VICTORIA — When Haley Robben graduated from Victoria High School in 2015, she had every intention of moving to the big city and pursuing career ambitions as a pastry chef.
Much to her surprise, she came to realize how easy it could be to create her own business in her small hometown. After all, everybody in town already knew who she was — and many had sampled her signature frosted sugar cookies.
So this summer, Robben returned to her native Victoria from Lawrence, where she lived while attending culinary classes in the Kansas City metro area. Her home-based bakery, Bakeology, has continued to grow since its establishment last spring.
“I couldn’t be happier with my decision, either. Right away when I moved home, I was like this is definitely the right place for me. It’s good for me. Good for my business,” Robben said. “Part of my reason for coming home was that I saw how fast my business was able to grow without very much effort just because of my clientele base, knowing so many people around here.”
She does most of her business through a Facebook page for Bakeology, which also lists a phone number. Her most popular items include frosted sugar cookies, customized birthday cakes and traditional German favorites, such as heart cookies and spitzbuben.
But Robben says one of her passions is creating new desserts and introducing clients to sweets they’ve never tasted before.
“My biggest goal is to keep the cost as low as I can, because I want people to be able to try new things,” she said. “I remember for a party, they told me I could do whatever I wanted, and that was great. I love those words. And I made chocolate truffles. Nobody at that party had ever had a homemade chocolate truffle before.”
Her love of baking dates back to a young age, and she is quick to give her grandmothers credit for sharing their cooking skills — and their family recipes. Her sugar cookies, she said, come from her grandmother’s “secret recipe.”
Robben is continuing her culinary arts education online, and she works to help keep costs down for customers. She’s careful to buy ingredients on sale at local stores whenever possible, and also has given some traditional favorites a new twist. Instead of thin strips banded together to create the shape of a heart, Robben uses a heart cookie cutter for a different look, which also saves a considerable amount of time — further reducing costs.
“When I first started making the hearts like this, it really threw a lot of people off,” she said. “They were like, ‘What are those? They aren’t shaped like the traditional hearts.’ But when you have orders for like 30 dozen during the holiday season, I don’t have time to shape out each one of them, and I’m way too particular.”
When she decided to move home, Robben said everything just “fell into her lap.” A unique home — located in a refurbished storefront — became available for rent and has provided her with an idyllic kitchen and spacious covered patio, which she recently used to host a holiday cookie decorating class. She enjoys interacting with her customers and helping them improve their own baking skills, and said she hopes to teach more classes there in the future.
Her home also is near Victoria Elementary School, where Robben works as a paraeducator. And it’s a happy coincidence she’s now running a home-based business from a home that used to be a business.
“When we first opened, a lot of people thought we were going to turn that front half into a store,” Robben said. “Which is something I’m tossing around, but I don’t really know yet for sure. I don’t have a specific end plan for this yet.”
Robben does plan to finish culinary school this spring, with an emphasis in pastry. She also plans to keep serving up sweet new treats for her customers.
The holiday season was especially busy for Bakeology. On a cold December afternoon, Robben could be found in her kitchen, surrounded by boxes of sugar cookies to frost and plates of red velvet, chocolate peppermint and butter ball cookies.
She estimated she would be baking at least 75 dozen cookies to fill customer orders around the Christmas holidays.
“The numbers are getting higher and higher all the time,” Robben said. “But it’s good. I love when my kitchen is full.”