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 Rogers Park Golf Course and the Hillborough River from above. - Julie Branaman
Rogers Park Golf Course and the Hillborough River from above. - Julie Branaman | Show Photo

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Spring Hill Mother, Daughter Craft Custom Cookies

. - Julie Busch Branaman
. - Julie Busch Branaman
Mallory Chiavacci is an artist -- an avid drawer, sketcher and painter with a striking knack for detail. While you won't find her work on display at any galleries in the Tampa Bay region at the moment, you can enjoy her hand-crafted work of miniature art on sugar cookies from ButterWinks, a home-based bakery in Spring Hill she co-owns with her mother, Shelley Brown.

After nearly 25 combined years of honing their skills in Virginia and Florida grocery store bakeries, Chiavacci, 22, and Brown, 43, were eager to step outside their comfort zone in July of 2011.

"You work for corporations long enough and you learn you're either going to abide by their rules, be unhappy, but make a paycheck," Brown says, "or you can get out on your own and try to be happy."

The day Chiavacci submitted her two-weeks notice at a local supermarket, where she was a cake decorator for two and a half years, Brown told her about the Florida Cottage Food Law, passed by the Florida Legislature in 2011.

It gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell non-potentially hazardous goods -- such as cakes, cookies, breads, jams, candies -- out of their home kitchens without having to apply for a business license.

There are restrictions, however. You can't make more than $15,000 a year from gross sales. Nor can you set up an online store or ship items to customers out of state. You can't sell baked goods that require refrigeration and all of it must be produced in a home kitchen without the use of commercial-grade appliances.

Despite the regulations, the law allowed the two entrepreneurs at heart to take a chance. Originally, they offered a variety of baked goods -- cakes, cupcakes, pastries -- but soon found they'd rather specialize in one thing: cookies.

"It's more personalized," Chiavacci says. "So many people are doing cakes right now and it can be very competitive."

ButterWinks currently offers hand-cut sugar cookies intricately decorated with royal icing, as well as the old standbys -- chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, chocolate mint chip and chocolate peanut butter chip -- and can even do vegan cookies. Eventually, they hope to offer sugar-free cookies.

The boundaries of their creativity are limited by whatever customers order, says Chiavacci.

"If it wasn't for [customers] ordering cool items, we wouldn't be able to advertise for it on Facebook," Brown says.

Capitalizing On Social Media

She even solicits design suggestions from friends on Facebook, creating designs based on everything from the characters in Batman movies to Saturday morning cartoons.

As for the name? They found their inspiration in Brown's antique Betty Crocker cookbook while searching for something they could use as a signature cookie. A recipe for Cherry Winks caught their attention.

"We thought, 'What's in every cookie?' " Chiavacci says. "Butter!"

Brown and Chiavacci have dreams of expanding their single-door oven and red Kitchen Aid mixer operation to a store front in Spring Hill. They've scouted the neighborhood, priced square footage and even considered renting a commercial kitchen. It's all a matter of money, according to Brown.

In the meantime, they enjoy showing up at Hernando County farmers markets with an ever-expanding portfolio of edible art.

"I still get to draw and paint," Chiavacci says. "Now it's with icing."

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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