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Makers

Vienna Cookie Company

Vienna Cookie Company

"I find it so rewarding to see that joy come over someone's face when they first take a bite of one of my cookies," says Heidi Riegler. "I don't mean to stare, but I can't help but notice. I feel like I'm giving them some love haha." 
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To indulge in a Vienna Cookie is to capture a brief glimpse of the wonder it was to be a child in Austria around Christmas. In Austria, it's tradition to bake around the Holidays and Heidi's childhood home was no exception. "That's what my mom and I would do and that's kind of the memory. That's where all of this comes from." Four to Six weeks before Christmas, Heidi and her mother and grandmother would bake a vast array of Linzer Tarts, Gingerbread cookies, Sugar Cookies, Vanilla Crescents, Viennese Chocolate Kisses, Strudels, Kuchen and Tortes (among others). 
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But what followed was an exercise in childhood temptation. "In the hallway we had a closet space and very high up is where the cookies would go," says Heidi. "The whole house would smell for weeks. It was so much temptation for us knowing that the cookies were there and that we couldn't get them. But my mother was very strict about that because she felt it was a very special thing that only happens on very special occasions. Not an everyday kind of consumption."
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Like the cookies, Heidi's baking passion was also temporarily tucked away - Heidi moved to the States and pursued a career in PR. But on her wedding day, here on Long Island, she would find that passion rekindled. "My mother came over for the wedding and I said you really have to help me make the dessert and make cookies. So I made her bake 2,000 cookies," says Heidi straight-faced. "We had a whole table full of different types of cookies. We also had a beautiful wedding cake, but the cookies were really going like crazy, people just loved them. And then I thought, maybe this is something I should do on a regular basis?" 
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Vienna Cookie Company soon began, but as a side business. Heidi would sell cookies around the holidays and attended some cookie tastings and trade shows, but the business kept growing and growing. Then, three years ago while attending a trade show at the Javits Center, Heidi scored a contract with Williams-Sonoma and earned herself a write-up in the New York Times. "It was getting too much with doing PR. I was getting too busy with the baking and now this year I've really taken the business to the next level and am doing it full time."
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Despite facing some challenges - like America's unfamiliarity with some Eastern European cookies - Vienna Cookie Company continues to grow thanks to Heidi's marketing, her baking classes she conducts to teach Austrian baking traditions, and a fierce competitive streak. "If you go to Austria around the holidays, everyone has a plate of cookies. Everybody tries to outdo the other person - different types, different amounts, what's the best? So I can't help but absolutely want to be the best." 
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So what makes Heidi's cookies particularly divine? "I don't have a sweet tooth," says Heidi. "As a kid I was more into sour and salty stuff like pickles. Honestly, I've met a lot of bakers who are the same. I think maybe I have much more of a sensitivity to sweets. It makes you a better judge of how it should be tasting."