Beth Veneto, 54, is the powerhouse behind Ginger Betty’s, a 26-year-old Quincy sweet shop known for ginger snaps. Veneto also has supplied The Home for Little Wanderers with its gingerbread houses for 15 years, baking 10,000 a year for decorating fund-raisers. (Register to participate this year at www.thehome.org/events/event-post/virtual-gingerbread.)
She’s an author, too: Veneto penned “Ginger Betty: The Gingerbread Girl” and “A Magical Ginger Betty Christmas.”
A longtime South Shore fixture, now she lives in Marina Bay with her mom.
“I just moved there with Trixie, my 87-year-old mother. She likes to be called ‘Ginger Mama.’ She’s looking for her third husband. She said, ‘We have to get a father and son.’ I said, ‘Trixie, every man for himself. You have to do your own dirty work!’” she says.
Why did you become a baker?
I’ve had the bakery for about 26 years now. I was probably introduced to gingerbread when I was about six or seven, by my sister. It was just a hobby. I did it all through high school and college, and I really loved it.
There was something about the gingerbread magic of Christmas, and I’d sell them for extra money when I was in college to Mister Donut and to the country club where I was working. I think the guy felt bad for me, because when I look back and see them, I’m like, ‘Oh, good grief!’
Where did you go to college?
The New York Institute of Technology. I thought I was just going to play volleyball for the rest of my life. I’m like, ‘Oh, how do I tell my mother — I call her Trixie — how do I break it to her that I don’t want to go to college?’
I’m number seven of eight kids. And she’s like, ‘You’re all going to school, and you’re all gonna pay for it!’ That’s not really nice! So, anyways, I said, I better get busy, because I didn’t plan on shelling out all this money. So I was really into sports and everything. I learned how to play volleyball in the 10th grade, and then I got a full scholarship to go to school. So I was pumped.
But, even at that point, I took hotel and restaurant management. I kept going back to making gingerbread. When I moved home from New York, I was looking for jobs, and there weren’t that many jobs in the hotel and restaurant business. Again, Christmas rolls around, and it just became such a sweet tradition that I couldn’t not do it. Every Christmas, I was just sharing cookies and making friends. People were like, ‘What, are you crazy? You can’t sell Christmas cookies all year long!’ And I’m like, ‘Really? Don’t triple-dog-dare me!’
When people come into the store, it just brings them right back to their childhood.
What’s your philosophy?
Sharing cookies; making friends. We do have a Christmas tree up all year long, and we just did some renovations. I had a couple people come in and say, ‘Betty, what the heck did you do?’ Because it was pink and green and purple. It was really colorful, but I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve had a headache since 2004!’ So we just did a nice facelift on our door. It’s a little more calming.
I have a mural on the wall, a little like Candyland. We have chocolate volcanoes, Gumdrop Gardens, Lollipop Lane. And so we’ve painted the whole thing, and the girl’s looking at me, and she says, ‘About the mural …’ And, like, ‘Touch it; you’re gonna be in trouble! The Gumdrops are gonna start flying!’ So we kept that mural.
I’ve also written two children’s books, and in the renovations, I found the original artwork that had an amazing illustrator. We’re going to put those in frames, and that’s going to adorn the walls at Ginger Betty’s.
When I did this, I had a couple of people, they were saying, ‘You know, it could be a little edgier,’ the kids who are the characters. I was like, ‘No, I want to be old-school.’ So we stayed with that.
Tell me about the book.
So it’s Ginger Betty, and then she ends up making her own friends: Ginger Addie and Ginger Charlie, my niece and nephew. Ginger Snap is my signature cookie. He’s so cute. He’s always snapping around. Raisin Head is the other character that he drives crazy.
How did you come to write it? That’s a lot of work and effort.
Oh my goodness. Over a bottle of wine, maybe? No. Listen: We need girl power. I’m all about girl power. I’m just an ideas person. I love just thinking of how we can make kids have fun and engage. So, you know, growing up with the Gingerbread Boy and the Gingerbread Man, we needed a Gingerbread Girl. So Ginger Betty was born. I self-published it.
What’s your best-seller?
Our soft Ginger Snaps. People call them Big Betties or Baby Betties.
How did COVID affect the business?
Like everybody else, we were just holding our breath waiting. And I said, ‘We have to create smiles.’ So I’m sitting there spinning my wheels, and I turned around and I saw my girl on the wall, Rosie the Riveter. Bingo. I said to my graphics girl, ‘OK, put Ginger Betty’s head on Rosie the Riveter ASAP.’ So she did. It’s cute as anything. It’s Betty the Baker instead of Rosie the Riveter, and we’re doing this thing called ‘Cookie-Breaking with Betty.’ So you can send your friends cookie breaks. We sent all the front-liners cookie breaks. We set up a GoFundMe, and then it was just very contagious. You know, people were sending their family, their friends, and their coworkers cookie breaks. It was just amazing.
I told the girls, ‘We need to stay positive and keep moving forward.’ I was lucky. I grabbed a couple of the young ones off the couch: ‘I need some help over here!’ They were great. They really rose to the occasion. We had a skeleton crew like everybody.
And it was it was nice, because people were saying, ‘Oh my goodness, thank goodness. You know, we can do a drive-by and get curbside.’ I mean, these people were coming by with their kids. And one of the little kids is like, ‘School’s closed, but can we go to Ginger Betty’s?’
What’s the secret to making a good gingerbread cookie or gingerbread house? Mine usually look gloppy and gluey.
First of all, I would say you need a good imagination. Don’t be worried that you’re going make a mistake. And the frosting really needs to be the right consistency. When you pull up the spoon out of there, it has to have stiff peaks. It should be a little wet to the touch. And you have to let the house sit overnight. If you’re making cookies, you know, you’ll decorate those. But you have to give ample time to sit for the house. You don’t want to put the roof on right away. And you have to at least eat a handful of gumdrops before you decorate; that really gets the creative juices flowing.
Where do you eat when you’re not working?
I feel like I’m on spring break. I just moved to Marina Bay. I go to Reel House. And Il Molo in the North End.
Are there restaurants that you grew up going to that you really miss?
Well, my gosh, this is the Wayback Machine. Villa Rosa! That was a good one. I ended up being a salad girl over there. It’s really sad, a lot of the places that have closed, you know? And La Paloma. They have great authentic Mexican food. What’s the one in Randolph there, too? That’s really yummy. La Scala! That’s still around.
What do you do for the Home for Little Wanderers?
Somebody reached out to me. It’s got to be 12 years ago or so. They used to do the [contests] in their office, where their actual building was. And I remember we would run in there. I’d load up the truck with gingerbread. It started out pretty small, but this has grown to be such an amazing tradition. I just love giving back. People team up; it’s just a win-win. I just love what they do, and I love what they stand for. And, you know, it’s great to see some of the celebrities come out. It’s just nice, healthy fun, and for a great cause. … It teaches kids to give back. And that’s what I love, the little kids helping other little kids.
What is your favorite snack?
Oh my gosh. Popcorn, pickles, and olives.