Columbia student makes some ‘dough’ with homemade baked goods

By Amina Sergazina, Staff Reporter

Sophomore film major Ash McDowell started his bread business, Hestia’s Homemade Hearth, after being laid off from his job. Mengshin Lin

Ash McDowell has baked his entire life. He developed the passion as a child while spending time in the kitchen with his parents.

“My parents have always been my inspiration and support with all my culinary exploits,” said McDowell, a sophomore filmmaking major. “My dad taught me to cook; my mom taught me to bake; and they both encouraged me to keep getting better.”

In December, McDowell opened Hestia’s Homemade Hearth, an online shop for homemade baked goods.

In 2012, McDowell’s family put together “The Gerke Family Cookbook” with recipes from his great grandmother, Ida Gerke, and her descendants. McDowell said Gerke passed away when he was six and baking with her recipes is a way to honor her. Mengshin Lin
McDowell makes his own stamps, which he learned to do in elementary school, to decorate the paper bags for Hestia’s Homemade Hearth. Mengshin Lin

The idea to start his own business came to fruition near the end of 2020, after McDowell began receiving compliments on his baking from high school classmates and colleagues back home in the Quad Cities area of Iowa.

“I found myself going through a rough time. … I needed something to occupy my thoughts and my time and my energy,” McDowell said. “I had this idea I could sell baked goods in the back of my mind for a while, and it was a spontaneous decision.”

Since its launch, McDowell has managed the baking store on his own, while also being a full-time student.

“So far I’ve only had a few orders, so it’s easy to find the time,” McDowell said. “Plus, I really enjoy baking, so it ends up being a bit of self care for me as well.”

On the baked goods’ website, you can purchase a whole-wheat bread loaf, classic baguettes, oatmeal scotchies, chocolate chip cookies, peppermint pinwheel cookies or a custom cake. McDowell adds new treats to his website every two weeks.

Hestia’s Homemade Hearth currently has two different flavors of cookies and shortbread for sale. Mengshin Lin
The chocolate chip cookies (left) were one of McDowell’s favorite baked goods when he was younger. His mother created the recipe named “Aisling’s Favorite Chocolate Cookies.” The peppermint pinwheels are topped with crushed peppermint candy and take around ten minutes to bake in the oven. Mengshin Lin

A loaf of bread costs $5; cookies are $3 for a dozen; and a custom cake starts from $15. McDowell offers a free pick-up option or $2 delivery for customers within three miles of the South Loop. If you are not located in that radius, there is a U.S. Postal Service shipment option for $23.

McDowell said when buying groceries for baking, he tries to adhere to cost-friendly, yet quality options, by shopping at Jewel, Target, Mariano’s or Bob’s Red Mill for vegan and gluten-free ingredients.

McDowell shops for his most recent order for oatmeal cookies, following his family’s recipe, on Saturday, Jan. 23. Mengshin Lin

“I budget using an excel spreadsheet,” McDowell said. “Basically, I find the price by weight of my ingredients and plug those into my recipes to find out how much each batch costs me to make, and then I decide on a price to charge.”

Natalie Brandy, a junior arts management major and McDowell’s friend, was one of his first clients outside of his family. She ordered the oatmeal butterscotch cookies for Christmas and had them shipped to her house.

“It’s a great price. … The packaging was great. … Everything looks professional. I was really impressed,” Brandy said. “The cookies were great; I ate them within two days.”

McDowell offers free contactless delivery within three miles from where he lives in the South Loop amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Mengshin Lin

McDowell can make vegan, gluten-free and allergy-sensitive versions of each of the baked goods. He encourages people with a special request to message him directly on Instagram and said he is not limited to the items listed on his website.

“I have plans to add both vegan and gluten-free options for the cookies and for the bread on my website, [and] I do have the recipes already figured out for those,” McDowell said.

Kaelan Tonjes, a sophomore musical theatre major, bought chocolate chip cookies in December when the online store had just opened.

Keeping costs in mind when choosing ingredients, McDowell often shops at Jewel-Osco, 1224 S. Wabash Ave. Mengshin Lin

“They were a little smaller than the average chocolate chip cookie, more bite-size, and it was perfect. They were really easy to munch on,” Tonjes said. “The delivery was quick. It was the same day [and] really affordable, especially considering how good it was.”

McDowell plans to continue growing Hestia’s Homemade Hearth and perfect his baked goods.

“I’m just happy to be able to offer something to friends and students specifically,” McDowell said. “I know that having homemade baked goods in this area—so close to campus—is a really nice thing to have. I’m just glad to be able to provide things to friends and fellow students.”

You can purchase from Hestia’s Homemade Hearth here.