BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Genevie Alejandro never expected her future in the baking entrepreneurial world to begin with a bishop.
But in April, she made her first batch of sugar cookies, shaped as priests with their Roman collars, for the birthday of Bishop Steven J. Lopes, who heads the Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
“I did not want to mess them up!” Alejandro said an interview from Texas with The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. “Not many people have the opportunity to make cookies for a bishop.”
She credits her new business venture as a result of two distinct, unrelated factors: the free time in lockdown due to the global pandemic and being rooted in faith and service within the traditions of her loving Mexican Catholic family.
“My mom is a sweetheart, she’s always shown love,” Alejandro said. “We didn’t grow up poor, we didn’t grow up rich, but she always put her heart and made those special little efforts.”
Alejandro was raised in a small town called D’hanis, located west of San Antonio, where a lot of her extended family — from grandparents and great-grandparents to her aunt and cousins — lived close by.
As a child, faith was instilled by the guidance of her maternal grandmother, who made sure Alejandro followed stern rules like waking up for the early Mass on weekends and not eating an hour before it started. For her start in baking, she credits her great-grandmother, Vicenta: “Every Christmas she made a cookie. We called it ‘reposteria,’” which, in Spanish, means making pastries or baked goods.
Alejandro’s idea to start baking for others came after college when she was based in St. Louis. There, she met a family who baked cookies for local firefighters. She took that idea with her when she moved back to Texas to work in Houston. When she volunteered with the nonprofit Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, Alejandro and her little sister made cookies for Houston firefighters.
After people started raving about the taste of her cookies — that she bakes with a special Mexican vanilla — Alejandro decided she would consider doing it more often for friends and families during the holidays. Then the pandemic hit. But the lockdown didn’t stop her from baking. Instead, it allowed her more free time to dedicate to her business.
“I decided to name my company Simply Yummy — I wanted to keep it simple … and I wanted to make sure that the cookies were really good,” she said.
One of her customers is her college friend Jo Anne Castillo, a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas Church outside of Houston. She ordered cookies from Simply Yummy for her family members’ birthdays.
“They taste fresh, soft and filling,” Castillo said. “There is definitely a unique ingredient that I don’t find in any other cookie, but I doubt Genevie will tell me what it is.”
On June 29, her brother, Armando, ordained as a priest for the ordinariate in the middle of a global pandemic. Although he was worried about how that might affect his ordination, she reminded him to surrender it to God and His will.
Alejandro’s gift to the church and her brother was sweet — 90 treats that included customized priest-shaped cookies, vestments and all, and chalice-shaped cookies representing the Eucharist.
“I’m very honored to be his sister,” she said. “Making cookies for his ordination was … out of love.”
A labor of love meant a lot of time around a table, with her family, crafting the special dough.
Her mission isn’t to make a profit, but to treat her business as a ministry, sharing her time and talents to make cookies for low-income families or single-parent households and not charge as much as competitors or boutique bakers.
“I have a full-time job and this is mainly a hobby,” she said. “If I can help someone and make their birthday, or baptism, or ordination, or whatever it is, a little more meaningful with dessert, that’s the best that I can do. That’s all I can ask for.”
The author, Melissa Enaje, is a reporter and youth page editor at The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn.