By Brian Sherman
Photography by Stan Foxworthy
The seductive odor of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wafts gently through the air. Your nostrils are enamored by the captivating combination of cinnamon and pecans. Is that peanut butter you smell? Have you been magically transported back to your grandma’s kitchen?
No. You’re simply paying a visit to Grey Ghost Bakery on James Island, where 10 varieties of soft, chewy, yet remarkably crispy cookies are in various stages of completion. Made by hand from family recipes, they are now available at 200 or so specialty retailers and high-end grocery stores across the country, in places as far away from the Charleston area as Red Lodge, Montana.
“They’re just like homemade,” said Katherine Frankstone, who learned to bake at a young age but didn’t officially dive into the uncertain sea of entrepreneurship until 2011. “We just make them in a bigger bowl.”
Frankstone was only six when she began to lay the groundwork for her eventual success in the baking business. Her best friend had an Easy Bake oven, and she wanted one just like it. Her parents had other ideas, like teaching her to bake for real, which, she thought at the time, “was the least cool thing they could do.”
“But it spawned a lifelong love,” she admitted.
It was decades, however, before Frankstone was able to mix her love for baking with her profession. She longed to own her own business and considered several options over the years. She thought she might want to be a specialty food retailer or run a cheese shop or a coffee roaster – or maybe an environmental dry cleaner or an online fine craft gallery.
“I had lots of ideas but never the right idea at the right time,” she explained.
Frankstone gained some valuable experience in the baking business after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, working as an assistant to the pastry chef at a Pawleys Island restaurant. She eventually returned to school, earning her MBA at the University of South Carolina, worked in commercial lending in Chicago and Los Angeles, and later made her way back to South Carolina and helped start a children’s museum in Columbia.
While trying to find herself professionally and help raise three sons, she continued baking cookies for her friends and relatives. In 2009, Frankstone and her husband, Manning, decided to take the plunge into the business world – sort of. After picking up valuable pointers on packaging and shelf life from case studies carried out by college classes at the University of South Carolina and Clemson, they moved on to a soft launch late in 2011. A really soft launch.
Frankstone explained that in November 2011, with the packaging for their cookies not yet designed, she got a call from a friend with the Red Cross in Columbia. Could she provide 450 cookies for an upcoming event, along with 18 dozen more to give to friends and neighbors for Christmas?
“We were already considering not even opening the company, but I was too proud to admit it,” she explained. “Before Christmas, we had sold 300 dozen by word of mouth, so I realized it made sense to proceed.”
The Grey Ghost Bakery line first appeared in a retail establishment in September 2012. Frankstone leased space from a friend in the restaurant business in Columbia in the beginning, moving to her current location on James Island in June 2014.
So what’s the meaning of the name of the bakery? Frankstone explained that it’s based on the myth of the Grey Man, a friendly ghost who apparently walks the beach at Pawleys Island. As the story goes, he was traveling to the island in the 1800s to visit his fiancé, who was vacationing there. He fell off his horse and died, and later came to her in a dream, warning her to leave the island. She left and avoided the destructive force of a violent hurricane.
Frankstone is no stranger to baking and no stranger to entrepreneurship, either. Her grandparents had the ambition to launch an insurance company during the Great Depression.
In addition to 10 flavors of cookies, sold in stores and online, Grey Ghost makes chocolate bourbon pecan cookies specifically for the Restoration Hotel in Charleston. Frankstone also bakes molasses spice and lemon sugar cookies for a hotel group with locations in Atlanta, Houston and Miami Shores, Florida. Grey Ghost also can print labels and provide cookies for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and business events.
Regardless of whether they are sold in stores or online, each label carries the same maxim: “Legendary Family Recipes. Goodest Cookies. Bestest Taste.”
Bad grammar; great cookies.