Sweet success for local ‘Flour Girl’
By ELIZABETH COSIN / Healdsburg Correspondent
Shannon Moore wants to wow you with her whoopee pie.
Moore is the founder and only employee of Flour Girl, a company she started out of her own kitchen, baking cakes, cupcakes and other confections for friends and friends of friends.
In the year since Moore devoted full time to her venture, she has drawn raves for her creations. In addition to the whoopee pies, exotic ice cream sandwiches and custom cakes and cupcakes, she also makes a popular line of gluten-free desserts, all of which she sells at local farmers markets, the Cheese Shop Healdsburg and at Shelton’s Market in Healdsburg, where she once worked as a check-out clerk.
The ice cream sandwiches are a particular hit, gaining so many fans that Healdsburg Cheese Shop owner Doralice Handal says she can’t keep them in stock.
“I’ve eaten my way through almost everything Flour Girl has made,” says Handal. “We love selling her ice cream sandwiches and whoopee pies at the cheese shop.”
In some ways, it’s her ice cream sandwiches say the most about Moore’s personal vision of dessert – they are confections that walk the line between sweet and savory, pairing unique flavors. Her sandwiches are handmade French macaron cookies filled with exotic ice cream she makes herself. Her signature sandwich is Chinese 5-spice with salted caramel ice cream. Other flavors include lemon, toasted coconut, deep dark chocolate, green tea and roasted strawberry.
But the main goal, she says, is to make your mouth water.
“I want people to come to my food with an open mind,” says Moore, who works out of a kitchen she shares with Savvy Catering in Healdsburg. “I want them to taste something I’ve made and watch their eyes roll back in their heads.”
While she loves the process of discovering new ideas and is constantly tinkering, she also relies on favorites from her childhood in Memphis, like whoopee pies. Hers are soft, almost brownie-like cookies with salted caramel crème filling. In fact, her earliest memories are of desserts, particularly her grandmother’s Italian crème cake and her mother’s fried pies.
The youngest of four – “the surprise,” as she puts it – Moore was 11 when her mother died of cancer. Two aunts, her grandmother and a sister helped raise her while her father worked at Federal Express. Even as a child, she gravitated to desserts, watching her grandmother bake Christmas cookies, painstakingly decorating each one by hand.
In a way, Flour Girl began with a boy. Moore says she loved growing up in Memphis but chose Tulane in New Orleans when it was time for college. After just one semester, she got homesick and returned home to finish college at a small liberal arts school.
That’s where she fell in love with a young man and the Grateful Dead. She left home with him, traveling around with “Dead Heads” and supporting themselves by selling soda at concerts.
“It was a really amazing experience,” she says with a sheepish grin. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was what I had to do at the time, and I met so many wonderful people, saw a lot of great places. It was a learning experience, too. We camped out a lot, just made do with what we had.”
She discovered Wine Country while following the Dead around, and when the couple decided to give up on the road, they settled in Santa Rosa and she landed a job at Healdsburg’s Downtown Bakery and Creamery, baking bread on the night shift.
“We didn’t know a soul,” she says. “We didn’t have a place to live, we didn’t have jobs. I had never even heard of Healdsburg.”
Moore began to think about going to cooking school and perhaps becoming a pastry chef. She even thought about opening her own bakery.
“It was a fantastic experience,” she said. “But it was hard. I realized how crazy I was to think about opening my own place.”
The long, odd hours didn’t help her relationship, and the couple eventually broke up. He went back to Memphis and Moore quit the bakery, moving from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg.
“I don’t do things halfway,” she says. “When I make changes, I change everything. The job at the bakery just took its toll. I was exhausted.”
Baking was the last thing she thought she wanted to do, so she took a month off, played video games and tried to regroup. Thinking she’d had her fill with the kitchens, she used her college degree to get a job in marketing.
Moore discovered that she hated it, so she took a job with the Whole Foods Market that had just opened on Yulupa Avenue in Santa Rosa. She worked there baking bread and got first-hand experience doing large-scale baking.
“I loved it,” she says, “but it was an eight-hour workout. I only lasted a year.”
During this time she met Stuart Fisher, a naturalist, farmer, painter and artisan olive oil maker. She also landed a job heading Flying Goat Coffee’s pastry department and started winning fans. One resident remembers lodging a complaint when the Goat briefly started buying pastries from another bakery as a cost-saving move.
“It was one of the few times I’ve ever written a letter of complaint,” says Healdsburg resident Peggy Matsuda. “I used to go to the Goat for Shannon’s muffins. They were so creative and really delicious.”
Despite her growing reputation among locals, Moore once again found herself at a crossroads. After seven years at the Goat, she didn’t want to bake again. Ever.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I couldn’t go near an oven,” she says. “It wasn’t fun for me anymore. I didn’t want to step into a kitchen ever again.”
To pay rent she took odd jobs – working at tasting rooms, as a clerk at Shelton’s – and didn’t miss baking until a friend insisted that she go back to her roots.
“I had a lot going on,” Moore says. “My friend said to me, ‘You need an outlet.’ I really resisted for a long time. And then one day I just literally pulled a recipe out of a magazine and made it.”
That Meyer lemon pudding cake lifted Moore out of her funk. She had rediscovered her love of the craft.
“Even before it was done, just smelling it baking in the oven, I knew that was where I belonged,” she said. “It was like I had found myself again.”
Her friends liked her cakes and cookies so much that they began asking her to bake them for events, first birthdays and then weddings. She became so popular, she began to hold monthly “bake sales” at her house, inviting friends and friends of friends to come over and buy goodies. Word spread quickly.
“That’s how I built my following,” she said. As demand rose, she started Flour Girl.
Along with selling her products at local stores and farmers markets, Moore also partners for some events with Savvy Catering and provides all the pastries for Plank, a new coffee house in Cloverdale. Although she and her husband continue to call Healdsburg home, Moore still thinks that one day she will go back to Memphis.
“I’m a big homebody,” she says beaming about a recent conversation with her father who is now retired and had just gotten his first hole-in-one. “That’s where my heart is I guess. I always think I’ll go back one day.”
For now, though, her business is growing, orders keep coming in and on days when she’s not out on one of Stuart’s restored delivery bicycles, home is the Flour Girl kitchen. There’s still a lot of butter cream and buttermilk lemon curd and Swiss meringue to make. And, of course, whoopee pies.