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Crumbkowski: How One State College Baker Is Sweetening Up The Holiday Season

While State College is already undeniably sweet, pastry baker Christina Hallett of Crumbkowski adds the icing on the cake and everything your heart (or taste buds) can dream up. By Hallett’s standards, if you can name it, she can bake it.

“People always ask, ‘What’s your menu? And I say, “I don’t have one! Let’s do something fun,” she said.

Last year, Hallett turned her childhood dream into reality by opening Crumbkowski, a dessert bakery of flavor and family for the Happy Valley area. Offering professionally homemade pastries right out of Warrior’s Mark, this local business is rapidly becoming a State College staple.

“I always thought State College was a great place,” she said. “It’s that type of place…safe and happy.”

A resident of State College since birth, Hallett created Crumbkowski in April of 2021, setting up shop in the pursuit of happiness not only through self-fulfillment but joy renewed for the community within the recent dismal days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I decided that I wanted to do something that made people happy,” she said. “Who’s not happy when you give them a cupcake or a cookie?”

Hallett attended State High and grew up in the area. As a young person looking for life’s path, she recalled the moment she found inspiration in the little things and turned everyday enjoyment into her dream career.

“It was way back in high school. Everyone asks you that question, ‘What are you going to do with your life?” she said. With no obvious path before her, Hallett was unsure of what the future would hold yet found clarity in a daily task. In flipping on the television after school like any other teenager, Hallett viewed a Disney Channel movie that would far exceed the average expectations for an after-school special.

“It was Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-off,” she recalled. “I remember watching it and having this feeling when I was watching him cook. I want that feeling. I want to make people happy.”

Keeping this wish close in mind, Hallett moved on to the Pennsylvania College of Technology after graduating from State High. There, she earned her degree in baking and pastry arts and learned the true value of hard work and grit.

Those days were long, sometimes involving more than eight hours on Hallett’s feet. Discovering the physical labor and mental toll of getting detailed recipes right, Hallett dug down deeply to earn the degree and perfect her craft. With intense training and skilled diligence, Hallett qualifies as a true professional but maintains a homemade feel by keeping family values close to her heart.

“I used to bake and cook with my dad. His mom was a wedding cake decorator, too. It was kind of in my genes,” she said.

Following in her father’s footsteps who at the time was an employee of Penn State, Hallett drew inspiration from family tradition. Recalling winter days of baking Christmas cookies with her father and siblings, Hallett explained the humble origins of Crumbkowski, undeniably rooted in warmth to rival the chilly State College winter.

“Growing up, Christmas cookies were a huge thing. My dad would take a day or two off work and then we would do it together. We would all help him,” she remembered.

Considering these small moments for a lifetime of baking professionally, she drew a comical conclusion as a child in the kitchen turned small business owner.

“I must have been more involved than I realized,” she said with a smile.

Remembering those early years, Hallett embraced her memories for Crumbkowski’s first holiday season on the market. With 19 unique flavors of Christmas cookies crafted as a new tradition, Crumbkowski is sweetening the season one sprinkle at a time. Even with immense variety, Hallett still expects to expand the Christmas line, pursuing a valiant path of being better than yesterday every person aspires to achieve.

“I probably could have made more, but I’m one person so I had to narrow it down,” she explained. The drive to accomplish and commitment to hard work was present for Hallett from the beginning though, as even her childhood kitchen was one step above your everyday family activity.

“We always had a ton of flavors and they were always different and unique,” she recalled. Reflecting on her days back in the kitchen with her father, she remembered these delicious family memories when creating her Christmas cookie line this holiday season.

Baking days with Dad never far from her heart, Hallett launched the Crumbkowski Mix, a special combination of new flavors in her Christmas cookie catalog. This season, she presents three different mixes total, including the Classic Mix, the Crumbkowski Mix, and Christina’s Mix. Each grouping presents exquisite flavor, varying from your traditional holiday treats to the most unique flavors presented in State College.

“What I want is the flavor,” she emphasized. “The decorations might bring you to a business, but it’s the flavor that will keep you coming back.”

“It’s really cool to see the same people coming back,” Hallett continued.

Courtesy of Christina Hallett

Prioritizing flavor, Crumbkowski stands apart from other bakeries with a clear message of baker first. While all products may also look the part, Crumbkowski focuses on flavor to create an authentic taste, all from Hallett’s parents’ kitchen in the State College school district.

“I’m a licensed home kitchen,” she said.

With a laundry list of requirements for earning certification, Hallett described the process of licensure with one simple word.

“Nervewracking!” Hallett explained.

Completing seemingly endless paperwork, having the water tested, and passing inspection all combined for no easy task. Still, Hallett felt it was important to separate Crumbkowski from a homemade hobby and went the extra mile to bring full professionalism to baking with intense training and a standardized kitchen.

“I’m professionally trained,” she said. “I have all of the technical skills which I think sets me one step above, with the flavor I go after as the best part.”

Extending her expertise, Hallett’s training did not stop upon graduation from Penn College. In addition to earning her degree, Hallett trained at Gemelli Bakers in State College before opening her own dessert bakery. Finding lifelong friends and hands-on training, the experience was beyond rewarding and provided the true opportunity to learn among professionals.

As fate would have it, another ingredient would be mixed into the recipe, right inside that State College storefront. The original nickname of Crumbkowski was born here. Originally Christina Kramkowski, Hallett became Crumbkowski, all thanks to the owner of Gemelli’s Bakers and Hallett’s former boss, Tony Sapia.

“It kind of stuck as a nickname. When I run into him in town, he yells ‘Crumbkowski!’” she explained. “You’ll hear it from across the street.”

Responding to this nickname as a worker straight from college, Hallett expanded the title to usernames and other circles. “Crumbkowski” resonated closely with her due to its bakery origin and family feel, as it came not only from a mentor but also a friend. With her vision for her brand, she found it only fitting to apply the nickname and expand its meaning to be uniquely hers within the community.

Opening up in June officially as Crumbkowski, the bakery was launched into the State College area at the Pine Grove Mills Farmer’s Market. With a lifetime of preparation and lifelong commitment to baking the best, Hallett found the event extremely exciting, contrasting greatly with baking as solely passion years earlier.

Hallett drew serious business interest from family and friends and eventually found the confidence to set up shop. Still, creating Crumbkowski took years to be accomplished, as the timing was never correct before now.

“I was never 100% sure if this was what I was going to do or not,” she said. “I’ve been baking for a long time. I was hoping one day it would turn into something.”

With hope always in the back of Hallett’s mind, Crumbkowski was finally open for business last June. Taking the plunge came at an extremely busy time for Christina Hallett, who had just given birth to her second son, James, as she began baking again as Crumbkowski.

“I’m trying to maintain that balance. It’s really hard,” she said. “I never intended for this to become a full-time gig. Then, I just realized…I can’t say “no.” I have to go for it.”

With the prospect of a lifelong dream fulfilled and her husband Geoff’s support, Hallett created her company while mothering both 2-year-old Oliver and 7-month-old James. Even with the struggle of finding a work-life balance while raising two young children, Hallett remains positive and joyful as both a new mother and an entrepreneur, busy as bee yet happy as a clam.

Courtesy of Christina Hallett

“When I’m up late doing these things, it doesn’t feel like work, it doesn’t feel like a hassle,” she said. “I’m busy, I’m stressed out sometimes, but it doesn’t feel like I’m working.”

With bright eyes and even brighter ideas, Hallett continued her ultimate goal for Crumbkowski.

“Every time I make something, I try to make sure it’s the best thing… I want it to be the best-tasting thing you’ve ever had,” she continued. “I want you to bite into this and be like ‘this is the best brownie I’ve ever had.’”

Passion presented, Crumbkowski has another goal for the dessert world. Even as a young company, the brand hopes to redefine what it means to be delicious and challenge common combinations for the zestful flavor that makes every chew an eventful experience.

“I like to push the envelope for you to be like, ‘Wait, what?’” she said. “And then, you bite into it, and you say, ‘OK, I see now!’”

With a cheerful laugh and undeniable commitment to flavor, Hallett explained many creations of unique taste. From strawberry basil cake to spicy chocolate cookies, Crumbkowski is a fresh twist on classic happiness, undeniably desired within State College and beyond.

As a one-woman show with massive goals, Hallett entered the State College community as a brand-new business. Recently featured in State College Magazine, Hallett felt the joy of her community in this accomplishment, and blissfully reflected on what this moment felt like after a busy few months as both a new mother and small business owner.

Seeing Crumbkowski in print was a dream come true and created a full-circle moment for Hallett as she now read about her dream come true in pages she’s flipped all her life.

“I’ve been reading State College Magazine as long as I can remember, and it’s been published longer than I’ve been alive,” she said.

With gratitude for the feature and the community’s support, Hallett is also thankful for the geniality found within local businesses and organizations in State College.

“There’s room for everyone,” she said. “It’s really nice being a small business in this town. We’re like a little family.”

Recently, Crumbkowski partnered with Vibe Coffee Co., a new coffeehouse downtown growing exponentially in popularity. Adjacent to campus by a few paces down Beaver Ave, Vibe Coffee Co. offers Crumbkowski items on the regular and embraced the holiday theme with Hallett’s peppermint twist of her “OMG brownies”.

Courtesy of Christina Hallett

“It’s nice because we’re both new to the game. It’s been kind of fun to learn together and figure it all out. I like to support local,” she explained.

Finding a place within State College businesses, Crumbkowski rises quickly to the top. While orders of Classic Mix, Crumbkowski Mix, and Christina’s Mix are all still available, custom cookie orders have already reached capacity for the holiday season. Both a blessing and a curse for Hallett, she explained the bittersweet feeling with this tremendous seasonal accomplishment, all before the first week of December.

Courtesy of Christina Hallett

“It feels great, but it’s also kind of hard. I hate saying no to customers,” she explained.

From her sold-out farmer’s market appearances to over two thousand cookies pre-ordered from the Christmas catalog, Crumbkowski warmed up quickly like a preheated oven at 350 degrees. Spending countless hours working within the brand, Hallett dedicates time and endless energy to the business. Faced with the duality of being a working parent and entrepreneur, she conquers the challenge boldly, never forgetting her true home beyond the kitchen.

“It’s where my family is. It’s home,” she said.

With technical skills to rival the greatest, the passion for flavor unmatched, and tremendous baking talent, Hallett is quickly redefining the role of entrepreneur with modern flavor. Presenting this unique combination, Hallett is invaluable as both a baker and entrepreneur, an example of family values for business success. In a final reflection of creating the life she dreamt of living, this young talent provided insight for all college students hoping to make dreams into realities.

“Go for it. Just do it! I wish I had done it sooner,” she reflected.

Achieving her career goals while raising her young family, Hallett defies expectations for female entrepreneurs everywhere. New to the game yet scoring points on the board, Crumbkowski is truly building a legacy of flavor right at home in State College.

As visions of sugar plums dance through our heads this holiday season, Crumbkowski bakes some beauty back into the holidays with Christmas cookies and treats of the season. With a final seasonal appearance at Bellefonte’s Under the Lights Winter Market on Saturday, December 11, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Crumbkowski celebrates a successful launch as a gem that’s no longer hidden.

Sweetening up State College one smile at a time, Christina Hallett of Crumbkowski is changing the game for food, family, and flavor far beyond the Happy Valley. Now, it’s safe to say she’s got the perfect recipe.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a sophomore with an undecided major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang with her sassy sidekick, 17-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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