After losing her son in 2010, her job in 2011 and her mother in 2012, one Merrimack mother is using the memories of her loved ones as a recipe to get back on her feet.
Candy Simeone was grief stricken when her son Jonathon died following a motorcycle accident on the F.E. Everett Turnpike on May 25, 2010. Dealing with the emotional pain that comes with losing a child, Simeone returned to work the Tuesday after she buried her son, in order to hold onto an inside sales job with the electrical company she'd worked for in Massachusetts for six years. A little more than a year later, in the fall of 2011, despite continuing to rank among the top salespeople for the company, Simeone was let go. On Feb. 29, Simeone was dealt another blow when her mother passed away.
“Some days, I just didn't want to get out of bed,” Simeone said of depression that had taken its toll.
She's spent the last year looking for a job to no avail. It's hard, she said, to find a job that pays the kind of money she was making as a sales rep, and for the jobs she's interviewed, Simeone has been overqualified or unable to make the salary that meets her needs to get the bills paid, so she continues to look.
But while Simeone was grieving the death of her mother, she started cooking up a business without even realizing it at the time.
One day, not all that long after the death of her mom, Simeone said she did something she hadn't done in a long time.
“I don't know what possessed me, but I got up and I went to church,” Simeone said. “I was there and I said, 'Please do me a favor, point me in the right direction.' ”
For months, Simeone said, her brother had been telling her to do something with “the cookies.”
"The cookies" are her mother's anisette recipe that has been a longtime favorite in her family – her sons Jon and Michael would make them disappear from the counter before she could even frost them. Simeone said she couldn't make them for a while following her mother's death for the memories tied to them.
To encourage her back into doing something she loved – baking – Simeone's brother, a priest, had asked her to make 200 cookies for the congregation he was welcoming at a church he was building in Pahokee, Fla. Simeone said she resisted at first, but that day in church, something changed.
She went home and made the cookies. Then she made labels with the ingredients and she wrapped them up for a trip to Florida, where her brother told her he was expecting a bigger crowd than he first thought an “could you make 200 more?”
Four hundred anisette cookies later, Pastor John's parish was hooked and Simeone was the church's new baker for their signature cookie. Each time the parish runs out, Simeone bakes 200 more and ships them to Florida
At first, she didn't want to see another cookie, but at the insistence of some local friends and her family, Simeone realized she might be able to turn something she really does love to do into a business that would allow her some income while she continues to search out a full-time job.
“The person who really made me say 'Let's do this,' was Peter (Yeanacopolis) at D.W. Diner,” Simeone said. “He's like Saint Peter. He was instrumental in helping me get this off the ground.”
Simeone said the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. On Oct. 21, the Merrimack Fire Department did an inspection at her home and she now owns a licensed and inspected homestead kitchen.
Simeone is just getting started, but she's already energized by the response she's had to her cookies. In addition to the Nana Lilly's Anisette Cookies, named for her mother, she makes chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter kiss, frosted butter cookies and more.
The cookies are great for care packages to send to students studying for exams or to send to a family member for a holiday gift. Simeone's cookies can be purchased online at www.candyscookiesmiles.com. She also has them for sale locally at Instant Ambition in Merrimack and the Homestead Country Store in Amherst. She also makes party favors, wedding favors and office party platters.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, the Meat House in Amherst is holding a tasting of Simeone's cookies. And they will be carrying the cookies for sale as well.
Simeone is also looking into farmers markets and fairs to grow her business, and she joined NH Made, a group that promotes small business in New Hampshire.
Candy's Cookie Smiles was not only built around a memory of her mother, but was named around a memory of her son.
Shortly after Jon died, Simeone came across a car antennae topper – a smiley face wearing a helmet – while she was in his garage bay at her house. She said she was on her way to the funeral home with her son's obituary when she had a moment of grief that left her sobbing in her car inside the garage. When she looked to her left, the smiling antennae topper – something she hadn't seen before – was stuck in the wall and staring her in the face.
“I just started laughing,” Simeone said. “It was like he was saying 'Mom, you've got to just go do this. It's going to be all right.'”
From that point forward smiley faces became their sign that Jon was all around. She was handed a photo from Jon's first birthday party, while his friends were making photo collages for his funeral, and his cake was a smiley face. Then it was like smiley faces started showing up everywhere, she said, like stuck to the bottom of her sister's shoe when she came home from running one day.
Smiley faces have become a gentle way of Jon showing he's all around, Simeone said, and his friends to this day continue to share smiley faces they find to let them know they're thinking of her son.
It was only natural to include him in the business, something she said he would have been very proud of.
Since Simeone's original concept included shipping cookies as care packages, the tagline to Candy's Cookie Smiles just clicked – “Send smiles for miles.”
Simeone said one day she would love to have shop or see her cookies sold in every small business in New Hampshire. Big dreams for sure, but with Jon and Nana Lilly's continued presence in her life and her business, life is bound to be much sweeter for this Merrimack mom.