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15 Minutes with Katherine Frankstone

15 Minutes with Katherine Frankstone
December 2016
Local biz Grey Ghost Bakery is known for cookies in flavors like almond toffee, lemon sugar, and molasses spice that make perfect stocking stuffers or sweet treats for Santa—served with a glass of milk, of course. We sat down with the owner to learn more

CM: When did you start baking?
When I was five years old, I wanted an Easy Bake Oven. My friend had one, and I thought it was the coolest. My parents, on the other hand, decided that if I had an interest in baking, I should just learn how to do it in the real kitchen. That’s when my dad showed me how to push the chair up to the kitchen counter and taught me about cookie dough. He loved to bake—he had a big sweet tooth—and we often made cookies together, especially during the holidays. It was a tradition I continued with my own children, even using some of the same cookie cutters.

CM: Did you go to culinary school?
I didn’t. I went to Emory in Atlanta and majored in history. I moved back to Columbia, where I grew up, to get a graduate business degree from University of South Carolina. After that, I swore I’d leave and never go back. Yet after living in Charlotte, Chicago, and Los Angeles, we moved back in 1990. I returned to USC for law school at age 40—one could say it was my solution to a mid-life crisis.

CM: When did your hobby turn into a biz?
I began seriously thinking about a business in 2009, and my husband, Manning, and I established it in 2011. We were starting to outgrow our shared bakery space within a year and a half, and soon after, we moved the company to its current location on James Island.

CM: Why Charleston?
I lived in Mount Pleasant for a short time as a child and visited often after we moved. My husband and I also have some friends who have second homes here, and we fell in love with it. So when we pondered building a bakery, we thought, “Wait a minute—our boys are all out of the house. Now’s the time to shake it up.” Charleston has been phenomenal, from a business standpoint as well as lifestyle. It has a vibrant entrepreneurial and creative community, and there’s so much support for small businesses from other owners as well as organizations like Lowcountry Local First.

CM: What makes your cookies so good?
It’s the butter. It’s a European style, so it has a higher level of fat than most of the butter we’re used to buying from the grocery store. That makes for a much richer, more buttery taste. To me, it’s the key ingredient.

CM: What’s in the name, Grey Ghost?
KF: I grew up going to a family house on Pawleys Island, which has its own friendly ghost called the Grey Man. When we were brainstorming names, I was thinking about places I loved and Pawleys came up. Our original recipes were family recipes handed down, sort of like how my grandparents would tell us ghost stories on the front porch of the beach house.

CM: Tell us about some of Grey Ghost’s recent cookie collaborations.
KF: We created a chocolate-cayenne-bacon cookie for Loveless Café in Tennessee that uses one of their proprietary bacons. We also collaborated with Charleston’s Restoration Hotel to create a signature chocolate-bourbon-pecan cookie that they serve at turndown. And we‘ve teamed up with Tara Guérard of The Lettered Olive to create customizable party favors for holidays, weddings, and other special occasions.

CM: How many cookies are made per day?
It fluctuates, but we do about three times more business during the holidays than the rest of the year. At our busiest, we’re producing 15,000 to 18,000 cookies per day. Our oven can bake around 560 cookies at once.

CM: What’s next for Grey Ghost?
We’re thinking about expanding our line to include confectionery items, like pralines. We also want to collaborate more. For instance, a local eatery has asked us to create a red velvet cookie to use with Cirsea Ice Cream for an ice-cream sandwich. Our goal from the beginning was to be a national brand, and we’re almost there.

We asked Katherine Frankstone for a favorite holiday dessert recipe. Get instructions for her Molasses Spice Caramel Cheesecake Bars here.