For any baker, the holidays can be a busy time. But if you’re Lake Forest’s Cindy Ousterhout, this fall presented her company O’My Goodness Cookies (omygoodness.com) with the perfect storm. Celebrating 25 years of making hand-decorated specialty butter and gingerbread cookies, this fall found Ousterhout baking cookies for the Chicago Cubs World Series run, the opposing sides of the presidential election, and the special “Love to Give” selection of gifts that Neiman Marcus offers in The Christmas Book, its high-end luxury holiday food catalog where proceeds are donated to local charities.
“It’s our 25th year as a company and it is our best year yet,” explains Ousterhout. “I couldn’t say ‘no’ to any of these opportunities. Can you imagine saying ‘no’ to the Cubs or ‘no’ to Neiman Marcus—I don’t think so. We just had to figure it out.”
In her sprawling Lake Bluff baking kitchen and distribution center, O’My Goodness produces more than 600,000 cookies annually. Ousterhout is the chief creative who comes up with the colorful designs that grace all of her cookies from autumnal orange pumpkins, to gingerbread men with plaid pants, Easter eggs, and brides and babies. “I love the idea of Pinterest,” says Ousterhout. “But I won’t let myself look at it because I want the cookies we to produce to be designs I dream up. The design is what I’m passionate about—that and always delivering on our promise of providing a delicious cookie.”
Starting with the simple idea of a hearty butter cookie with a shelf life, each of Ousterhout’s cookies are cut by hand and baked, individually frosted, and then intricately decorated with one of Ousterhout’s designs. “Today, we look like Santa’s workshop,” she laughs, as her team was busily frosting toy trains, Christmas trees, and Santa himself. O’My Goodness employees more than 20 people who produce the cookies and package them for their retail partners. Ousterhout’s husband, Andy, creates the production schedule and manages the books, in addition to his full-time job with IBM.
“O’My Goodness has been a dream company for my family,” Ousterhout explains of her husband and three grown children. “Not that it’s been easy, but it’s something that my children watched Andy and I build and that they were a part of as well. There were times when they were younger where they had to help me. It was something that we could do together and be proud of.”
Over the years, a number of budding entrepreneurs have approached Ousterhout with baked good ideas of their own. “I always want to be encouraging because those are the kind of people I had surrounding me when I was launching my business,” she says. “But my only caution is that they be confident that they’ve created the best product available, that it’s unique, and that there is a market for it.”
One of the keys to O’My Goodness’s success is that their growth has been organic. “I’ve always been afraid of growing too big, too fast,” she says, referring to stories of other businesses who invested in too much expensive state-of-the-art equipment upfront, or put all of their eggs in one basket— counting on a small client base to carry the business instead of having some diversity in the customer base. “Each day, I find myself weighing the pros and cons of taking a reorder or adding to our client list because I want to make sure our current clients are always happy with what they receive from us. I don’t want to put that in jeopardy just to be bigger.”
To be included in “The Christmas Book” from Neiman Marcus has been quite a coup, marking the partnership O’My Goodness has shared with the retailer for more than two decades. “They’ve been with me since the beginning,” she says. “We’ve been through a lot together. And to know that this year when someone buys our cookies they will also benefit a local charity… At this point in my career, that giving back component is so important to me.”
When asked if given the chance to turn back the clock and found O’My Goodness again, Ousterhout doesn’t miss a beat. “I wouldn’t only start O’My Goodness again, but I would do everything exactly the same way I did the first time. We’ve had a few bumps along the way, but to be here 25 years later, having our best year to date, all I can say is that this company has been a blessing. I love that we’ve had the chance to be a part of so many special moments in people’s lives.”