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Fargo girl, 11, stirs up loyal customer base with Sweets Your Way baking business

After her mom encouraged her to set up her own baking business two years ago, Brynn Samaraweera continues to bake bars, cookies, cakes and cupcakes as a fun side hustle.

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Eleven-year-old Brynn Samaraweera shows off her pride and joy, the Kitchen Aid mixer she received from her parents as a birthday gift last year, in this photo taken March 2, 2023, at her family's home in south Fargo. She uses it for her baking business, Sweets Your Way, for which she makes everything from scratch and even develops some of her own recipes.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

FARGO — Brynn Samaraweera is known as “Brynn the baker.”

The 11-year-old who learned baking from her grandmother and idolizes Julia Child already has her own baking business, Sweets Your Way.

She actually launched the side hustle two years ago, at which time she wrote her own business plan, developed her own menu of goodies and handled orders herself.

“She figured it out and she’s done most of it on her own,” says her mom, Dr. Christine Keup, from the family’s modern south Fargo kitchen.

Brynn herself seems taken aback by her success. “At first it started out as a fun idea, but I’m really surprised it has actually gone this far,” she says.

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Today, Samaraweera offers a menu of homemade cookies, bars, cupcakes and cakes, which range from $9 for a dozen cookies to $22 for a chocolate bundt cake with dark chocolate ganache.

Her most popular item is a homemade pumpkin cookie, consisting of a spicy cookie topped with an indulgent cream cheese frosting. Also popular are her banana bread and carrot cake.

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Brynn Samaraweera, an 11-year-old baker, pipes cream cheese frosting onto her homemade pumpkin cookies on Thursday, March 2, 2023, in her kitchen in south Fargo. Brynn runs her own baking business called Sweets Your Way where she makes everything from scratch.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

She sells her goods mainly through word of mouth to friends, family members, neighbors and the colleagues of her parents, Keup, a Sanford OBGYN, and Dr. Ravinda Samaraweera, a Sanford neurologist.

“My dad’s nurses sometimes order the most. Sometimes it’s four things all at once and I look at it and I’m scared,” Brynn says, as her family chuckles.

She is busiest during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when she makes special goodies like sugar cookies or snickerdoodles.

Her red velvet crinkle cookies are also perfect for the holidays, although her 8-year-old sister, Neve, an aspiring comedian, pipes up that when she makes them, "sometimes mom finds red dye in the carpet.”

Brynn will also custom-make goodies for special occasions. Last fall, based on a special request from Brynn’s uncle, the Samaraweeras traveled all the way to his wedding in Chicago with a batch of Brynn’s Raspberry Amaretti Cookies, a chewy, almond-flavored delicacy in which a dough of egg whites and almond flour is carefully wrapped around a raspberry.

“They are so annoying to roll,” says Brynn, reflecting on the process. “It’s really sticky, so you have to spray your hands with canola oil.”

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Even so, Brynn completed the persnickety cookies, which traveled the 645 miles to the wedding reception without incident.

Brynn draws on cookbooks and online recipes to find goodies that sound tasty, then adapts them by mixing and matching, say, a bar recipe from one book to a frosting recipe from another. She also troubleshoots with her mom when she runs into problems. They might discuss whether she should try a different pan or frost something at a different stage in preparation. “She’s a good problem-solver,” her mom says.

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Brynn Samaraweera and her mother, Dr. Christine Keup, look at recipes together on Thursday, March 2, 2023, at their home in Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Her dad can usually be counted on to help with dishes. “I have the wrinkliest hands in the house,” he jokes.

Besides her comedy stylings, Neve also offers taste-testing expertise. So does the family pet, Skye, a cream-colored French bulldog who conscientiously patrols the kitchen to Hoover up any spilled batter.

Another helper is Brynn’s friend Sylvie Barnacle, who Brynn pays to help her stay organized. When Brynn is especially busy, Sylvie will take in new phone orders, then schedule them with the young baker using a shared and color-coded Google calendar.

Brynn credits her interest in baking to her mom and grandmother, Linda Keup, who lives just five minutes from their house and is always willing to try a baking project. 

Her other baking idols include Nadiya Hussain (“Nadiya Bakes” and “The Great British Bakeoff”), Ina Garten and Duff Goldman from “Ace of Cakes.”

As she also loves Julia Child, she watched “Julia,” t he 2021 documentary on the cooking icon, and Child’s black-and-white cooking tutorials from her public television days.

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When Brynn’s school held a “living wax museum,” she chose to depict the larger-than-life celebrity cook as part of her project.

Thanks to the influence of Child, mainstream America received an introduction to French cooking in an appealing and approachable way.

Or, as Neve likes to describe it, “people aren’t eating as much Spam."

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This chocolate bundt cake with dark chocolate ganache was made by Brynn Samaraweera. The 11-year-old baker runs a baking side hustle, Sweets Your Way, from which she makes cookies, bars, cakes and other treats for friends, family and others.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

As much as Brynn loves baking, she doesn’t think she’ll do it professionally. "I’m pretty sure I want to be a doctor and probably the only baking and cooking I would do is at home for the family,” she says.

In fact, she expects she'll have to cut back her baking as she gets older, when she’ll have more homework while also needing to find time for activities like volleyball and soccer.

“ I have to learn how to balance, because if I have a lot of baking to do, schoolwork is also something I need to do, so it’s balancing things like that,” she says.

Even so, she still enjoys her baking gig, which has sharpened her skills in everything from fractions to chemistry. “It actually proves you do need to use math outside of school,” she says.

And it has helped her make money, most of which she saves in a special bank account.

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To which her dad, the dishwasher, quips: “But she pays her staff the same.”

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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