Behind a Sebastopol building, I walk up the plant-lined ramp and knock on a screen door. Glenn Zix steps out of the shadows. There is a warm fatherly smile on his face, and he greets me with an enthusiastic "Hello!" Immediately, I feel like I am with a family friend. The former businessman is dressed casually in jeans and a comfortable-looking blue shirt; he is relaxed and merrily leads the way into the kitchen.Inside, there are three ovens with a large stainless-steel cooking surface in the middle of the room. Pots and pans hang from the ceiling, and the large windows on the south wall let in pleasant and comfortable light.
While Zix bakes original and unique goods, this is no cookie-cutter operation. He sells his cookies on an individual basis. When he receives an order, which can be done either by phone or through his website, he finds a professional kitchen to borrow, bakes in it and meets the customer at an agreed upon location, such as a coffee shop or a parking lot, with his goodies.
Not always a doughman, Zix spent most of his life in the business world as a CFO for a software company. In late 2001, the company was sold, and Zix took the chance to do something new. Per-order sweets may not be the first thing that a software pro might choose, but Zix explains, "I have always baked. I would have to give my mother credit for starting me. She is a baker, also known as the fudge queen." He merely followed his mother's footsteps to the mixing bowl.
In order to fine-tune his culinary skills, Zix enrolled in the pastry baking program at Santa Rosa Junior College. "I got to the window at six in the morning," he says, remembering shouting, "Will you let me in and come bake?!" They did. Zix's cookies are innovative and unique. Confections such as lavender mint, mojito with rum chocolate ganache, bay leaf plum tomato, plummed rose geranium, rosemary lemon butters, and blue cheese and walnut cookies are among his creations. Reflecting on his craft, he says, "Things come to me, and I don't know from where."It's clear that Zix pays attention. Last summer it was ice cream that interested him. "We are in the East Bay a lot," he says. "There are a couple ice cream stores, and they have odd ice creams like basil ice cream. While looking up at menu, I said, 'Gosh, I could bake bay in something.' The tomatoes were so sweet this past year, I dehydrated a bunch of them, so I chopped them up and put them in some butter cream, and it was good."Zix kept playing with ingredients and shared them with friends and family. Eventually, he marketed his cookies locally. He says, "At first, I sold them at the markets—Oliver's, Fiesta, Pacific—I did cookie tastings there, but it wasn't satisfying. You just go in, and there are a bunch of cookies and you don't have personal contact with people, which is really the part that I like."
After receiving positive feedback, Zix was encouraged to keep baking and also to look for his niche in the cookie world. He found it. Selling his treats at the farmers market, where his cookies always sell out, and on an individual basis.
All of these confections are made with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, including chocolate from Guittard Chocolate Company, a San Francisco staple since 1868. ("They have very, very good chocolate" he says.) The fruit he uses comes from the farmers market when available. "I have an oatmeal plum cookie. I take plums from the market and I dry them into leather, chop them up and put them into oatmeal cookies, then you get local fruit—and it is not a raisin—it is tart, a really nice combination."
His cookies are especially popular around the holidays. When he gets very busy, he has neighborhood kids come help him watch timers and bake, thus getting them involved in the kitchen and away from the television.
Working in a borrowed kitchen is a bit difficult, yet the space allows him to crank out up to 9,000 cookies at a time during the holiday season. However, he says, "Frankly, if I get to the place where I can be busier, I will just buy a little space and make it my own." His ideal kitchen, he says, "Would be casual, the espresso machine would be out and people could come in and chit-chat."
This family and community man takes his baking seriously. All his ingredients are weighed, his equipment is perfectly calibrated, and he has tested his recipes over and over again before settling on the perfect version of it. "My baking is all real high-tech with lots of love in it," he says. "And you can taste the difference, so whether I am in a rental kitchen or in my own kitchen, it turns out great." Zix has recently expanded his offerings to pie crusts after a friend encouraged him to sell them. He uses a recipe that he has spent time and care in perfecting using all organic flour, organic vegetable shortening and local butter. All his shells are hand-rolled and, like his cookies, are made to order.
Zix reflects on who he was as a business man and who he is now. "Baking is a way for me to grow parts of myself that I hadn't had the chance to do," he says. "People see a certain side of ourselves and others do not, so it is neat to bring other parts of my personality out."
Zix smiles widely and hands me a white box. In it is a selection of beautiful cookies delicately wrapped in clear plastic with handwritten gold labels saying what kind they are. He says, "Baking for people is the part that I really enjoy."
Check out Zix's tasty confections anytime at www.zixtreats.com or give him a ring at 707.823.2615 to arrange a pick up.
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