In this "Small Business Spotlight," presented by American Bank, Austin Meek of Waco Business News highlights Hanna Austin of Bittersweet.
This September marks three years of Downtown Depot on KWBU. I started this program because once we opened Pokey O's, I often found myself listening to inspiring stories of entrepreneurs swinging for the fences who weren't getting press in local media sources. My hope is that Downtown Depot will serve as a capsule for future Wacoans: honest, informative documentation of a period of transformative growth in our city's history.
Hanna Austin is a force, and likely would've drawn the attention of the local news sources eventually, but I'm particularly grateful to use this platform to share her story. This small business spotlight focuses on a young woman unfettered by tradition; she always goes with her gut, and it's taken her to a new storefront on the 600 block of Austin Avenue.
"I own Bittersweet. It’s a cookie business that isn’t your average cookie, I’d say. It’s a step up or a modern twist on the average chocolate chip cookie cookie."
Bittersweet has become known for its gigantic baked concoctions that could quell even the hungriest of food hounds.
”So they’re handcrafted and we stuff them with Nutella, caramel, anything crazy you can think of. We’ve done a brownie stuffed cookie."
The idea started one summer when she was bored at home scrolling through instagram.
"I saw a lot of stuff on social media about New York colleges and they had a lot of different options there and I noticed that Waco didn’t have that many.”
Hanna's friends began dropping by just to see what she'd whipped up. Eventually they asked her to bake custom orders and, by the end of the summer, she'd built a rabid following. That fall she started at Heritage Creamery, baking their cookies and eventually selling her own through the store. But even that step up wasn't enough for a woman willing to bet on herself.
"Over time as we grew, or as I grew with Bittersweet, I think it was kind of obvious that a decision had to be made. It was either I stay at Heritage and join their team or I try to grow elsewhere.”
One reason Hanna felt confident leaving the nest was that she'd just been accepted to a business incubator program at Baylor. Bittersweet had a dynamic leader, a drool-worthy product, and now just needed a little more guidance. That's when she connected with Cory Dickman, Operations Coordinator of Hustle Co-working, who told her about available square footage across from him on Austin Avenue and who now runs her books so Hanna can spend time doing she loves.
"He helps me with things that I don’t really like to focus on. A lot of businesses are either too focused on the money or too focused on the product and not understand the importance of balancing everything out, making sure you have enough to spend and pay your employees and stuff. So he really helps me keep an eye on that because I don’t care about that at all."
To make up for a lack of experience, Hanna listens to podcasts religiously, picking up leadership and team building traits that have strengthened the bond among the staff. She said it can be uncomfortable as a 21 year old bossing around her contemporaries but she's gone to great lengths to ensure everyone feels equal as the business grows.
"I told all of our employees before we started that whatever happens from this point it’s because of us as a team. And so any losses or anything we would celebrate we do it together because that’s what happens from here on out.”
That's the kind of attitude we need more of in downtown. Not just with in our separate businesses, but among the small business community as a whole.
As someone who owns my own cookie business, I could've been frustrated or cynical or scared when Bittersweet opened up six blocks from our store in the Hilton. But it rings hollow for me to talk about how much I love Waco, and I want it to get bigger, but only in every industry except mine. The success of our city comes as a team, and we need to welcome rule breakers like Hanna so we can all grow together.
"You have to do something different. You can’t follow someone’s words or someone’s rules. There’s no rule book, and I think that’s how I found success"