Culinary alums kick off home-based businesses

After working for 30 years in the property and casualty insurance business, Cindy Harper decided she was ready for a change and will soon trade her office supplies for baking supplies.

“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my working life staring at a computer,” she recalled, “I had a client at my desk one day who was in his early 70’s and had just completed his third fight with cancer.  He was buying the car of his dreams.  I decided I didn’t want to look back at my life and wish I had pursued something I love to do.”

The California native has a degree in economics from Pepperdine University. Later, she went on to attend Southeast Community College’s Culinary and Hospitality program and graduated in 2016. She’s always enjoyed baking, and now has her own business. She’s got a booth at the Farmer’s Market at Union College and also teaches baking classes through SCC’s Continuing Education Program.

“I started decorating sugar cookies many years ago, and while I didn’t make any decorated sugar cookies in the classes I took, what I did learn was how to independently search out the information I needed to improve my skills, how to purchase and cost the supplies and ingredients needed and the basics of how to run a culinary business.  All of that is very helpful now.”

Harper expanded her repertoire to include baking chocolates in addition to her cookies. Thanks to a Cottage Food Law passed in the Nebraska legislature in 2019, she can now sell her baked goods out of her home, in addition to farmer’s markets.

“I recently received a professional chocolatier certification and making chocolates is now one of my favorite things to do,” she said “The best thing though is to make something that someone really enjoys, and that it somehow makes their day a little better.

Harper is currently in the process of launching her website. Beyond that, her long-term goals are to build up her business and keep her busy during retirement.

Brandy McWilliams is another graduate who is taking advantage of the Cottage Food Law. The Lincoln native enrolled in the program after browsing the website, and said she loved learning about food culture.

“It was like a ‘food culture shock’ because there are so many ways to produce cuisines and pastries,” she recalled. “The teachers were very hands-on and wanted to see us students succeed. I felt so comfortable.”

She graduated in 2008 from the Culinary/Hospitality program. She’s always had a love for baking that she got from her mother and grandmothers. She started designing cakes on the side and after getting requests from friends and family, decided to start her own business.

“Over the course of years, I have been studying different techniques, sharpening my skills, and have worked with several amazing cake decorators that helped me elevate my mindset,” she said. “This year, I just became self-employed with my ‘Art of Love Cakes’ business.”

In addition to baking cakes, McWilliams also enjoys baking macarons, brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Her short-term goal is opening a kitchen studio for young people, and her long-term goal is substantial business growth and client loyalty.

McWilliams’s business can be found at and Harper’s is on Facebook at #creativeconfectionsne.


Andrea Gallagher
Communications Specialist