Opinicon’s Cookie Rookie of the Year Making the Most of Her Shot

Opinicon’s Cookie Rookie of the Year Making the Most of Her Shot

In many ways Krista Gill, owner/operator of our area’s unofficial Cookie Rookie of the Year – the 23 & Co. Bakery, has lived a life many Canadian girls dream of at one time or another growing up.

She married her high school sweetheart, Todd Gill, who ended up enjoying a 19-year professional hockey career. They have four beautiful, healthy children, all of whom have left home and are happily building productive lives of their own. She and her husband now make their home on Lake Opinicon, allowing them to be just minutes from her parents’ place in Elgin.

She knows she’s been blessed and has always gone out of her way to help others as a way of turning her gratitude into action. Still, there have always been nagging questions repeating themselves from somewhere deep in the back of her mind. When would it be her turn? What was she capable of if given the chance?

Growing up a base brat, young Krista moved more than most kids, but her life would change dramatically when in the Brockville area she met a young man who’d grown up in Cardinal, Ont. He had hockey hair and a strong connection to his deep family roots in the area.

“We started dating in high school. I was in Grade 9 and Todd was in Grade 10,” she said casting her mind back to their beginnings.

Their relationship would need to withstand the test of distance in those early years. A powerful young blueliner, Todd was drafted by Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League and left after Grade 10.

“I was only 16 then and obviously lived at home and Todd lived in Windsor,” she explained, adding that was practically the last time they were apart. Todd was drafted to the NHL and started wearing #23 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Krista, along the way earning a business degree, joined him there to make their home in the centre of the hockey universe. Their plan being that Todd’s career would be their focus for now and Krista would look to carry the load with her career when he hung up his skates. They called themselves 23 & Co. in recognition of the fact that Todd counted on the entire family for support, and understood its importance, even though it was just him out on the ice each night getting the glory. His victories were really their victories.

“We were married in 1989 in his hometown of Cardinal,” Krista said. “We were living in Toronto when our three eldest children were born: Chloe (1991), Madeline (1993), and Owen (1996). Jack Thomas was born in St. Louis in 1998. We followed Todd to all of his NHL cities.”

That’s saying a lot when you consider, Gill ended up playing for six different NHL clubs in the U.S. (one of them multiple times) after initially enjoying the stability of a dozen seasons with the Leafs to begin his career.

Following a final season in Europe with Lausitzer Füchse of the German League, Todd finally retired from playing and they settled in Brockville to a home they had purchased back in 1998 as part of their long-term vision for life.

After two years away from the game, Todd bought the Brockville Braves driven by the goal of turning around the long-beleaguered minor league club that had proven to be so important to his career. He even took on coaching the team himself. Turns out Todd was about as good behind the bench as he was on the ice and ended up coaching from 2006 to 2019 while building a resume that included the Brockville Braves (2006-11), Kingston Frontenacs (2011-14), Adirondack Flames (2014-15), Stockton Heat (2015-17), and Owen Sound Attack (2017-19).

When he decided to retire from hockey for the second time, the couple traded in their Brockville home for a spot on Opinicon.

“Leaving Brockville was difficult. Our children had all moved out and it was time to downsize,” said Krista. “We love the Rideau Lakes area and moving there to be available for my parents was very important to me. Family is so important. My father is 82, my mother is 78. They moved back to the area in 2013. My parents keep busy with volunteering and gardening. My dad goes to the sugar bush every day to cut wood, check on the property or make syrup when in season. My mom makes sourdough bread, knits and is an avid reader.”

Being just 15 minutes away has been amazing – especially when COVID arrived. The pandemic also brought time, lots and lots of time to fill. Krista turned to her favourite hobby, baking. It was something she’d developed a love for early on and it is interconnected with her love of family in a way that it is hard to tell where one stops and the other starts.

“My father was in the Air Force so we moved every four years,” she said. “My mother’s folks were from Ontario and my father’s roots are in Nova Scotia. We moved between the two provinces. It was nice to be close for periods of time to both sides of the family.”

Each of her grandmothers played a huge part in making her who she is today.

“My maternal grandmother was a farmer. She was small but mighty. She worked very hard on the farm and always had time for pies, chocolate cake and old-fashioned drop donuts. I don’t think she ever followed a recipe. She made the best pie I have ever tasted. She would pick the berries fresh and create a masterpiece for dinner. I respected her hardworking attitude. I have taken to gardening and I think that came from her. I am so blessed to garden these days on a lot at my grandparents’ farm with my uncle (the present-day owner) and my parents. We call it the Memorial Garden after my grandmother. She loved her garden and would freeze her vegetables for us to enjoy year-round. My grandparents also owned a sugar bush in Plum Hollow. My parents now own the property and run a small batch maple syrup operation to continue the legacy of my grandparents. I am a hard worker. Maybe I got that from her,” she explains.

“My paternal grandmother lived in Nova Scotia. She loved her grandchildren to visit and would fuss over a meal until it was perfect. Her door was always open and our relatives often dropped by for Mabel to prepare a lunch for them when they came into town. She made delicious Maritime bread, baked beans, and the best molasses sparkles cookies. She was a warm, nurturing woman and her family was the most important part of her life. She made us all feel special. She had an infectious laugh and a sweet disposition. She had a very strong faith and was very patient in the kitchen. She loved to share her recipes and pass along family traditions. I have a strong love for family and she taught me that.”

The lessons learned in those two kitchens and in those early days perfectly prepared her for life as an NHL wife.

“Moving often [as a child] made my moves as an adult easier. Todd played in many cities and I learned to make each new city an adventure. I tried to convince our children of this also. Moving teaches children to extend themselves and embrace change. Our four children have experienced some fun cities they maybe would not have been exposed to otherwise,” she said. “I do not have a favourite city. I enjoyed them all for different reasons. I think back fondly on our life experiences when Todd was playing.”

Life was different for a player in those days, sports science was not in the same place it is today and so Todd’s pregame ritual started with her preparing him a huge meal of pasta for lunch to help him carbo-load. That would immediately be followed by a lengthy nap before getting up and making his way to the arena to get ready for action.

“Todd never drank coffee until he was in his early 30s. Then on a game day he would grab a coffee to drive down to the arena. He decided he wanted a sugar boost to complement the caffeine. He asked for cookies,” she said. “I do not remember how many I tried, but my collection of cookbooks started then. There was no internet then so I spent a small fortune on cookbooks and began testing and trying. He finally gave me the thumbs up… many recipes later. And the ritual began. He took two cookies every game day. Sometimes he would give a ride to a teammate. He would pack cookies for the rider. I began taking them to dinners, showers, parties, hockey tournaments, everywhere.”

Fast forward back to 2021 and all that free time spent baking during COVID led Krista to a happy conclusion, now was finally her time.

She launched her home-based bakery at the end of February and dubbed it 23 & Co., in continued recognition of the fact that in everything in life, it takes teamwork to make the dream work.

“I spend all day Thursday making dough and boxes. I bake all day Friday at this point, but I have to find a way to increase the production,” she said. “Farmer’s Markets have been instrumental in building the business … I am currently at the Brockville and Westport markets. I alternate Saturdays. The response has been phenomenal. I have sold out all three times. I am overwhelmed by the response.”

Chocolate chip is her bread and butter, but she’s got many variations on that main theme. Unique flavour creations like the JT – half chocolate chip, half brownie. 

“JT is our youngest. He loves brownies. I created that cookie for him. All of our little ones have one named after them.”

She also promotes theme cookies via her social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram – around holidays and special occasions.

“I have many more to announce. [Right now] Father’s Day is approaching and I have one for my dad. I will announce it for Father’s Day. I also make the brownie cookies. So, for every chocolate chip cookie, I have the same combination for a brownie cookie. I also have peewees, for showers, weddings, etc. There are too many to count!”

She said social media has really been the backbone of her operation’s marketing and sales strategy to date. “Folks can order cookies through Facebook and Instagram,” she explained. “They are $15 for six. Instagram has been a great way to promote our little cookie company. Customers are ordering in advance now so that they aren’t disappointed when they get to the market and we are sold out.”

If you are in the Delta area, she also sells her 23 & Co. cookies at the Jubilee Bakeshop. She’s also in distribution talks with several other shops, so they may soon be showing up on shelves near you.

She clearly understands that while she is selling cookies – and they are some of the finest cookies you’ll ever taste – it is more about creating and selling a brand. “This brand is me. The packaging. The family focus. Hockey. Stories. Memories. I am so in love with it!” she said summing up her new venture.

“My father always told me that I would use my business degree. Todd always told me that one day it would be my turn. I guess they are both right.”

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