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cookies made by Lan McCabe

Baking Up Success

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Lan McCabe applies her chemical engineering degree to her cookie business

Lan McCabe is one smart cookie

The 1997 Oklahoma State University chemical engineering graduate went from testing water quality as a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey to crunching numbers as a chief estimator for construction firms to baking and decorating cookies as an entrepreneur out of her Oklahoma City home.

“When you walk by homes sometimes you can smell the dryer vent, but when you walk by my home you smell cookies,” McCabe said. “People call me the cookie monster because I am obsessed with cookies.”

The 44-year-old with a bright smile and an upbeat personality established Sweets on the Side after guests at her daughter’s first birthday party raved about her almond sugar cookies. Her second pregnancy led her to focus more on her family and make her side business full-time.

“I miss construction and the guys, but I don’t miss the time away from my family,” McCabe said. “I love being there for Sophia (age 9) and William (age 5).”

“Owning my business and working on my terms really is the American dream,” McCabe said.

McCabe, who was born in Da Nang, Vietnam in 1974, was forced to flee her homeland in April 1975 during the final days of the Vietnam War.

Her mother, Hoa Doran, vividly remembers their escape.

“I couldn’t hold Lan freely in my arms because we ran like heck and I didn’t know what would happen if I dropped her so I tied her really, really tight to the front of my body,” Doran said. “In my head I said, ‘If she dies, I’ll still have her body.’ Thank God nobody was lost.”

The refugees ended up settling in Massachusetts, quickly finding work, learning English and buying a home.

McCabe thrived in math and science courses and arrived at OSU in 1992 as a straight-A student.

“The chemical engineering degree gave me the freedom to experiment, which helps me in my baking,” the first-generation college student said. “The kitchen is like a lab, and you can play with things. I like to experiment off the beaten path and see what happens. I love that side of the engineer mindset in general. I don’t think a lot of people would take the time to experiment if they didn’t have some kind of background to understand how ingredients would react. That’s chemistry.”

Exploring creative pathways continues into cookie design as well.

Clients often give McCabe a theme and allow her to choose among such effects as air brushing, water coloring, stenciling, adding luster dust or wood grain effects.

Lan McCabe showing off her cookies

“I love that the cookie is my canvas,” McCabe said. “Sometimes I know what I’m going to design before I sit down, but sometimes I don’t. It’s from that moment that I find a great idea, and that’s where the greatness happens. I love that I can express myself, and I can sell it.”

Her cookie business has grown steadily the past four years, thanks in part to its Instagram page, which showcases her creativity and craftsmanship skills.

“Our cookies are not an everyday thing,” McCabe admitted. “They are not something you need; they are something you want to add something special to your occasion. My husband says I need to advertise my business, but I let my cookies do the talking.”

Bill McCabe said he just loves seeing his wife happy.

“It has been a lifelong dream of hers to own her own business,” he said. “I’m proud of all her accomplishments.”

McCabe’s Instagram posts caught the attention of the Food Network, earning her a spot on an episode of Christmas Cookie Challenge, which aired in November.

“Success is in the things that I do and the people I see and meet during the journey along the way,” McCabe said.

She loved talking with fellow Pokes while leading a cookie decorating event for the OKC Metro OSUAlumni Chapter in December.

“I’ve always found that just about everyone from OSU is a friendly soul,” McCabe said.

She has enjoyed leading children and adult cookie decorating classes at businesses in the Oklahoma City metro area the past few years but hopes to have a place of her own soon.

“I want to find a space where the kids not only decorate cookies, but they learn how to bake, too,” McCabe said. “It is a life skill that teaches them to read, comprehend and think.”

She is grateful people enjoy and appreciate the effort she puts into her cookies.

“I’m just an average person that likes what I do and I do the best that I can,” McCabe said. “I’ve learned that whatever I go through in life to just take it in and enjoy the moment. It is funny how life spins you.”  

Lan McCabe applies icing to cookies


Delicious Details

To order Lan McCabe’s cookies, know this:

• Minimum order of two dozen is required.

• Prices range from $36-$60/dozen.

• Two to four weeks’ notice is needed.






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