Amid National Attention, Bakery Duo Having More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys
By Adrienne Fawcett
Things were not looking good for Hungry Monkey Baking at the start of 2020. The Lake Forest business lost money for the first time in 2019, and owner Cindy Kienzle was thinking it might be time to turn the ovens off and update her resume.
Then COVID-19 arrived, America went into lockdown in March, grocery stores practically strung caution tape in front of their doors -- and Kienzle became certain her business was doomed.
Hungry Monkey Baking founders Cindy Kienzle and Lily Kienzle -- who have appeared on Good Morning America and other shows -- display some of their best-selling baked goods.
Except … the phone started ringing.
Loyal customers were calling in orders to ship Hungry Monkey’s chocolate chip banana bread, triple chocolate brownies and other baked goods to loved ones throughout the United States. If ever there was a time when people needed to share a box of something sweet and chewy, spring of 2020 was it. And Hungry Monkey products are the ultimate in comfort food.
There was one significant obstacle, though: In March 2020, Hungry Monkey wasn’t an online business, and it didn’t have a shopping cart on its website (https://hungrymonkeybaking.com), which is why customers were calling Kienzle to place shipping orders. Sales in the business’s first decade came primarily from consumer purchases at Sunset Foods and Fresh Picks, as well as from corporate clients and events.
Kienzle, who headed marketing, advertising and communications for the Chicago Transit Authority from 1999-2008, was accustomed to rapid problem solving. She created a Socially Distanced Sweet Box after realizing people wanted to send “stay safe” care packages. And only two weeks into the pandemic, she and daughter Lily (age 12 and the original hungry monkey) appeared on TalkShopLive.com to sell it.
Never heard of TalkShopLive? It’s an online platform for live-streamed home shopping shows, and it’s used by everyone from rock musicians like Ringo Starr and Food Network stars like Giada DeLaurentis to small-business owners like Kienzle, who was an early adopter in 2018 and now does a Hungry Monkey baking show with Lily just about every week.
Tammi Moore introduced Kienzle to TalkShopLive. Sadly, Kienzle's friend and Lake Forest neighbor passed away last November, but her influence is long-lasting. “She will never know how grateful I am to her for believing in me and Hungry Monkey so much that she constantly encouraged me to try something new,” Kienzle said. “I remain indebted to her.”
TV personality/comedian Howie Mandel saw Hungry Monkey’s episode, was charmed by the mother-daughter duo and promoted Hungry Monkey for an hour during his own first TalkShopLive show. That show was watched by 25,000 people, including more than 100 Lake Forest moms.
“A nice amount of Mandel’s audience started following us on social media and purchasing our baked goods,” Kienzle says. “It was our 10-year anniversary in 2019, and I thought it was the end. And 2020 turned out to be our best year yet.”
Mandel’s show helped kick off a publicity blitz that included Hungry Monkey stories on Good Morning America, People.com, and FOX News, to name a few.
Hungry Monkey produces about 700 baked goods a week; the number is much higher during the November-December holiday season. Orders now come from grocery stores, corporate clients, the website and TalkShopLive.com.
New this year to Hungry Monkey is the Student Survival Kit care package, which includes a dozen triple chocolate brownies and a loaf of chocolate chip banana bread. Worth noting: These freeze well (if they last long enough to make it into a dorm fridge).
Also new this year: Hungry Monkey is in the running for getting a spot on “Shark Tank,” the popular reality show on ABC-TV.
Kienzle’s quick thinking at the start of the pandemic gave Hungry Monkey national recognition and a welcome sales jolt, but the company’s foundation, and its heart, remains in Lake Forest.
“A lot of Lake Forest people really helped us get started,” she says. “The Lake Forest Sunset store sells more of our product than its other branches, and Sunset Foods is so great for small, local businesses to work with. I’m told kids ask for Hungry Monkey by name, and I’m very appreciative of that.”