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A conversation with: Nurse and bakery-owner Kate Merrill

The smell of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies in the air, bagels and cupcakes on display and menu items written on a chalkboard — these are just some of the many elements that make up Edge of Sweetness. 

Kate Merrill had been a registered nurse for 21 years when she opened the doors to Edge of Sweetness bakery, 6034 N. Broadway, in 2017. In December 2018, she made the full-time switch to shop owner and baker. 

Here’s what Merrill had to say in her own words:

This is a very neighborly place. Our customers are our neighbors and we want them to feel welcome here. We know a lot of people by name and a lot of people are regulars. We put personal notes on the coffee sleeves and everything they order.

A customer said, ‘I love the notes you put on the sleeves. I always look forward to them and I needed a little uplift today. So I came in for that.’ You know, just things like that really matter.

I didn’t realize the connection [between baking and nursing] until I was in it. I’ve always said baking is very selfish because I like to see the look on people’s faces when they try it because I really want the, ‘Wow, this is amazing’ face. But now, I feel like here, I can really expand our reach of caring for people, helping people and making them feel welcome. 

I had a patient, years ago who said she had thought about attempting suicide. She said she thought, ‘You know what, I should kill myself.’ And literally, somebody walked by her and smiled and said ‘Hello.’ And that stopped her, that stuck with me. 

Everything’s very fast and I agree, get people out of here. If somebody needs to go, I don’t want them to be standing around for anything, but do it in a personable way. 

People who come in, they may not have close family, close friends, they may not have somebody to share with. Our people come in and are like, ‘Oh, did you read this article?’ They talk to you and you know they just want to talk to somebody. They feel welcome here and they get that welcoming touch. 

When I was still in nursing school, I was working at a hospital with patients from nursing homes and often nobody came to visit them. It was the saddest thing. I would just put my hand on them to comfort them. If they hadn’t slept in days and if I had my hand on them, then they could fall asleep. 

When I talked to them I liked to give them a little touch and I know some people don’t like that. So somebody flinched and I said ‘Oh I’m sorry, did that bother you?’ They said ‘No, I just have not been touched like that in years.’ I just touched their arm and cause they were in a nursing home, people came in and did their care and that was it. There was nothing like that. That has really always stayed with me. 

There’s definitely a lot of caring and thoughtfulness that goes into a business. I worked in trauma for 21 years, so I do not like stress in the kitchen or the workplace. I don’t think it helps get anything done, that comes from nursing. There would be a code going on and people would be crazy. I’m like, ‘We can’t really think, so let’s all calm down and let’s get our thoughts together and do this.’ 

And that’s how we run it here.

If you’re frustrated, let’s talk about it because it doesn’t make sense to be frustrated. Everybody’s on board with the same thing and they love it— working together and getting stuff done. 

However, I do call it my midlife crisis. I was a nurse and had no thoughts to get out of nursing whatsoever. Suddenly, I just felt the need to start selling cookies. My kids were actually like, ‘Mommy, you have to open a place.’ I said, ‘I’m not opening a place. I don’t want to have my own place.’ And then this place popped up, I kept looking at it and I was like, well, I either don’t expand my business and just stay where I’m at or I do something about it. So I learned as much as I could, regarding business because that’s where my hesitation was. I had no formal training. 

Growing up, I baked with my great-grandma. Whenever she came in from Iowa, we would make her cookies. Which, you know, grandmas never have recipes written down. It’s always in their heads. So we would make cookies together and they were amazing. Then she would leave and I’m like, ‘Well, I want those cookies and I didn’t have a recipe.’ So, I started with the oatmeal recipe on the back of the container and then I just kind of tweaked it a little bit and then came up with my oatmeal recipe. It’s my ultimate favorite because it just brings me back to my great-grandma. 

You don’t know what you can do for somebody or how you can change somebody’s day or somebody’s life. Those are the things we try to do here, just make their day a little bit better if you can do it, because you don’t know what that will mean to them. And hopefully, they’ll pay that forward because I think there’s a lot of disconnect between people, with niceness. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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