Startup Story: Keri Lijinsky of Sweet Crimes Gluten-Free Bakery

Hera Hub is excited to share Startup Stories of our members. We periodically interview incredible business women from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. Our goal is to share our members’ wonderful stories with the public. Keri Lijinsky is the Founder of Sweet Crimes, a gluten-free bakery serving the Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia area. 

Startup Story - Keri Lijinksy Sweet Crimes

Keri Lijinksy is the Founder of Sweet Crimes. It’s more than just a gluten-free bakery. It is a movement to make delicious gluten-free baked goods easily accessible – available in convenient locations and affordable – and to de-stigmatize them as dry and tasteless.

Keri and the two amazing women who help her produce work hard on every recipe until you can’t tell that it is made without gluten. We are currently found in small retailers in Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia, farmers markets, online, and through catering outlets.

Keri has been a member of  Hera Hub D.C. for three months!

What was the inspiration behind your business?

I grew up in Maryland and has been a “creative” baker ever since I was a kid. My parents are world travelers and I lived overseas in many different places, including Japan as a child, and England, Switzerland, and the Philippines where I worked in public health and global development.

When I discovered that I was gluten intolerant, I became aware of how difficult it was to find a baked good that I could eat and truly enjoy. My humanitarian spirit led me to continue to help people as a professional baker because no one should have to compromise when it comes to delicious food.

I moved back to D.C. in 2013 and first began experimenting with gluten-free baking when I made my mother’s wedding cake in 2014. The cake was such a hit that I continued to pour love into my recipes until I perfected the chemistry of baking with gluten-free flour. Sweet Crimes was incorporated in April 2016 and is a member of Mess Hall where Sweet Crimes desserts are proudly #madeindc.

Who are your clients and what do you do for them?

We strive to be in as many retailers as possible, bringing affordable and delicious products to customers where they are shopping or grabbing a coffee. We also do farmers markets in the summer and during the holiday season where have established a large customer base that comes to the markets each weekend to stock up on Sweet Crimes.

Our online store is really active, especially for gifting and custom cake orders. Every cake is uniquely decorated. We are grateful to have many repeat customers.

What are your business’ values? How do they align with your personal values?

My business values are first and foremost QUALITY, Teamwork, Open Communication and Service Delivery.

These values are also the cornerstone of my personal life. Being a perfectionist, I have always strived for excellence in any professional career I have pursued. Although an only child, I prefer to work in a team with open communication. I am a leader but know I am not the best at everything. I have always trusted the people around me to be a sounding board as I navigate life.

Nowadays it is about wading through the daily quagmire of entrepreneurship! The reason I opened my business was to provide a service…a different kind of health service to my tuberculosis and HIV work, but still a health service. This is what drives me to expand a grow (much more than financial gain).

How/Why did you choose your business name?

I love street art and when I was in Rio a few years ago I saw Sweet Crimes written on a garage door. While in a taxi on the way to the airport and we had stopped right next to it at a stoplight. You could say I took it as a sign…

What do you love most about your work?

I am driven by the notion that I’m making people’s lives better. People come to my stall at farmers markets and they’re like kids in a candy store – so excited and looking around in disbelief at all the wonderful crimes!

If you were a child with celiac disease and you were told you can’t eat the delicious cookie, but can eat the one that tastes like sawdust, how would it feel? Would you be motivated to stay healthy or would you eat the cookie that poisons you?

Many adults suffer this dilemma as well and I want everyone to have access to the products that make them feel good. I also just love the entrepreneurial space. I need constant stimulation and change, on-the-fly decision-making, interfacing with people, strategizing, problem-solving…etc.

Although I’ve always been successful in any job, I’ve never quite felt pushed to my potential. When I opened Sweet Crimes it felt like I was finally wearing the right size shoes.

Sweet Crimes - Keri Lijinksy

What is the biggest challenge in running your own business?

The biggest challenge for me has been that it can be very isolating. When I was working my full-time job at USAID and doing Sweet Crimes full time on the side, I went for years without seeing my friends more than once or twice a year. It is hard to not be there for the people you care about.

From an administrative perspective, I would say that knowing what to prioritize when (e.g. financing, marketing, when to pursue different revenue streams, etc.) has been challenging as well. Everything seems like a priority all the time, but it is unrealistic to do everything at once.

What are your/your business’ goals for the future?

The short-term goal is to host the first-ever gluten-free festival in DC under the Sweet Crimes brand. The medium-term goal is to be the national brand for gluten-free. The long-term goal is to have a funky art cafe with street art and to sell fresh donuts until we run out.

What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?

Just start. Do something that makes it financially difficult to stall any longer. Many people put off starting their businesses because they haven’t perfected their business plan. Plans are good, but they are roadmaps and can be a form of procrastination, from what I’ve observed.

When I joined a commercial kitchen where the monthly rent was $1100, I immediately had to find farmers markets and outlets to sell my product or I couldn’t pay to stay! There is nothing like fear to spur you into action…