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Meet Kristy Greenwood Bortz of Victory love + cookies in West Highlands

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristy Greenwood Bortz.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kristy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Hello – Thanks for having me. I guess for the sake of this interview the beginning would be the day I walked into The Denver Bread Company. I was working in a restaurant at the time – I’ve always loved food, both cooking and baking and of course eating- but I knew right away that the bakery was like a magnet for me. Every day after work at the restaurant I would find myself wandering down to the bakery for a loaf – and a chat- with the owner. Within a month, I asked for a job. Long story short, I got the job and found that I was absolutely in love with the process of baking bread and just as head over heels with the owner of the DBC – my future husband, Greg Bortz.

Life was pretty great for a long stretch of waking and baking until ten years later, in March of 2006, at the age of 40during a self exam, I found a lump (I hadn’t even had my first mammogram yet!). I was diagnosed with breast cancer – no family history, no warning. Lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation. But you know what? In those months of illness, exhaustion, bald and cold and pale and weak, I found myself. I would never choose cancer – who in their right mind would – but it forced me to look at how I’d been living – working way too many hours, being much too demanding of myself physically and emotionally – and I decided to make a change. I still wanted to bake – I love it so much – but I didn’t want to get up in the middle of the night anymore and I wanted to be in charge. As much as I loved my job I had grown weary of taking orders and wanted to do things my way.

Victory love + cookies really took hold in my mind when the community and my friends and family threw me a fundraiser toward the end of my cancer treatment. It was an incredible, joyful party, with huge amounts of glorious food, a live band, and a silent auction and they called it “The Kristy Greenwood Victory Fund”. I wasn’t allowed to help with all of the details but I did sneak into the bakery a couple of days before the event to bake hundreds of cookies that I offered folks as they left the party. My mom, sister, and I bagged them up in pretty little white bags with pink ribbons and the party logo on them. Weeks later my mother sent me a pic of one of the bags and it was really kind of an “aha” moment for me. I named my cookie business Victory love + cookies as a way of reminding myself every day of the love of family and friends and the incredible community that surrounds me – the feelings that I experienced at the fundraiser.

So, on leap day Feb 2008, I took my big jump and sold my first cookies from the retail counter of The Denver Bread Co. I sold out by noon. Maybe customers were just being nice, I don’t know. I do think they had missed seeing me in the bakery and were probably showing their support by buying cookies that they might not have actually needed that particular day. And you’d think that that would be “it”, the “go” date, history. But I had yet another challenge ahead of me. Two months after I sold those first cookies, I had a terrible accident. I fell down the stairs of my 1904 home (read ridiculously steep stairs) and broke my back and pelvis.

I was completely immobilized for weeks and when I finally made it back to the bakery, I was struck by this tiny little corner that I had consigned my business to – a tiny little space with my few ingredients, equipment. In that moment I realized I wanted so much more and that I would fight to grow my cookie world. Really what I think is that challenge has a way of focusing people – we all want things to be easy but it is often the hard parts that shine that spotlight of truth – how bad do you want it? I restarted the cookie biz on Sept 27, 2008, and today I, along with my amazing crew, put 12 to 16 varieties of cookies on the retail counter every day and ship thousands of cookies all over the country. We’ve got the most amazing customer base and corporate clients. I can’t express how blessed I feel.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Beyond the obvious ie cancer/accident the hardest thing has simply been convincing people that cookies are worthy of greatness. Sometimes I feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of cookies. I’ve had people who love me and have the best intentions ask me why I would want to bake cookies, cookies are not “serious food”, and warn me that I wouldn’t ever be able to make a living baking cookies. I have had wonderful, incredible support but there has been a learning curve for the general public as well as friends and family who just didn’t see a cookie business as viable. And then there is just the simple fact that any production business like cookies is going to be physically challenging. Day after day, it can add up to physical pain. No way to sugar coat that.

That being said I think its more important to focus on the blessings than on the struggles. I know struggles that have been overcome can be inspiring but we can also get caught up in the mentality that without struggle, there is no story. I know I used to think that. If someone’s path seemed easeful, I’d think they didn’t actually work and it’s almost like I purposely put obstacles in my way just so that I would be taken seriously – mostly by myself. Today I’m so grateful for flow – easeful flow and the blessings that come my way. I’m still baking inside The Denver Bread Company, still standing next to my husband, but doing it my way, on my terms.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Victory love + cookies – what should we know?
We focus solely on cookies but not the same cookies everyone else does. We do have the traditionals because who doesn’t love Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin? (In fact, our Chocolate Chip has been named by Food and Wine Magazine as well as The Food Network as one of the best in the country.) But what thrills me is the constant creation of seasonal cookie flavors that my customers have embraced – things like Strawberry Margarita, Lavender Blueberry, Salty Maple Pecan or Rosemary Apricot or Peach + Hatch Green Chile. Its those kinds of original flavors that brought The Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets to our shop. That was a total blast – eleven hours of mixing, baking, posing the cookies this way and that. Truthfully it was exhausting but also exhilarating!

But I always say that what sets VLC apart from other cookie businesses is not just the flavors- it’s the intention behind the cookies. I see the cookies as a means of connection. A cookie is so much more than a sweet treat – it’s a means of connection – to others as well as to one’s self. Cookies say so many things – they are comfort food, they are edible hugs, they are a way of saying I love you, thank you, I miss you, I’m grateful for you. What was that business that said something like “say it with flowers?” I love flowers but please give me a cookie!! It’s not that I want people to stop what they are doing when they bite into one of our cookies to marvel at the cookie so much as that I want them to bite into the cookie and be aware of its flavors, textures, etc rather than mindlessly shoving another one into their mouths. I want our cookies to bring people into the moment.

What I’m most proud of – well I guess there are two things. The first may seem as though it has nothing to do with cookies but it speaks to my intentions and the birth of the cookie biz: a couple of months after I finished chemotherapy in 2006, I did a series of video tutorials that focused on how to put a scarf on a bald head. You might think that’s an easy thing – wrapping a scarf on your head – but really with no hair for a scarf to hug onto, getting a scarf to stay on requires a few tricks – and believe me no person going through chemo wants their scarf to fall off.

In addition, chemo and radiation completely zap you of energy so just the physical requirement of tying a scarf can be challenging – again, I had developed some tricks. I did the videos because I had felt so vulnerable when I lost my hair, so stripped of my femininity and I knew that I wasn’t the only one going through those feelings. At the same time, my journey through the cancer process had taught me that we are all beautiful and amazing no matter what we look like. I want people to love themselves and to recognize their own amazingness. The tag line for VLC is “amazing cookies for amazing people”.

The second thing I am most proud of is simply my crew and their “can do” attitude. We get calls regularly from folks who say things like “I’d like to send 100 boxes of two dozen cookies each to 100 different addresses. Can you do that?” My crew always says “YES, WE CAN!!”. I would have never thought such a small business could create so much beauty and flavor. My crew is amazing – dedicated, crazy wonderful, and yes, tolerant of their sometimes demanding boss!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Well, I’m competitive and driven to perfection but I don’t always think that is the most positive thing. It can sometimes be a detriment! So, I think what I would say is most important is that I trust the path I’m on. I believe that this is actually what I am meant to be doing and so I keep going. There have been times when I wondered if I’d have to essentially quit and go find a job but miracles continue to happen – giving me that trust to stick to my convictions.

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Image Credit:
Chase Bortz
Regina Foster

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