When Julia Day turned 40 she decided she needed a career change. After 20 years as a speech pathologist and researcher, she took a completely different direction and started her own cookie business. She’s now the proud owner of Seddon-based Miss Biscuit, originally a producer of cookies but which now teaches hundreds of people each year how to make and decorate cookies using royal icing.
It’s the only specialist cookie decorating studio in Australia – apart from the Sydney store she opened once demand sky-rocketed – and she has students travelling from Asia, New Zealand and all across Australia. Demand for her skills is so high she has travelled overseas by invitation to teach in places such as Mumbai, Dubai, Qatar, Beirut, New York City and London.Ironically, she was never very fond of baking sweet things prior to opening Miss Biscuit.
“I have always loved to cook, but I am a cook not a baker,” she laughs. “I tried to make my kids’ birthday cakes and I was always terrible at decorating. So this really came out of the blue and I loved the creative side of it. I loved what royal icing could do for you in terms of being able to create amazing pictures on a biscuit. It was just a complete fluke and I didn’t think I would end up doing something like this – I was thinking about doing a PhD.”
Miss Biscuit began as a home-based business at the family’s house in nearby Yarraville before setting up her shopfront at Charles St, Seddon. Julia began by baking biscuits, and then later sharing her know-how. Royal icing is a niche decorating skill, and Julia basically taught herself how to use it. She has now become Australia’s expert in the technique, and Miss Biscuit has a huge social media following and excellent industry reputation. Miss Biscuit has a busy online store selling icing and decorating tools and products and teaching is the key aspect of the business.
“The business grew quickly and because this craft was relatively new in Australia, people started asking for classes,” she says. “I made a lot of mistakes when I was learning which made me really qualified to teach because I know all the problems that can happen!
“Before I knew it I had resigned from my job and I was running cookie decorating classes every weekend in my home kitchen with a permanent shop set up in the living area. Something had to give and so when the property in Charles St came up for rent, I could see it had the perfect layout for my vision of a cookie decorating studio and I took out the lease.
“I think everyone thought I was completely crazy and I’m certain my local builder (Mark from Strength Property Group) and architect (Irene Basset from Basset and Lobaza) thought I would never survive! But they were absolutely amazing and did a fantastic job of bringing my vision to a reality.”Julia is inspired by all manner of patterns for her decorations and strives to be unique.
“When I first started decorating I didn’t really have much of an idea and I would try and look at what other people were doing and I would try to replicate it but then I got to a point where I didn’t want to make what other people were making, I wanted to create my own designs,” she says.
“So I use so many different things for inspiration – birthday cards or wallpaper, I would look at a pattern on someone’s shirt and think ‘that would be really cute on a cookie with a few flowers on it’. The more you decorate, the more you start to see designs when you are working.”
Julia says her husband and two teenagers have been unbelievably supportive, and that has allowed her to spend time on the business and make it flourish.
“My incredibly supportive husband and teenagers have encouraged my crazy business from the start,” she says. “They didn’t complain when their home was turned into a place of business and they don’t complain now when I’m never home.”
“My husband works crazy hours too but spends his weekends doing all the housework and shopping so that I can focus on growing the business. Miss Biscuit would not be where it is today without their unending support.”
The family also collaborated to name the business.
“I spent three or four days brainstorming with my family and we came up with so many different names,” she says. “I wanted something that represented the product but also had a personality attached to it because I thought people would respond to that, so that’s how Miss Biscuit came about. People do say to me all the time,’Oh so you’re Miss Biscuit!’”
The family have lived in the area for 10 years. One of her five younger brothers lives nearby and her mother moved from Gippsland and bought the house next door to hers at auction having seen it for the first time five minutes before the agent rang the bell. Julia says the Seddon community is a welcoming one and she loves being able to support other local businesses, too.
“It’s great to be able to source our class catering from local businesses such as Alfa and Pompello. It’s quick and easy for my staff to pick up and the quality is fantastic,” she says.
“Our customers often travel a long way to come to our store and they love being able to visit the local cafes and stores. Class attendees love being able to pick up a coffee from Lola and our regulars often meet for breakfast before their class. This area is perfect for Miss Biscuit and we are here to stay.”