co-op in Gloversville, and the brand new Inn at the Bridge in Northville. Since the business does not have a brick-and-mortar retail location, these local businesses are able to offer our goods to the public throughout the week. It has been a nice compliment for both businesses. At the co-op, customers may enjoy our quiche, spinach and feta pie or empanadas in their cafe for lunch or dinner as well as many of our desserts including the infamous, flourless chocolate cake (gluten free).

Chick and Hen’s new partnership with the Inn at the Bridge allows for Northville to have our goods, open to the public, Thursday-Sunday. The wonderful family-run business [owned by the Intrabartola family of The Orendaga fame] is a great compliment to our small-scale baking, and they are offering a beautiful selection of our desserts, custom-ordered cakes, artisan breads and savories on their small-plates menu.

We also have two seasonal customers that offer an array of our products to their customers. [They are] Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center, Benson, and Timberlane Blueberry Farms, Caroga.

I am both flattered and gracious to all of the businesses for patronizing Chick and Hen and allowing us to have such a presence in the community.

As far as farmer’s markets this summer, our new busy schedule for 2013 will find us at the Northville Market on Tuesdays and Fridays, 2 to 5 p.m. and the Speculator market on Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m.

LH: Did your business grow quicker or at about the pace you expected? What is the key to growth in your business?

DS: Chick and Hen’s growth has been steady and predictable. There have been times in the last two years where I have had to work a second job to keep things afloat and times where I’d wished I could be cloned!

With the help and support of family, we’ve seen ourselves through those times and currently could not be happier with our pace.

I think that the success and key to growth is to really hone in on what product or service drove you to start the company – what the customers have come to love and expect from the company. A good brand keeps them talking and wanting more and allows new customers to identify your product an find you. Being a great baker is only half of the success puzzle. Pairing your customer and your products’ worth to create a legitimate business is certainly the harder part and is an everyday effort.

LH: What are some of the customers’ favorite products?

DS: I would like to think that Chick and Hen only offers customers favorites!

As we offer such a variety with over 100 different products in the recipe box and change accordingly with the seasons, each customer comes to the table for thier very own personal favorite. I can confirm that there are a few items that I am leary to show up without at any market, and those would include our coconut-honey macaroons, flourless chocolate cake, pecan lace cookies with orange buttercream filling and spinach and feta pie.

LH: What are some of the challenges unique to your business, and how do you overcome them?

DS: Our most unique challenge that many our customers struggle with is that we do not have a retail outlet of our own. Chick and Hen operates from a “little kitchen that could” installed by my loving and supportive husband who thought if he built it, I could do it.

When we opened, I tried to have as much of a presence for Chick and Hen as I could at the farmer’s markets and festivals in the area. I mobbed Facebook with posts and photos and talked a lot about my new venture. I think that once the buzz was out and we developed a positive word of mouth, it really helped us overcome the fact that customers needed to think and plan ahead to get their Chick and Hen fix.

LH: What is the most satisfying aspect of owning your own business?

DS: The most satisfying aspect of owing my own business for myself is on the creative end. Coming up with new recipes, playing with the dough and buttercreams in the kitchen and then remembering that I do this for a living is very satisfying. I love caring for all of the elements that go into our products as well. A typical day starts in the chicken coop harvesting fresh eggs, cutting fresh herbs and picking zucchini and tomatoes from the garden (seasonally) and then off the kitchen to make something delicious. I also love sharing the business with my family and am proud to involve them at every advantage.

LH: What do you see as the future of your business? Any exciting news you’d like to share with the readers about new developments?

DS: The future of Chick and Hen is really up to the community and its customers. Should the phone ring for more wholesale or another great market to attend, I am open to more business.

With that said, I am also really grateful with the developments of this year and should that not happen, I am very satisfied.

I am able to do what love, manage my health and have time for my family and friends. Business and life is pretty great up here on the mountain.