Pandemic job loss led local Jewish baker to start new business making gluten-free treats

Haley Beth Organ

BY CHERYL BAEHR SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Baking has always been a part of life for Haley Beth Organ. Some of her fondest childhood memories relate to being in the kitchen with her father. Making treats to share with friends was the way she got through finals-induced angst when she was in school. That’s why it shook her to her core when, nine years ago, she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance.

“Being gluten-free back then was very different than it is today,” says Organ, who is Jewish. “I was very intimidated by it, especially the baking, because if you wanted any treat you had to bake it from scratch. You couldn’t just go to Target and get gluten-free flour. So, I stopped baking. I can’t tell you how many years went by before I started to pick it up again.”

Now the proprietor of Mochi Monster Cookies, Organ, 36, is back at it, making a name for herself as a source for gluten-free goodies for people in the St. Louis area. Named after her beloved cat, Mochi, the bakery operates under Missouri’s Cottage Food Law, which allows Organ to produce cookies, cookie cakes and other shelf-stable goods that do not require refrigeration, from her home kitchen in Holly Hills.

Organ credits the availability of gluten-free products as one of the main reasons she was able to get back into doing what she loved, though really, her unyielding passion for baking is what spurred her to start up again. Once she realized she could return to doing what she loved with minor adjustments, she threw herself into making cookies and sharing her wares with others, not realizing she was slowly building a fledgling operation that would turn into a bona fide brand. 

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Organ should have known she was on such a path. Every time she would bake something and share it on social media, she’d get the same question from her followers: When are you going to open your bakery? She would laugh at the suggestion. A data analyst by day, Organ worked full-time in the footwear industry, never considering that she’d leave her stable job for an uncertain business endeavor. It seemed too risky, and she also questioned whether or not she was qualified to do it. 

“I didn’t think I was talented enough and that I’d be able to pay my bills and make a living off being a baker,” Organ says. “I have no formal training, so I’d ask myself, ‘Who am I to think I am able to do this?’ That’s always been in the back of my mind.

However, the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn of last year forced her hand. In March, Organ was furloughed from her data analyst job; two months later, she was laid off. Unemployed for five months, she lived in constant fear of how she was going to make ends meet and went to a really dark place, all the while leaning on baking as a source of respite from the day-to-day challenges of living without an income.

Once she finally found full-time employment again, she had a newfound confidence and sense of urgency to follow her dreams of launching Mochi Monster Cookies.

“During my interview, they asked me that if I could do anything in the world and it wasn’t this, what would it be,” Organ recalls. “I said a bakery. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, but I didn’t know who would want to eat gluten-free cookies. I’ve let self-doubt get in the way.”

Now employed as a full-time data analyst at a financial firm — a job that she loves — Organ finally has the work-life balance she needed to throw herself more fully into her cookie operation. More importantly, though, she is filled with a sense of urgency to realize her dream of Mochi Monster Cookies as an inclusive bakery that can provide a little bit of joy to people with food allergies and sensitivities who might otherwise have no options. That such a wonderful thing came out of one of her darkest moments is not lost on her — and she lets gratitude carry her along on her cookie-making path.

“I had the biggest scare of my adult life with not having a job,” Organ says. “I figure that if I don’t do it now, then when is the time to do this big scary thing and follow your dreams? I already got through the big scary thing. If I can do that, then I can get through anything.”

For more information on Mochi Monster Cookies, visit  www.facebook.com/mochimonstercookies/.