Exactly how many cookie cutters does Donyale Hill actually own?
“There's at least a couple thousand in here,” Hill says with a laugh. “There has to be.”
The founder of D.Sweets, Cookies & Gifts started selling baked goods nearly two decades ago as a way to earn a little extra cash for Christmas. As demand for her cookies grew, so too did her business, and D.Sweets moved into its own storefront two years ago at 1605 E. Main St. An expansion is planned for later this summer.
“I always enjoyed cooking and baking,” says Hill, a Springfield native who has lived here her entire life aside from her college years in Oklahoma City.
The oldest of seven children, Hill says she was “quite the mother hen” and started cooking when she was 9 or 10 years old. She also looked to her grandmother, who enjoyed baking and sharing cookies with neighbors.
“It was always a part of who I was, and am,” says Hill, 53.
A social worker by trade, Hill became interested in baking as a side business not long after her youngest children were born. She has two daughters who are now in their 20s and twin 19-year-old sons.
Initially working out of her home, she says her husband was happy to eat the rejected cookies she would prepare. Over time, the business grew – largely through word of mouth and social media – until she left her full-time social work job in 2016 to concentrate on D.Sweets. It was taking over the house when she found her East Main Street location in 2018, “literally a two-minute drive” from home.
D.Sweets sells brownies, blondies, cupcakes and gourmet cookies in flavors like chocolate chunk, oatmeal raisin, lemon crinkle and other varieties. Cinnamon rolls and cookie cakes are sold by special request. But it is her colorfully decorated themed cutout cookies that have often put her on the map.
“The signature cookie is what we've been remembered for,” she says.
Customers come to D.Sweets for the finishing touch for a wide range of special occasions, including birthdays, graduations, baby showers and holidays. Many times they have an idea of what they want, but D.Sweets has a consulting area to help customers plan for their celebration as well. The bakery also offers edible imaging to place photos or logos on cookies.
A typical order is around three dozen cookies, but D.Sweets has fulfilled requests up to 2,500 cookies.
Her shelves include cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes. Depending on the occasion, woodland creatures, wedding dresses and diplomas are popular, but she also has more unique shapes – like a uterus.
“I made these cute little uteruses with smiley faces,” she says.
When customers make a special request for her cut-out cookies, Hill is happy to order the cookie cutter if it isn't already in her extensive collection. She knows where each of her cookie cutters is located, but she is aware that it might not be so easy for others.
“I just now got a labeler,” she says.
Hill's oldest daughter, Lailah, joined D.Sweets full time two years ago, just before the bakery moved into its storefront. Hill also plans to hire at least two part-time employees.
That isn't the only change in store for D.Sweets. The business hopes to expand to the next-door storefront by August, adding a door between the two spaces, Hill says. The extra room will allow for additional freezer space and packaging space to prepare items to ship.
D.Sweets also will create a small meeting space with enough room for customers to host a tea party, book club or other gathering.
“It'll give us an opportunity to share with people in a whole new way,” Hill says.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some changes to the hours the bakery is open to the public for walk-in purchases, but Hill plans to be back to the regular hours in August.
The business closed for two weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, but with the support of its customers, D.Sweets has been able to remain profitable, Hill says.
“People want to continue to celebrate as best they can. That's topped off with sweets usually,” she says.
Customers are still ordering trays, and Hill says D.Sweets is staying very busy, even gaining new customers during this time.
“We really haven't missed a beat,” she says.
Hill says she works 12 hours or more at least five days per week, answering questions, emails and voicemails and, of course, preparing the baked goods. But the time and hard work have helped her to realize her dream of a growing business, and the happiness her creations bring to others gives her joy.
“It's from my heart, everything that we do,” she says.