Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Dara Mascianica went to her job with a global professional services firm each day, and her husband, Scott, worked as an attorney. They split duties at their Lake Highlands home and cooperated to get daughters Grace, 6, and Sydney, 4, off to school. In March, the couple had to reshuffle the deck when coronavirus quarantines shut down schools and shuttered workplaces. Instead of crying in her coffee cake, Dara opened Butter Bar Bake Shoppe in her home kitchen. There, she bakes fresh-made cinnamon rolls, brownies, butter bars and cookie cakes, which may be ordered on Facebook and picked up from her front porch.
“I’ve been toying with the idea of selling baked goods for some time,” Dara told me, “but Butter Bar only came to fruition recently. After refining some recipes, I tested some of my menu items on a small group of friends at a backyard birthday party in May – socially distanced, of course. I told them I was thinking of selling them, and a number of friends immediately put in orders.”
For now, Dara isn’t seeking to open a bricks-and-mortar shop or sell packaged goods through a grocery store – she’s happy keeping things simple.
“My short term goal is to create a really great, targeted selection of homemade treats, assess the reaction and go from there,” explained Dara, who said she’s been overwhelmed by positive feedback. “I have a lot of moral support at home. [Scott] and our kids are eager taste-testers and ready to help with delivery if that’s ever an aspect of the business.”
The shelter-in-place order led Dara to step out of her comfort zone and create the new venture she’s enjoying with her family, but she’s constantly reminded of its devastating origins.
“To level set, COVID-19 has been awful for so many reasons that are bigger and more important than baked goods. For my family, we have been so blessed to have our health and relatively stable jobs. That said, like most people, COVID-19 has taken a toll on all of us mentally and emotionally as my husband and I have had to juggle work, home schooling and child care. A small silver lining of the current circumstance is that the change of pace forced me to get out of the spin cycle of busy-ness. I found myself baking something a few times a week as a stress relief and to do something fun in the midst of something so heavy.”
Dara has a background in accounting and finance, so her sweet shop side hustle is a welcome diversion.
“I come from a long line of people with a very strong sweet tooth,” joked Dara, “so growing up, there was always a treat to make or eat. I discovered a few food blogs in my post college and early adult years and just started cooking my way through them and trying new things. I have always had a corporate job, so I quickly realized I needed a creative outlet, and baking is a great one for me.”
Like anything done well, said Dara, baking a consistently good treat takes practice – and a few missteps – before getting it right. She wasn’t willing to reveal all her trade secrets, but she did share a few.
“One tip for chocolate chip cookies or a cookie cake is to mix the types of chocolate chips,” said Dara. “Instead of doing all semi-sweet, do half semi-sweet and half dark chocolate or milk chocolate. Also, if you are short on piping bags you can always cut the corner off of a Ziploc. The other thing I’ve learned is that the quality of your ingredients really affects the outcome, which is why I always use high-quality ingredients and make everything, from the dough to the frosting, from scratch.”
With two young daughters and a “Bassador” they named “Dug,” the Mascianicas admit they don’t get out as much as they’d like.
“We’ve really enjoyed getting to know the LH food scene,” said Dara. “We enjoy Cedar & Vine and RM 12:20 for dinner, and we frequent Taco Joint regularly. I’m excited to try Vector Brewing.”
If you’d like to try Butter Bar Bake Shoppe, you can order by email at email@example.com. Dara makes 9-inch round chocolate chip cookie cakes, 8-inch square batches of peanut butter chocolate chip blondies and 9-inch square batch of brownies with 48 hours notice, but 9-inch round pan of cinnamon rolls are made in batches. New items will be introduced periodically and advertised on the Facebook page.