“Hey friends! I’m Emily, the cookie girl, and here’s a cookie I made!”

College senior Emily Henegar, 21, starts each of her TikToks by greeting her 42.2K followers as if they’re her closest friends gathered with her inside her kitchen as she decorates her cookies. Each cookie is a unique piece of art, piped to perfection. Henegar has run her baking business, Cookie in the Kitchen, since she was 11, but her recent batch of sugar cookies made especially for the one and only Harry Styles is what launched her into Internet fame.

“The set that I posted has now gotten over two million views on TikTok,” said Henegar, a senior at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. “I anticipated because of the spread, and the size, and the intensity of his fanbase for it to do well, but I didn't really know what it would look like. Then I posted a Reel as well that also got two million views as of a couple days ago, so that's been absolutely crazy.”

While Henegar has made cookies for celebrities in the past, including Ariana Grande, her newly increased following has brought a whole new element to Cookie in the Kitchen as people from around the world react to Henegar’s work daily and even give their own input on how she should decorate cookies for specific artists. 

Henegar was kind enough to give Spoon University the scoop on how Cookie in the Kitchen got its start, how she got her celebrity clients, and her advice for members of Gen Z who are interested in starting their own food businesses.

When did you start baking? Is it something you've always loved to do?

I started Cookie in the Kitchen when I was 11. I had always kind of liked baking. I've always had a big sweet tooth, so it was just kind of fun for me. We would watch a lot of movie nights as a family and get bake-and-break cookie dough from Kroger, and then I was like, “Wait, why are we spending money on buying this cookie dough? If I make it for us, then that's fun for me, and then we have better cookies.” I’m a pretty creative person in a lot of different facets, so I think for a while [baking] was just one of the things I was into, but I think in particular when I started my business, it solidified that as a longer standing passion.

Courtesy of Emily Henegar

So what made you focus on cookies specifically?

Part of it was the movie nights and [that] cookies were our family's favorite treat. I always felt that they got kind of passed over, especially in bakery settings. There's never a strictly cookie shop. [Cookies] just seemed kind of like an add-on instead of the main focus, and I feel like other baked goods like cupcakes, for example, can be pretty polarizing, but I don't think I've ever encountered someone that's like, “Don’t give me a chocolate chip cookie.” They're just very versatile, and it just seemed [like] the right fit.

I know you spend a lot of time baking and especially decorating, so what are your creative and baking processes like?

Most of the time that is spent, for me, is decorating. It takes a long time, usually, but I love it. It's a lot of prep work for any order, a lot of steps to get to the final product. In recent years, [I] have definitely been spending a lot of time on the designing of the cookie sets that I do. I study graphic design at Belmont, and that has been a super useful skill for me to apply to my business because I essentially can create a graphic design for a cookie that I'm decorating. Then there's everything logistically involved with that, so making cookie dough, and cutting it out, and baking it, and then designing [the cookies], and then mixing all the colors, and then decorating them.

Courtesy of Emily Henegar

A very large chunk of what I do is all of the business as well, and I'm studying entrepreneurship, [so] I actually really love that part of it. It's been incredibly helpful and affirming that I really [enjoy] that stuff. A lot of my time, as well, is spent running social media, communicating with customers, and rebranding or organizing my website.

It sounds like you have a lot of responsibilities running [your] business, so how does that work balancing school and Cookie in the Kitchen?

It really has just been a big learning process. And, I mean, point blank, I haven't really been able to balance in the sense that there's always something that I could be doing or need to be doing. But I think [that] because I've done it for so long, I don't know anything different. I love it so much. It's such a big part of my life, but I think logistically, the timing is just hard to manage. I'm excited for when I graduate, so I can really focus on Cookie in the Kitchen and not have something pulling me away from it, even though I do love being in school.

You’ve made cookies for Harry Styles and Ariana Grande. Can you talk about how it's been to have celebrities as fans of your work, and how you got these opportunities in the first place?

In high school, I was pretty heavily focusing on decorating cookies. I was also beginning to get really interested in following along with fans and going to general admission concerts. I hadn't really been to any before, and that was really exciting for me. The first band I made cookies for was a band called Oh Wonder. They were playing at Terminal West in Atlanta, and I realized [that] I can put anything on a cookie, like their logo or their first album cover. That just jump-started this whole idea of like, “Okay, when I go to a concert, I can just make cookies for the fans, and then I can give them to somebody to get them to [the band], or I can try to wait after to meet them.” 

Courtesy of Emily Henegar

I did that a ton in high school, and it was all for free. It was just truly because I loved it. I would spend hours on these cookies, but it was the most fun thing that I could do. As an artist myself, to be able to have that interaction with [bands] was super meaningful because it's not just that I'm putting their one album cover on cookies. I'm doing a ton of research and finding old logos.

Then when I got to Belmont University, I still wasn't really taking orders, but a couple of people reached out to me from some management firms to make cookies for bands that I knew. I developed a relationship with Bridgestone Arena my freshman year. They actually found me through Instagram after I made cookies for Maggie Rogers, and she shared a photo to her story. They reached out for cookies for the backstage party for one of their artists, and after that we’ve worked together for about five different artists! 

So then from there, more companies started reaching out to me, like MTV. Then Bridgestone, in particular, I just had a relationship with where they're like, “If you see anyone that's coming that you want to make cookies for, just let us know.” That's been really cool to have that relationship with them. 

And so I reached out to them and was like, “Harry Styles is coming. Can I make him cookies, please?” That has been a really awesome connection to have because they understand me and my business, and they want to help me succeed. Nashville in general is just a very collaborative city, and I think because I'm offering such a unique product that fits really well in this industry, a lot of companies are really excited about that and [have reached] out to me after the Harry Styles cookies.

Brainfood, our event and package, is all about getting involved in the food industry as a member of Gen Z. Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to pursue a business or take their cooking or baking more seriously?

The business side is not as scary as you think. I had someone tell me that any creative business is twenty percent creative and eighty percent business, [but] I realized that really, it's one hundred percent creative, and that breakdown isn’t the heart of your business, but rather the amount of time you will spend on each thing.

I did an internship this spring at a bakery that was incredibly helpful for me. I would sit down and talk with the owner about [his] profit and loss statement for the month, and hearing him explain it made me see [that] these numbers all mean something, and they connect to the decisions that you're making about this business. They connect to people, and to the heart of what your vision is, and where you want to grow your business. It is all playing to this greater vision of something that's more than just your craft, or skill, or idea.

Courtesy of Emily Henegar

I think it’s fun to create something that is in some ways an entity outside of myself. While I am still very much ingrained in Cookie in the Kitchen, I am my own person outside of that, and that’s important to know as well as a creative that you are not your art, or your gifts, or your skill. I'm very ingrained in [my work], but it's also something that is outside of myself, and I’m excited to see how that’s going to grow.

This story was part of Brainfood: Careers in the Food World. Check out the rest of the collection here, and see you at Brainfood on Friday, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m. ET!