Brittney Ledford

Brittney had most of her baking recipes memorized by grade school. She started her first cookie business at 11 years old. 

Take us back to you as a kid.

I was a teacher’s pet in a lot of gifted & talented classes who was teased a lot for being a fat kid. I had a flashlight on my nightstand so I could keep reading books after bedtime, and I was obsessed with Hanson, the Spice Girls, and the Backstreet Boys. I had most of my baking recipes memorized by grade school- I can’t remember an age when I wasn’t baking alongside my mom, and then later baking on my own and leaving giant messes.

Who did you want to be?

The old school papers my mom has saved all say an artist or a baker. I loved to draw and write stories and journal about my day. 

"When I was 11, my dad started Cookies by Brittney for me and I’d ship chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies for Internet orders."

What was last Monday like for you?

For my full-time job, I do fundraising for Mosaic in Central Iowa, a nonprofit that serves adults with intellectual disabilities. My Mondays are usually always day job/ work out/ bake at home.

Walk us through the days leading up to starting One Sweet Kitchen.

I’ve been baking my whole life! When I was 11, my dad started Cookies by Brittney for me and I’d ship chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies for Internet orders (mostly family who was trying to be nice and support me.) I stopped doing it after a few months because it wasn’t seen as a very cool thing by my peers and I was embarrassed to be an 11-year-old with a side hustle. After college, I made the cookies & pies at a bakery for a year and a half. When I left, family and friends would ask if I could still bake them things. In 2015, I named it One Sweet Kitchen, made a Facebook page, and my dad launched a Wordpress site for me. This fall, I decided to focus on just cookies and pies since they’re my favorite things to make, and so many places around Des Moines already do great cakes and cupcakes! One Sweet Kitchen became an LLC in September 2017 and I’m now in the process of getting licensed under a commercial kitchen so I can fully separate it from being an in-home business.

What keeps you busy?

When I’m not at my full-time job or baking, I’m co-chair of genYP for the Urbandale Chamber, vice president of the Urbandale Kiwanis Club, a volunteer guardian through DHS and on the board for the Social Media Club of Des Moines. I try to watch as much football as my schedule allows, and Saturday night is usually held sacred for no-baking time so I can go out with friends.

"Working out is something I've learned to prioritize because it benefits my mental and physical health equally."

How do you stay focused?

Honestly, I don't. I’m always doing at least three things at once; it's a constant struggle to stay present in any area of my life, which isn't something I'm proud of. Lots of credit goes to my boyfriend for recognizing when I'm near a breaking point and finding ways to help or calling a life time-out. Working out is something I've learned to prioritize because it benefits my mental and physical health equally. The hours I spend at Pure Barre each week are probably the most beneficial to every other area of my life.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

My own insecurities-- wondering if my treats look good enough, taste good enough if the photos of them are lit well enough. I've had to work at not second-guessing everything from my prices to the sizes of the boxes I order, and I'm learning to speak confidently about One Sweet Kitchen as a business instead of just a side hobby.

How did you overcome it?

It's a work in progress, but as Mindy Kaling said, “Why not me?” I make great cookies and pies, there’s a market for them in Des Moines, why not me? It's not the end of the world if I have to spread out one order in two boxes. It's ok if someone doesn't place an order after I give them a quote. And I've eaten enough of my cookies to know that hell yeah they taste better than good enough!

"I've had to work at not second-guessing everything from my prices to the sizes of the boxes I order."

You get to redo something you’ve done. What would that be and why?

There are a few nightcaps at The Continental that probably didn't need to happen, but other than that, I've learned a lot from anything that an outsider would see as a redo, so it wouldn't serve me well to have them redone!

Someone is starting their own thing. What would you say to them if they came to you for advice?

Go for it! You own doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. Once you decide to start, don't be an island. There are so many great resources in Des Moines- seek out a local chamber of commerce, take advantage of the Greater Des Moines Partnership's small business resources, and just plain ask others for help or advice. The accessibility of everyone in this town, no matter at what level or industry, can't be beaten.

Why Des Moines?

I’m from Adel & went to The University of Iowa vowing I’d never return to sleepy ol’ Des Moines as an adult. After living in Chicago for a summer post-graduation, I happily ate my words and realized so much had changed in Des Moines since leaving. It's so affordable, and I suppose being near family isn’t the worst thing.

"The accessibility of everyone in this town, no matter at what level or industry, can't be beaten."

What’s one new thing that has caught your eye?

I can't sing the praises enough of Des Moines' FemCity chapter. All of the women in the group have businesses and ideas that have caught my eye, and it's so refreshing to be a part of such a supportive group of women who are willing to collaborate with and celebrate each other.

You can grant Des Moines one wish. What’s that wish?

My Miss America answer is for us to have public transportation like a light rail so we’d stop driving everywhere and could travel efficiently around town and between suburbs. My selfish answer is for Mesa Pizza to come to town!

For someone new to DSM where do you suggest they go?

If you're hungry, head to Mad Meatball for great pizza and wings, Black Cat for ice cream, Francie’s for the nachos, Exile if it’s a Sunday because their beers are half price. Professionally, attend a DSM Magazine unveiling to meet a bunch of people who are willing to introduce you to their networks. 

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

The number of ways you can stay active in the winter. Our trails and outdoor spaces get great attention in the warmer months, but there are tons you can do when the Farmer's Market isn't in season. Riverbend Sport and Social Club always have new leagues and events going on around town. Ice skating at Brenton Skating Plaza is so much fun, even if you're terrible at it like me, and you can even try your hand at fencing at Red Door Fencing in the East Village.

"Dismantling my life at 26-- we're talking divorce, losing a bunch of friends as a result, selling my house that I loved-- isn't something I chose to do flippantly nor would wish anyone ever go through, but I'm very proud I had the strength to do it."

What are you most proud of and why?

Realizing I was unhappy in my life and finally doing something about it. Life’s too short to just keep hoping things will magically change without action on your part. Dismantling my life at 26-- we're talking divorce, losing a bunch of friends as a result, selling my house that I loved-- isn't something I chose to do flippantly nor would wish anyone ever go through, but I'm very proud I had the strength to do it. I'm proud of the work I've done and continue to do on myself, and I'm very proud of the life I've built that's better than anything I'd ever even considered to be a possibility.

It’s been six months, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Wholesaling my treats in other bakeries and coffee shops around town that make other great products but want to hire out sugar cookies and pies. 

One thing that matters most to you is what?

Putting good out in the world. Whether it's baking good cookies and pies that make people happy or helping make great things happen for the people served by Mosaic and other nonprofits around town that all need help, it's important to me that my actions contribute to positive changes for something greater than myself.

Photo credit: Brenna Norman

Derek Jensen