Ken Velky loved being in the restaurant business, but his first venture wasn’t meant to be. He kept the dream of having a food business alive for many years and finally realized it with Dueling Grandmas Shortbread Cookies. These shortbread cookies are fantastic and based on a family recipe. Hear how he got started, what product innovations he is undertaking, and where he plans to go from here.
Dueling Grandmas Podcast Transcript
Stephanie Hansen 0:01
We have been having such a blast with the makers of Minnesota dinners that we’ve been having at the Lexington we’ve decided to change up the format a bit and have a spring cocktail party. That way more people will be able to experience all of the great makers that we get to talk to we’re going to be having prize brewing V gray distilling, wild state cider, dash fire, cricket, water, spirits, bread blocks, whiskey, love Joy’s Bloody Mary mix, Dennard, craft spirits Edina roastery, J. Carver distilling, sweet Haven tonic Tattersall, share of shrubs, muddle and mint, and popcorn salad girl Patty, spice nuts, the salsa collaborative and tea arena spices all there at the Lexington during this cocktail party so that you can taste all of the unique Minnesota made products that we have to offer. We’ll be doing sample sizes of cocktails and sample sizes of canned cocktails. And we’ve got some great bites for you there. We’re going to be at the Lexington you can get tickets there $40 A person and it’s at the lex mn.com to order and we will have all of the makers with us that night, all of the floors of the Lexington will be open. So you’ll be having a multi dimensional experience at each of the different floors and be moving through the space trying lots of new makers products and old makers products that you know and love. It’s the makers of Minnesota cocktail party, hurry and get your tickets because when they’re gone, they’re gone. But we anticipate that this is going to be a sellout. We are really looking forward to hosting you. The cocktail party is going to be April 26. That’s a Tuesday night and we will have doors open at six o’clock and we will host you until nine. It’s the makers of Minnesota spring cocktail party. I’ll be there. All of the makers that I’ve mentioned, they’ll be there and we can’t wait to meet you.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota Podcast. I’m Stephanie Hansen. I love to talk to cool people doing cool things. And because I love food, I like to talk to food people and I’m here today with Ken Belsky and Ken is a food person for sure he has dueling grandma’s shortbreads. And Ken I think I first found out about you last fall when you were just kind of getting started. Somehow your shortbread landed in my mouth and I couldn’t like get my eyes off it. Those millionaire shortbreads that you make are fantastic. Welcome to the program.
Ken Velky 2:36
Thank you very much. Glad to be here.
Stephanie Hansen 2:38
Yeah. So give us the story because I know what’s your grandma’s story. But I want to know how you got started?
Ken Velky 2:44
Well, I’ll I’ll kind of go back a little bit from this a little bit back. But a lifetime ago, I had a little catering business with two college buddies of mine. And that was back when in when I was in my 20s and it was a beautiful thing. We started organic we grew slowly. One thing led to another we ended up outgrew our facilities and we needed to get a bigger space. Well, an opportunity we’re looking at an opportunity came about to buy a restaurant so we raised some more capital and got the restaurant. Long story short, that was the wrong decision. It killed the business the restaurant sucked was a was a money pit sucked everything dry. But we survived for a little bit. The catering business ended up fading away, and the restaurant went ended up fading away. And it also faded away the financial opportunities to do this again. Yep. But it was the greatest job I’ve ever had at that point. And the day I left that that Job was a day I wanted to do it again. But life moved on, you know, got married, had kids mortgage, you know, wandered through, but I always burning inside me was all I ever wanted to do professionally was have my little own little food business. So it kept lingering and lingering and I’ve had this idea for pride now the 15 years ago is when it first came into fruition in my head, sir, been making my grandmother’s shortbread forever it’s been in the family forever. And my mother in law gave me a recipe for millionaires shortbread, it would have been sacrilegious of me not to use grandma Mackenzie shortbread as the base for it. So I started making these and I’d hand them out to you know, give them two gifts and bring them to family functions and, and that type of thing. And they were always well received and was like, No, it’s like, people would comment, you could sell these things. And it’s like, yeah, you could. And so with that, the you know, I thought well, I had grandma Mackenzie’s recipe and I had grandma McIntyre, my mother in law with the two with her recipe there and that kind of one day kind of dueling grandmas just popped in my head for a name. I liked it. It made me smile. So I presented the name to a few other people my wife’s in advertising game and so creative people They are and they loved it, sir. But I just never did anything was it because I didn’t have the opportunity to as we kept waiting for that that moment when I can, you know, when finances in the family would be stable and I could go ahead and, and pursue my dream because I’ve just it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do but it was just kept being on the backburner and have to turn it up and then turn it back down. And so in October of 2020, my niece got married. And we’re talking before the marriage and it was actually happened to be one of those like three week windows, where you could actually get married during the COVID season. It was perfect by luck. But we’re sitting at a family dinner, and we’re talking about the wedding and stuff. And then the wedding cake gets mentioned. And she goes, Well, I wasn’t gonna bring it up. But we’re not going to have a wedding cake. What, but we were wondering is, could you make your millionaire shortbreads. So of course, I couldn’t make it. So I made 140 millionaire shortbreads for Isabel and Mike. And that was in October of 2020. And I always kind of, you know, it was kind of was pushing me further. And that was kind of like the kick I needed. And I just said, You know what, the right time is never going to happen, it won’t happen. And if I don’t do this, I, I literally go to my grave disappointed in myself, because I have to, I have to go out and try it. So November 1 2020. It’s no longer I was now unemployed, and doing good. And doing grandma’s full time. I had no customers, no kitchen. No website. But I knew I had to do it. And I had a passion. And I had, I knew, I knew I knew I had a product that would do well. So and I also knew, I knew myself well enough that if I were to sit down and write down everything I needed to take care of, you know, you know how to do this. And you know, all the legal stuff and all this tension stuff and all this become overwhelming. And I wouldn’t be bogged down by it. And I wouldn’t do it. So I just said, Just do it. You’ll figure it out. And you’ll and I knew I had to do it at that point in time too. Because it’s it’s there’s a seasonality was shortbread. And Christmas was right around the corner. And so I wanted to get out I wanted to I was toying with the idea of just making gift boxes for friends. And then I said, just let’s just do it all and
made a couple, you know, called called a bunch of people got a couple of corporate orders put together. I had a an initial goal that I wanted to hit for that. That first, you know, first two months, and I hit it. And it’s just like, okay, we can create a little business out of this. Let’s let’s keep going. Let’s figure it out.
Stephanie Hansen 8:02
And I think I think I, I think I had your shortbreads on was it Jason show I might have Yeah, yeah.
Ken Velky 8:10
That was your godsend.
Stephanie Hansen 8:14
Well, it sounds like I helped launch you because you weren’t in business very long when that
Ken Velky 8:18
Oh, that was an It was February 21. When when Minnesota makers did a little segment on the Jason show. And Jason loved them, which is a beautiful thing. And he looked at the camera and told us, his audience to buy them. And then the next morning, he went on his radio program and opened a radio program with dueling grandmas. And in 48 hours. I did more business in 48 hours than I had done the previous four months. Oh, that’s so nice. It was blew my doors off. But it was I mean, it was it was hard. But yeah, it was wonderful. But it was also just getting, you know, I just needed to get the name out there and get the product out. Yeah,
Stephanie Hansen 9:03
I love. I love your story. Because, like I knew there’s very few people that know they’re supposed to do something and just have that like burning desire and that just clear path to what they’re supposed to do. Most people want to have that and they never get it. So I loved that you went down that road it didn’t work out but you knew that was a road you needed to keep moving down. I felt like that with you know, radio and broadcasting and I just knew I needed to be talking for a living. I just knew it. And I didn’t know how or why or when I just knew it and I just kept always putting myself in front of those opportunities. It’s it’s interesting to hear you talk about particularly when it pertains to a food business all the reasons why you shouldn’t because let’s Let’s face it, there are a lot of obstacles.
Ken Velky 10:02
Oh, yeah. It’s not an easy, it’s not an easy business. And it hasn’t been, you know, I’m a year and a half into it now. There’s no way I can say it’s been easy. But it’s been wonderful. It is the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I don’t know where the future is going to be. But I know I’m going to be doing it because because I’m going to figure it out. And there’s just it’s too. There’s too many good things about it, that I that there’s no way I can let go now.
Stephanie Hansen 10:41
What do you think has been the biggest obstacle so far?
Ken Velky 10:45
Well, I always kind of knew, because I went into this as the primary focus is shortbread, gift boxes, mail order shipping. I know the product is a specialty product, it’s not, it sounds a lot like buying an Oreo cookie. It’s so the one of the biggest struggles is just simply getting name recognition, getting out there getting people to know who I am. Once they taste the product, which is the best marketing tool I have, is then they’ll ordered product. So it’s just a long road to hoe. But I’m willing to just keep doing whatever I need to do to get the name out there and to get the people to try it. And to my benefit, or to one of the things that’s helping me is that I’ve put myself in a financial position where I’m the ultimate, small business. I’m a one man operation. I wash the dishes, I do the marketing plans, I do research and development. I do order fulfillment and shipping and wear every single hat. But I also knew going going into it because when I was when I was playing with the idea of okay, I have to do something. I don’t have the finances to buy a restaurant, I want to be in the food game. But I but what can I do. And so this concept I knew I could create as a small concept or at least initially small, and be able to manage it and handle it. And so that’s I’ve put myself in a position to go and so and I’m willing to do it. I mean, there’s some long days, but and I work harder than some 25 year olds do. But that’s okay. Because to me, it’s not work. I’m doing what I love. That’s not work. That’s that’s just waking up and taking care of stuff. That’s just that’s, that’s wonderful.
Stephanie Hansen 12:46
What part of it do you specifically love? Do you love the baking?
Ken Velky 12:50
I love the kitchen, I’ve always loved the kitchen. And I do know as I get bigger, that’s one of the first things I’m going to have to give up is the time spent in the kitchen. But I’ll always have r&d, which is so I’ll always be in the kitchen, being able to, you know, with recipe development and all that kind of stuff. So but yeah, that’s the that’s one of the things that’s always drawn me to the food game is it’s I love. I love being in the kitchen.
Stephanie Hansen 13:19
What kind of strategies are you employing for name recognition? You talk about how that’s the game for you? What kind of things are you doing to achieve that?
Ken Velky 13:29
Well, I got to have the social media presence that I’m that I’m trying to, you know, pursue. You know, it’s the basics in there. My my oldest daughter is a sophomore in college and she kind of helps me with my Instagram. Because my eyes will have someone who actually really truly understands Instagram helped me with Instagram. And I’ve done some Tik Tok and that type of thing. But a lot of it is just simply and I know it’s it’s just time I need it’s a lot of it’s going to be time because I have to get the product out there. I have to get people to taste it and get people to and it is I mean It’s so fulfilling when I see when I know that this is someone placed an order who received it as a gift. Yeah, because they come. Yes. So they never knew about Dylan grandmas that receive the gift of doing grandma’s and now they’re gifting it to someone else. That tells me that I’m doing everything right everything’s going correctly.
Stephanie Hansen 14:31
Yeah, for sure. I was on your website and can you describe a Millionaire Shortbread in case the listener doesn’t know.
Ken Velky 14:40
Millionaire Shortbread is a little piece of manna from heaven. It’s grandma Mackenzie shortbread, which is the base of all of my recipes. Talk with homemade caramel. Yes, it’s homemade. I’ve made a lot of batches of caramel and then talk with chocolate. And it is the it’s an absolute decadent delicious treat.
Stephanie Hansen 15:02
It is like when you hold the cookie, the chocolates hard on top. So though the caramel is sort of pooled in the middle of the cookie, but then you bite into it and you get that layer of the salty shortbread, the caramel, the chocolate kind of all in that perfect bite. It’s It’s really delicious now is the fact that your cookies are so fresh. And basically just butter, sugar and flour is that difficult in terms of the packaging and how long they last and that sort of thing? Yeah,
Ken Velky 15:33
and that’s part of why I’ve the freeze beautifully. So that’s two, I mean, you can, I mean, they freeze beautifully. So with that regards, they work great with the concept that I’m doing it with, you know, with the ship shipping and gifting because they by the time that when they receive the customer season, they’re going to be in perfect condition. Yep. They’re not designed to be shelf stable, as in, sell them to the grocery stores and have them sit on the shelf for six months before they sell. That’s and I don’t want it to be designed like that either. I want it to be the want it to be the way it’s supposed to be. When you bite into one of my shortbread cookies, you’re biting into shortbread the way shortbread is supposed to taste.
Stephanie Hansen 16:22
When you think about how that’s supposed to taste, do you have like a taste memory of being a kid and having one for the first time?
Ken Velky 16:31
No, not per se. I mean, we had I remember always having it always loving it always. Looking forward to it. It’s always a treat. And it’s been fun like with either just customers or Farmers Market customers and stuff. And you so many people will come by and go I love shortbread. And it is a simple thing. There’s only there’s the basic shortbread. There’s four ingredients. butter, flour, sugar, and then a pinch of salt. Yep. But if you do not put those four ingredients together correctly, and then bake them correctly, you don’t get the right product.
Stephanie Hansen 17:10
Right, right. You mentioned that you just love what you’re doing. Are there parts of it that you don’t love? Like? Is there something you just dried? Or you get to it last every day?
Ken Velky 17:21
Well, no one likes paperwork.
Stephanie Hansen 17:25
No, they really don’t. Our taxes my god, yeah, just that is the worst. But I
Ken Velky 17:32
kind of break up everything. So my days flow, because I don’t I don’t overwhelm myself with one little task. And I can always go back and take care of something and I was I can walk away from something and then come back to it. So
Stephanie Hansen 17:49
is it hard for you to like take a vacation? Or what happens when like you’re not on?
Ken Velky 17:54
Yeah, it’s right now. It’s non existent. Like, my son goes to school out out east. And, you know, I had, you know, going to making the road trip to pick him up, and then bring him back home. It was, you know, two days of driving out there. Hello, how you know, pick you up and two days driving back because I could not afford to be away. Right. And but I knew that going into it. I knew that, you know, you’re gonna have to make some sacrifices. And one of the sacrifices I was gonna have to make was, I have to work this until
I can’t afford to take a vacation. But as I’ve said before, too, it’s just to me, it’s not work.
Stephanie Hansen 18:36
And do you anticipate that the way you’ll get there is to like eventually bring on help? Or would you consider like going to a co Packer or doing something like that? Yeah,
Ken Velky 18:45
my my thought right now is to do go the CO packing route. The facility that I’m subleasing my kitchen space for him right now. It’s a creative catering by Molly, and she is fabulous. Her facilities are fabulous. Her she runs a great business. I couldn’t ask for a better situation. And I think in many respects, I think it’s providential that I ended up there. Because when I got hit with the JSON show, if I was in a different facility, I would there’s no way I would have been able to fulfill what happened with me. But Molly does co packing as part of for business. And so I’ve had, you know, tiny conversations and right now I’m not at a point where it would go that way, but it’s nice to know that hopefully as I grow, and I get to that point, I know what kind of business she runs, and I would trust her completely with if she wanted to do it if we came up with an agreement. I trust her completely with being able to maintain In the integrity of the product,
Stephanie Hansen 20:01
where’s Molly’s kitchen? To Little Canada? Okay. Um, when you look around and you see other entrepreneurs, is there anybody out there that inspires you?
Ken Velky 20:17
Just I think everyone kind of does. Yeah, no,
Stephanie Hansen 20:21
I mean, fair enough.
Ken Velky 20:23
I mean, like, your podcast, I love listening to entrepreneurial stories of what they’ve done, and how they’ve done it. And, and throughout all different types of industries. So if that’s always kind of intrigued me, of, you know, what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it, how they’re finding success. And the key behind all of it is just simply is just passion. And drive. And I know my products good.
Stephanie Hansen 20:56
Yeah, I definitely hear that. So. So.
Ken Velky 21:00
But even though I know it’s good, I still, every every single batch that I make, I still kind of, you know, it’s, there’s still a little bit of me. Am I doing this? Right, you know, and I know I’m doing it right. I think I’ve made at this point time, you know, about 40,000 shortbread cookies since I know what I’m doing. And, but But yeah, so the basically the stories behind everyone I find inspirational.
Stephanie Hansen 21:28
Has the increase of inflation, the increase of cost of goods? has that impacted you yet? And how do you account for that? Because
Ken Velky 21:40
it’s definitely, yeah, it’s definitely having an impact right now. And I’m at the point now, are you looking at what I would have, I’m not raising my prices, because I mean, I’m already at a, at a premium price point. So I’m, I’m taking the hit myself right now, but because I’m too I’m too new into this. And I, it’s just that it’s just, it’s entered, you know, everyone knows, prices will increase eventually. But right, right now, I’m just taking the hit. Plus, I also have to know that I mean, like, you know, butter has gone up at least 50 plus 50 60%. From, you know, eight months ago. And my hope is, is that things will settle down and that this isn’t the new norm. It may go, it probably won’t go down to where it was. But I can’t foresee that these prices are going to maintain at this level. Now, if they do maintain for another six months, this level, then I’ll have to readjust but and hopefully, you know, my customers will understand. I think most people understand that. Right? It’s it’s not you know, I have expenses.
Stephanie Hansen 22:58
Do you do a lot of research and development and are there like new shortbread ideas or flavors?
Ken Velky 23:05
Yeah, I’m constantly having fun little tinkering. I had a couple flavors last summer that I did. I did a strawberry daiquiri and a pina colada. Yum. And yeah, they’re both really good. And so I might bring those back again, from somewhere, I might try something else. I just just introduced we bytes. On my website, which is, it’s the classic shortbread, but it’s, it’s a smaller cookie. So it’s in a little bag, so you can just grab a bunch. So it’s that’s not necessarily a new recipe, etc. I have a bunch of other thoughts and recipes that I want that I plan on trying out and doing in the future. And then I also, once things get more established, my, my intention is to, is to probably is to replicate everything with a gluten free line. Oh,
Stephanie Hansen 24:02
do you feel like you could do that and have it taste as good?
Ken Velky 24:05
I think I could. I’ve, I haven’t played with the gluten free flowers in a while. But you know, a few years back, I was tinkering in the kitchen at home and playing with it. And I made, you know, made chocolate chip cookies that were gluten free that you’d have. You’d have to be told they’re gluten free to know they’re gluten free because they’re they and so you can manipulate that flour just right. I haven’t done it with the shortbread. Yeah, I think I feel confident that I could make that work. If I can’t, I won’t. I won’t produce the product. Yes, that’s that’s number one.
Stephanie Hansen 24:39
Looking forward to that. That sounds delicious.
Ken Velky 24:42
Yeah, I think that’ll be a fun market segment to that, you know, small but But there’ll be people that will be interested in Avenue.
Stephanie Hansen 24:49
So besides ordering online, are there markets that you’ll be at this summer where people can find you?
Ken Velky 24:55
Yeah, my primary market is the Minneapolis farmer’s market. I was there all last summer, and I’m gonna be there all this year. I’ll be there coming up real soon right around that is probably Saturdays and Sundays not there every Saturday every Sunday, but I’ll be there pretty much there every weekend. There’s other markets that I that I that I do. Periodically looking into different things I’ve developed a little relationship with seven vines vineyard in Bellwood, they use my grandma Mackenzie shortbread in one of their tasting pairings. And so and they have a little market there too. So I am pursuing and looking at, at various different markets. And then I’m also trying to now is hopefully COVID starts to settle down a little bit here and life becomes a little bit more back to normal is a little bit more of that corporate market. Where, because I remember in our old catering business, we did a lot of, you know, afternoon, business meetings with bringing cookies and stuff such to get a little bit of that market. Plus, I’m also looking into more of like the customer appreciation aspect of it, talk to a couple of different companies with regards to you know, making like a, like a smaller gift pack like three shortbreads and sending them out to their clients as a thank you, you know, or Hello. I’ve, I’ve talked to a couple different Realtors with regards to that. I’ve also talked to event planners and wedding planners. You know, for people who are looking for a different, you know, my niece isn’t the only one. I’ve actually done a couple of weddings. And there’s other brides that that are going I don’t need to pay $8 for a slice of wedding cake. Let’s give my guest something else.
Stephanie Hansen 26:52
Something delicious. Yeah, I love it. Well, Ken, it’s been fun to talk to you. I’m happy that I had a small hand in helping your needle because that’s really it makes me happy as an entrepreneur when I would get a big order from somebody, it would be so thrilling. So I’m glad that that worked out and I look forward to running into you this summer.
Ken Velky 27:13
Yeah, wonderful. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Stephanie Hansen 27:16
Thanks, Ken. We’ll talk soon and you can get the shortbread cookies at Julian grandmas. shortbread.com.com. Yeah, they’re fantastic. You should just like, run, run to place your order. All right. I’ll talk to you soon.
Ken Velky 27:33
Transcribed by https://otter.ai