Hayley Callaway’s first baked treats were cupcakes for her high school teachers.
“My mom was a home ec teacher” in Houston, the 29-year-old owner of Hayleycakes and Cookies says. “She gave me a Wilton cookbook, and I made every single cupcake in it.”
Callaway moved to Austin after graduation and continued to bake, making cookies and cakes packed with personality. With a Facebook page and an apartment kitchen, she started a business selling funny, well-designed cookies that tap into everything we love about the internet. She eventually opened her first retail location at 10601 RM 2222, and that’s where she was baking when Buzzfeed found her Instagram videos.
The popular internet site blogged about her in January 2017 with a post called “Watching These Cookies Being Iced Is Immensely Soothing,” and, suddenly, her cookies went viral. Many of them featured memes, tweets, sarcastic comments and her own sassy jokes that she knows play so well online. “We grew 100,000 followers overnight it seemed,” she says. “It’s funny to look at our sales numbers. Everything changed at that moment.”View this post on Instagram
Yassss queeeeennnn!!! These cookies are for the TRUE Christmas queens you can buy this matching tumbler on our website here>> https://hayleycakesandcookies.com/product/christmas-queen-tumbler/ AND I found this adorable “Christmas queen” sweatshirt from @sarahjoy.tv !! #hayleycakesandcookies #bestcookiesever #decoratedcookies #atx #atxcookies #atxbakery #cookies #yum #christmas #christmasqueen
Almost three years later, she’s still making the how-to videos, but she’s also busy running two retail locations and an online store with nationwide shipping, where they also sell baking supplies, including food coloring gels, as well as paper plates, napkins, mugs and shirts.
Customers were quick to take to the text-heavy cookies. “I can remember the first time I put words on a cookie. It said, ‘You are not normal (I like that),’” she says. She posted it on the internet, and “customers were calling the bakery to make sure we’d put them aside for them.”
Callaway’s sense of humor and aesthetic is hard to describe: She has mastered unicorn cakes, llama cakes, sloth cookies and whatever else is capturing the zeitgeist, but especially meme culture, such as the recent cookie featuring the so-called woman yelling at the cat meme.
“Lord, whatever you’re baking outside, it’s done” on a Texas-shaped cookie was one of the popular designs over the summer. Another cookie mimicked the El Arroyo sign, and she always has an “I Love You So Much” cookie for sale in the store.
Many of the messages are feminist and funny, such as “I am so done being insecure. I cannot keep letting Lizzo down like that,” or, “Have you ever opened the fridge and realized you’re the only snack at home?”
Callaway’s decorating videos, even when sped up for a time-lapse, are, indeed, fascinating (and funny) to watch. In a recent video, her steady hand outlines an animal, which turns out to be a llama. She adds a few green trees in the background, and with a tiny metal piping tip, she writes “Drama Llama” on the yellow hat the llama is wearing, making it look very much like Smokey Bear. She fills in the white space: “Only you can prevent drama.”
It’s a cute (and sometimes crude) humor that has pushed her Instagram account (@thehayleycakes) to more than 340,000 followers. She now has 35 employees who help keep up with customer demand, such as a recent Christmas cookie order of 16,000 cookies in 12 designs.
Callaway says she likes getting a laugh out of people online, but the physical production of the cookies is what she enjoys the most. Each cookie has to be baked and decorated, from start to finish, in less than 48 hours, while allowing for enough time for the icing to dry before each step of the design.
She often hires creative types who aren’t necessarily professional bakers or decorators. She can teach them how to use the materials, but they have to already be comfortable with drawing by hand.
Her mom quit her home economics job and, with Hayley’s dad, moved to Austin to help her with the company. All five members of her family work for the bakery now, and they are looking to open a Houston location.
Running a business is getting easier as she gets older, she says. “It was weird when I was young because I felt like everybody I hired was older than me and didn’t want to listen, but as I get older, people are my age or younger, and it’s easier to be an authority figure.”
They opened the South Lamar location at 1700 S. Lamar Blvd. in May, and you can sometimes catch a class at that kitchen space on the weekends. It all depends on the season. Sometimes, they are swamped with graduation cakes. During the holidays, it’s go time for bedazzled trees, Mrs. Claus, dachshunds wearing Christmas sweaters, or an Airstream decorated with lights.
Callaway says that home bakers can learn a lot about cookie decorating from watching her videos, but what really helps is practicing.
“People come from all over,” she says. “They’ll say, ‘I’m from Kentucky, and we came to Austin just for this.’”