Baking from Her Roots: Meet Susan Bartone '03, Owner of MudPies LLC
Susan Bartone '03 graduated from SUNY Corning Community College with an Associate's Degree in Humanities and Social Sciences. Now, she runs MudPies LLC, an online-based bakery that is changing the way vegan and gluten-free desserts are seen.
What can you tell me about your time at SUNY CCC?
When I first started, I started in business. After the first semester, oddly enough I felt like “no, I don’t want to do this, it’s not for me.” So, I ended up switching degree programs and I went into the Administrative Services program. I went all the way through that program, all the way until the last class I needed which involved doing an internship. Life got in the way, so I just ended up putting that on hold. I got married, raised the kids from home, then made the decision to go back to school. I ended up graduating from SUNY CCC with an Applied Science degree. I thought I was going to be a science teacher, because I loved science (which is actually an aspect in baking). SUNY CCC was a great place to start. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, opening a baking business at the time was the furthest from my mind. I felt very comfortable at SUNY CCC. There was not any issues changing my degree or talking to advisors. The class sizes were small, which was nice, and I was able to try many different things. Overall, the three times I went there I had a great experience.
Do you have any fond memories of SUNY CCC?
I definitely do. I absolutely loved my Zoology professor, Jack Wills. I found that many of the teachers at SUNY CCC were genuinely caring and wanted you to learn. If you wanted to learn, they were going to help you. I also took as many pottery classes as I could. That was my creative outlet, being an artistic person. I love working with my hands, and pottery was a relaxing way to be creative and I actually practiced pottery for several years after I graduated.
The other thing that I enjoyed doing was Cross Country at SUNY CCC, I signed up on a whim. I stepped out of my comfort zone, I didn’t have anyone else doing it with me, but I didn’t feel nervous doing it by myself. It was fun, I met some great new friends, tried something new, and I am still trail running to this day.
What compelled you to start your own business? What do you love about it?
When we started a family, I wanted to be very hands on and involved. I always enjoyed baking. We grew up way out in the country, and we literally lived off the land. We had a huge garden; it was almost half of an acre, so we did everything from scratch. My parents let me play a lot when I was baking, they got me a little Holly Hobby oven and I have pictures of me throwing stuff together and trying to bake it. This is how I chose the name for my business. I was always being told I should sell my baked goods, and I never thought it was going to happen. Then I realized the flexibility I would have with my hours and orders, and how I could work around my children’s schedule, so I gave it a shot. It was very nerve-wracking. I started doing craft shows, and it went pretty well. A that point in time I only brought four or five different things; I had no idea what to expect. Then in 2012, I decided to start doing the Farmers Market. After my first two weeks, I was shocked at how much wonderful feedback and repeat clients I was getting. I was overwhelmed, and so excited. I wasn’t advertising at the time, I was afraid to take it on since my kids were still my number one priority. Little by little, I expanded. I would have people saying, “Could you adapt this? Could you make it gluten-free? Could you make it vegan?” One thing led to another, and I really enjoyed what I was doing, so I thought that maybe I could make something of it. So I took a shot, put myself out there, and here we are.
Tell us about MudPies.
I didn’t want MudPies to be a typical bakery. When I took some business classes, and when I took a week-long course at the King Arthur School of Flour in Vermont, one thing I heard a lot is that you can’t make a business on variety unless you have a store front. Knowing me, I was going to be bored out of my mind making the same exact thing every day. So I decided I was going to be stubborn and not listen, because I knew in my head I could make it work. We are most known for our dessert cakes, decorative royal icing sugar cookies (popular for business logos, wedding favors, birthday parties, holiday gift-giving), vegan molasses & traditional molasses cookies, gluten free & dairy free cakes/cupcakes, vegan & gluten free protein bites, scones, Kugelhopf, our house "Mud" brownies, and our gluten free shortbread cookies.
When I was growing up, my best friend lived on a pig farm. And of course, there was a lot of mud, so naturally we would make pies of mud. I really want to take people back to their roots with my baking, I had a lot of recipes that were passed down from generation to generation. I didn’t want to be a typical bakery, and I wanted people to know that everything I do is from scratch. So I thought that MudPies is unique to me in the sense that it takes me way back to when I first started baking as a little girl. To me, it means taking everything I learned throughout my life, and my creativity of putting things together.
Now, I have adapted many of my recipes to be vegan or gluten-free, because my philosophy is that everyone should be able to have something they enjoy. When I started this eight years ago, I found that people were starving for something because diets were changing at that time and there wasn’t much available. Still to this day, I will cater to clients in a way where I will figure out how to make something for them that they will enjoy. MudPies means putting my heart and soul into everything. It has been a constant adventure in trying to make something for everyone to enjoy. There are times where I think I should scale back, but it’s hard because I don’t want to take something someone really enjoys away from them. You name it, I pretty much do it all. I have no one else helping me, so I think that’s another unique thing about me. I control every aspect of the business, and if I’m not happy with something it doesn’t go out the door.
Is there something that makes MudPies unique to the area?
Customization. I work with every client on my own and can adapt. I do so many different things, and because I operate out of my home, everything that I do I am able to create fresh and on site for the client. I put my all into everything I make, and I tailor my time frame for each client to make sure everything is perfect.
Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Know your market, and know it well. Study it for a while before you decide to take the leap. Be prepared to reinvent and adapt on demand. Don’t get in over your head. It was hard in the beginning; it’s a balance from a cost perspective. Slow down, be patient, work with what you have, and build from there. Have a plan, have a goal, but be flexible and be adaptable. I saved every penny I had for the longest time because you don’t know when an emergency is going to come up. I didn’t start paying myself for a while, and I paid cash for everything when I could to avoid loans. I used the reward points on credit cards to put back into the business and to advertise.
Any advice for incoming SUNY CCC students?
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, don’t be afraid to take risks. But be sure to be educated about the pros and the cons. If something doesn’t go your way, be educated about what you can do if things go south quickly. My son is actually going to be attending the ACE program at SUNY CCC in the fall. Right now, he’s torn between what he wants to do. I tell him, and will suggest to all incoming students, to take classes that interest you. Take your core classes, and if you’re not sure, take classes on things you’re interested in. You’re either going to find that you don’t like it or you’ll love it and start to think, “what can I do in this space?” Just know that it is okay to change course. For me, I thought “there’s no way I’m going to own my own business,” and now look where I am. When I first went to SUNY CCC after high school, I was trying to figure a lot out on my own. It’s all you now, it’s your life, so do something that interests you and make it worth something. Look for ways to give back to the community, to a professor, or to a person who changed an aspect of your life. Ask questions, I can’t say that enough. I was timid and didn’t want to be that person raising my hand, but I knew that it was my life and that it was my career, so I wanted to learn everything I can. Make sure to network, be kind to people, and show appreciation. You never know who will be able to help down the road, or who you will be able to help.
How can people try MudPies?
You can place orders on my website. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram. I always post when I’m delivering things, where I will be at and when I’m doing wholesale to local coffee shops on Facebook. We are always looking for new wholesale opportunities! Our current wholesale locations are Heavenly Cup Cafe (all prepackaged items), Dimitri's Confectionery Treats (they dip our chocolate chip, and peanut-butter Reese cookies in their yummy chocolate), Corning Museum of Glass, and Market Street Coffee & Tea. Some of these locations are paused however because of COVID. I try to post that information on Instagram as well. Since I’m not a storefront, social media is a big outlet for me. That’s how people learn about me and get in touch with me. Also, you can always give me a call to place an order, email or place it directly through the website.