My Soapbox: Peggy Shannon, Queen City Cookies

Look for Queen City Cookie's reigning royalty, founder Peggy Shannon, driving a pink, elephant-adorned "schnecken shack" starting next week. The city's newest food truck will house plenty of sweets and lots of new creations, from pig pockets to donut toast. And it will be hard to miss. Shannon gives Soapbox the scoop on truck menus and elephant art, selling to Dean and Deluca and building a new Cincinnati landmark within an historic one.

Soapbox: Why a food truck?
Peggy Shannon: They’re fun, scrappy and festive and allow us to share our treats with a wider audience. I love the smiles when people taste our delish baked goods, so it’s fantastic to take them on the road. There’s a bit of carnival, gypsy aspect to trucks that I love. There’s something very democratic and wild about a food truck. I’ve wanted to do one for a long time, but needed to focus on our store at Findlay and finding a new bakery for us to expand into first.

SB: What are you calling it and why?
PS: We’re calling it our Schnecken Shack because I love the idea of joyful shack with happy schnecken and dancing around to the B52s. Think “Love Shack,” me in a beehive serving our ooey, gooey buttery bliss schnecken, maybe bacon flowers floating through the air and you got it! It’s fun, it’s who we are. It’s creative and oh, so turns the serious bakery on its ear, or in our case, since the truck looks like an elephant, trunk.

SB: What will you serve?
PS: We’re focusing on three areas of service for the truck, so the menu will change out during the day. For our breakfast fans, individual schnecken rolls (or by the box for those who can’t get enough), pig pockets (adorable pig pop overs filled with ham, cheese) – yes, they look like pigs!, my latest creation, donut toast (a baked donut in the shape of toast that’s sprinkled with cinnamon sugar (inspired by my love of the domino sugar bear as a kid), frittatas, a vegan popover option, crack pie (which lives up to its name) and of course, Coffee Emporium coffee to kick start the day.

Later in the day, we’ll have ice cream sandwiches made with Madison’s gelato and our cookies, amazingly dense Oreo brownie explosions, Bundt cakes (think bourbon), cupcakes and light-as-a-feather meringue swirls in cardamom, Madagascar vanilla, heavy cream, violet lavender, tangerine, raspberry.

We also have a full line of beverages — Steez Tea, Synergy drinks.

SB: When will you hit the streets? 
PS: We’re hoping to be at Court Street for breakfast on Wednesday, April 23, if not earlier. You know how that goes.

SB: Who designed it?
PS: Lisa Ballard, our graphic designer, and I work so well together we can finish each other’s sentences. She’s so clever and fills in all the intangibles of our brand. I had the idea the truck should be an elephant and have the blanket area open to serve from. We just had more and more fun coming up with the design. Lisa thought to put the elephant in the back window, which I think is a stroke of genius. It completely expresses the essence of who we are: fun, unexpected, attention-to-detail and delicious. We don’t do anything half-way, as evidenced by the elephant head (hood?) ornament. I wanted to have a hood ornament but thought back to the outbreak of Mercedes ornaments that were stolen after Run DMC’s version of “Walk This Way.” I knew it had to go on the top so it would be harder to steal. Kate Schmidt was my first thought to create this work of art. She brings a sense of joy to the truck that I hope carries through in our baked treats. Check back mid-summer, I might cover the interior with strings of lights and elephant chakakates.

SB: Where are your cookies sold now?  
PS: Dean & DeLuca, which is a dream come true. Dean & DeLuca Japan has also requested them. Sur La Table, Fox & Obel, in Chicago. Of course our store at Findlay Market and online at Locally, Cork & Bottle, Market Wines, Dutch’s Larder. We’re in private label discussions with Henri Bendel in NYC and later this month, we’ll be online with Karma. We’re carried in specialty grocery and gift stores in about 18 states.

SB: What’s next?
PS: We’re creating a new retail and production bakery in the St. Pius Church compound on Blue Rock in the heart of Northside. The church will house our retail bakery, where we’ll offer a variety of classes and rent the space for private events. It’s an incredible space, full of light and the great energy of a building built in 1872. The structure is of brick and stone, in the ornately unique gothic Romanesque style of architecture. This church is the only instance in Cincinnati of a church with a dome and steeple in the center of the cruci-form edifice. Our wholesale/productions bakery will take shape in the gymnasium. We’re committed to becoming a Cincinnati landmark, like Graeter’s and Skyline, so I’m delighted our new home is a landmark on its own.

We’re also very excited about our partnership with the Cincinnati Opera. With the opening of the 2012 season, Queen City Cookies will become the official bakery of Cincinnati’s grand opera company. From Die Meistersinger to The Magic Flute, Queen City Cookies has partnered with Cincinnati Opera to create cookies as magical as the performances at Music Hall. Our founding mission includes the support of extraordinary institutions in Cincinnati, so we are delighted to partner with the world-class Cincinnati Opera.

We’re also actively pursuing GSFI (Global Food Safety Initiative). To give you an idea on the complexity of this program, I was told by one of the inspectors that we’re only one of a handful of companies our size in the past 10 years that has pursued this certification process. Once the bakery has reached this level of certification (which is an eight-month process), we will be recognized as one of the safest food producers in the world. This certification allows us to work with Kroger. We’re look forward to offering premium, all-natural baked goods to a wider audience.

And of course, I’m very excited about the upcoming Queen City Cookies Art Camp with Happen, Inc. This year we will invite other creative groups to share the camp each week, so look for yoga classes, creative writing, cookie decorating and more to be added to each week’s festivities. Last year, we offered free art activities and fed about 100 kids each Saturday, so I’m hopeful we can expand those numbers this year. The free art camp is held each Saturday in Children’s Park, in Northside from Sept. 8 through Oct. 6. Please email us at [email protected] for more information and a class schedule.
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