Local Kinderhook Snack company feels Baltimore's love

Katie Horn and Marie Stratton know that when you cook what you love, other people will follow. Especially when what you love to cook is a collection of delicious snacks made from scratch.

Horn and Stratton are the founders of Kinderhook Snacks, a Baltimore-based company that sells its snack foods — including favorites like salted chocolate chip cookies and baked cheese stamps — in shops throughout the region, plus online and directly to catering customers and Baltimore businesses.


Neither is a Baltimore native — Horn is from Oregon and Stratton grew up in Lancaster, Pa. — but they have wholeheartedly embraced Baltimore. And the city seems to have a taste for what they do.

The two met through friends and forged a bond through a mutual love of baking. "Marie and I were friends and we really loved baking together as a hobby and stress reliever," says Horn. They experimented with recipes, sharing their leftovers with friends and co-workers. They were having fun in the kitchen — and turning out more cookies, crackers and nuts than they could possibly eat themselves.


In the fall of 2011, Horn and Stratton found a new outlet for their treats, when they started selling their snacks at the now-defunct Charles Street Friday Market. "They had music and drinks but didn't have any food, except for the farmers," says Horn. "So we thought, 'We know how to make delicious snack food. We should see if we can have a stand.'"

They came up with the name "Kinderhook" while on a road trip, as they entertained themselves in the car by learning presidential trivia. Kinderhook is the name of Martin Van Buren's New York hometown. Horn and Stratton liked the catchy name — and Van Buren's facial hair. Today, not only do the snacks bear the name of Van Buren's hometown, the packages also feature his face. "He looks like he liked to snack," Horn says jokingly.

At the market, the team quickly developed a following. When Winston Blick opened his Hamilton food shop, Green Onion, in the spring of 2012, Kinderhook was on his short list of products to sell — even though at the time, Horn and Stratton weren't even packaging their snacks.

"Winston was looking for a local cracker maker, and he asked if we'd sell in his shop," says Stratton. "We said sure — then figured out how to package our crackers."

While the partners have kept their day jobs (Horn as a special-education teacher and Stratton with the catering company Blacksauce Kitchen), their business has blossomed.

"We just kind of went for it," says Stratton. "We realized people liked everything we were making, so we just kept doing it. It was fun for us the whole time, and we realized it could be a viable business."

Initially, they did the baking in their own kitchens; when they started to outgrow that space, Ned Atwater, owner of the local soup, salad and sandwich cafes bearing his name, let them use the kitchen at Atwater's Falls Road location in off hours.

Atwater already knew Horn; she sometimes worked for his company, selling bread at farmers' markets.

"Katie was a great worker and passionate about food in general," he says. "When she approached us about using the kitchen, it was easy to say yes. I know from personal experience how hard it is to get started in the food business. One of your biggest obstacles is finding a space that's health department-certified and has routine inspections."

Horn and Stratton used the Atwater's kitchen, starting in the late afternoon and working late into the night. But eventually, they realized they needed their own space.

During the spring of 2013, the women raised about $12,000 via Kickstarter; they used the money to purchase the ovens and other equipment they would need to outfit a kitchen of their own.

The move into that kitchen, in a carriage house in Baltimore's Old Goucher neighborhood, gave Horn and Stratton a major boost. In 2014, Kinderhook increased its output nearly threefold. At the beginning of the year, they made an average of 700 packages of snacks per week; by the end, that number was up to about 2,000. The number of stores carrying Kinderhook Snacks doubled to about 50; plus, Horn and Stratton, who declined to disclose their annual revenue, launched an online snack shop and business subscription service that delivers snacks to subscribers.


To keep up with the growing demand, they have hired two full-time and two part-time employees (though they still do much of the baking themselves).

So far eight Baltimore businesses have signed up for the subscription service, and typically receive deliveries of Kinderhook Snacks weekly or monthly.

OrderUp, a national food-delivery company based in Canton, has subscribed to Kinderhook's service since last summer. The company, which doesn't do business with Kinderhook but whose employees like to eat their products, receives a box of goodies every other Friday. Each delivery includes a mix of sweet and savory treats, plus some items that aren't available in stores.

"They bring in something that's fun with every delivery," says OrderUp's vice president of engineering Kyle Fritz. "We call them the Kinderhook angels."

The subscription deliveries remind them of their roots, says Stratton. "In some ways, that's how we started — by making things at home and sharing them with co-workers. It builds such a nice community."

Horn also notes that they enjoy getting to know their customers on a personal level. "We do wedding favors and baby showers. It's always fun to be part of people's special day," she says, commenting that clients who hire them for special events often say they want their occasion to include something fun made in Baltimore.

For their May 2014 wedding at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Montgomery County, Baltimore Print Studios owners Kim Bentley and Kyle Van Horn hired Kinderhook to provide several flavors of popcorn before the ceremony and during the cocktail hour. "Even though our caterer offered to provide the popcorn, we preferred to work with a local business," says Van Horn.

"We sell a ton for hostess gifts," says Kohli Flick, owner of the Green Spring Station shop Becket Hitch. "I think it's a nice way to introduce people to new stuff that's happening in Baltimore. It's another reason to be prideful about where we live."

Annette Fallon first happened upon Kinderhook at the Union Graze farmers' market; now she's both a catering customer and a business client.

"They provided all the snacks for our cocktail hour at my wedding last November. Also, they did custom snack bags of cookies for the gift the guests take away," she says. "I've also used them for catering at my work, Baltimore Lab School. We do a snack delivery once a month as a treat. Everyone adores the snacks they provide."

Horn and Stratton appreciate that special occasions and business-related deliveries mean they have the opportunity to experiment and branch out from their standard snack products.

"It's fun for us to do something a little different," says Horn. Kinderhook also offers season-specific treats, like Valentine's Day shortbread cookies made with brown sugar, dark chocolate and Maldon sea salt.


For Blick, the decision to sell Kinderhook Snacks at Green Onion was a no-brainer.

"Literally everything I've had by them is great," he says. "I like the fact that they're very 'from scratch.' And we like small businesses."

Horn and Stratton say that sort of welcoming attitude is typical of the Baltimore food scene.

"From the very beginning, I've been surprised and impressed with how welcoming the community is," says Horn. "We've been able to partner with so many people — even people who are technically our competitors. Atwater's is a good example of that. Ned opened his kitchen to us. We've just had a really warm reception, and there is a very strong sense of community and support in the food industry here."

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