Most 11-year-olds do not run their own businesses, but Henley Tuthill is not a typical 11 year old. She uses phrases like “mise en place” and describes the baking process as “a good kind of chaos.” She does market research. When she rides her bike along the main road in Greenport, it’s typically to make a delivery. If she goes shopping, it’s not to the mall for clothes but to the supermarket for ingredients.
Okay, fine, before you accuse me of sounding sanctimonious, allow me to clarify: Henley Tuthill IS a perfectly typical 11-year-old who’s about to enter seventh grade. She enjoys hanging out with friends and playing lacrosse and traveling with her family (her favorite place is Costa Rica, where she surfs but can’t help scouting out must-try desserts). My point is that as someone who is also the founder and operator of a popular baking business, Henley sometimes has to choose between work and friends. And work is booming.
Her business, Honeybody Bakery, which she operates through Instagram, launched in April 2022. In December alone, she had made over 1,000 cookies in three weeks. What had started as a passion project during family dinner parties during the COVID-19 pandemic — the Tuthills imagined a home restaurant that they called “Tasty Tut” — blossomed into a full-scale business, accelerated by the introduction of holiday cookie boxes. (We’ll come back to those boxes in a bit.)
Henley has managed to create a successful business while balancing school work, extracurriculars, and a busy home life. Photography by David Benthal
During the “Tasty Tut” era of her career, Henley was fulfilling the role of head baker. “It was our version of a fancy meal during COVID,” Henley said. “My brother would make non-alcoholic cocktails, my other brother would help make appetizers, my mom would cook dinner. I volunteered for dessert, which my dad was happy about.”
She recalled her first creation: a one-pan chocolate cake from The New York Times, one of her favorite venues for finding new recipes. “It was so, so simple,” she said. “And delicious. I still make it.”
Soon, the deliciousness that helped make one family dinner party a success gave way to another and another. Coming out of COVID, she started baking treats for extended family and friends. And then for friends of friends. Eventually, her mother, Ali, told her that she was using all of the ingredients in the house, not to mention making her parents spend a fortune at the supermarket. Ali suggested to Henley that she start a business — not so much a suggestion as it was a form of verbal permission. Henley wanted it. “You’ll need a name,” Ali had said.
About that name, Honeybody, Henley picked up the story: “My mother doesn’t allow Sharpies in the house because my younger brothers write on furniture and the walls, but she bought a Sharpie and a large pack of sticky notes for me and told me to write any name that came to mind. For a month and a half, we had sticky notes all over the refrigerator. If guests came over, we asked them for ideas. At one point, I had the name ‘Wave Bakery.’ ” Henley surfs a lot – like a lot, a lot, she said. “I remember the name North Fork was there, but I didn’t consider it because everything is ‘North Fork’ out here. There’s already a Nofo Baker.”
One name, well, it stuck. Henley had written the word “Honeybody,” the title of a song by Kishi Bashi that she and her family enjoyed. “It’s a song about simple things that make you happy. It fits because what I do is bake simple goods that make people happy,” she said.
Henley Tuthill loves the bittersweet mixture of the chocolate chip cookie. What’s even better? Topping them with sea salt. Photography by David Benthal
Simple until it wasn’t, which is where those December holiday boxes come in. Dozens and dozens of orders, comprising over 1,000 cookies. “It was an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Ali said. “Henley was rolling dough, I was mixing dough, my husband [Royal] was shaping it, one of my boys was building boxes, the other stuffing them. It was push-time.”
When I talked to Henley in early July, she looked equal parts proud and exhausted when describing the cookie boxes that consisted of four flavors: peanut butter-miso, chocolate chip, chocolate oat and ginger snap. “I kind of knew it would blow up a little bit,” Henley said, “but I didn’t know how much.” Customers, some of them repeat ones, started sending Henley’s Instagram page to their colleagues. Businesses and families began asking her for boxes for their holiday parties. A customer even found a flaw in the ordering system, which allowed her to double her order. When asked if she’d do it again, Henley said, “Yeah! But I’d put a maximum cap on orders.”
“A maximum cap on orders” is one of those phrases you hear pastry chefs utter but seldom from an 11-year-old. Same with the aforementioned “market research,” in which a family trip to the Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans in May 2023 became a learning experience from the field. “I had an amazing cornmeal cookie when I was there and came back home and looked up a recipe,” Henley said. “I decided to put jalapeños in mine, though. No chunks. That’s part of the secret.”
And Henley is careful to guard her baking secrets. Only her immediate family knows. (I’ve tried). If there’s knowledge to be gleaned from her carefully guarded process, it’s this: Henley is quick to acknowledge bakers and chefs she’s admired — American food journalists, Melissa Clark and Alison Roman among them — while learning how to peel away from them and create recipes unique to her journey. The jalapeño cornmeal cookie is one example.
Ingenuity and creativity such as this is how Henley got her start. Her parents, Ali and Royal, had given her $500 as starting capital. “It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t,” Henley confessed. “I needed to get equipment and logo and supplies. I spent half of it on my design. I didn’t have enough money to start a website.” It turns out that the lack of available capital became a blessing in disguise. “I started an Instagram, which I was probably going to do anyway,” she said. “If you can scroll, you can find it. It’s all in one place.” Henley ended up paying back her parents two months into her operation.
Honeybody’s business profile on Instagram is the destination, not only for her customers but for Henley as well. Each week, Henley pores over past posts to see what pastry, cookie or cake she hasn’t made in a while. She reviews comments with her mom to see what people are responding to. (Henley is not allowed to have social media, so Ali runs and monitors the account). Both Henley and Ali insist that Honeybody is Henley’s business through and through. “She’s the lead and we’re kind of assisting,” Ali said. She and Henley will make sure that copy is put into Henley’s voice and that anything posted there is seen and approved by Henley. “When Henley started this, me and Royal said, ‘We can support you, but we can’t do it for you,’ ” Ali told me.
Support came in the form of creating an Excel sheet on which every order, quantity, address and invoice is logged. It’s Henley herself who manages it. “She’s an incredible math student. Just really, really smart,” Ali said.
Chandra Silver, one of Honeybody’s repeat customers and a friend of the Tuthills, framed it this way: “If you hear about an 11-year-old starting a business, you’re picturing a lemonade stand, but then you see this beautiful branded creation that Henley’s started and it’s so impressive. You’d support her no matter what, especially as a young female entrepreneur, but then you try the cookies!” Chandra’s favorite is the peanut butter-miso cookies her daughter’s the chocolate chip with sea salt.
That’s Henley’s favorite, too. “It’s classic, but the way I make it is so good,” Henley said. “Thin and crispy but also gooey inside. And I love, love, love salt.”
It’s more than Henley’s cookies that bond Henley and Chandra’s family, however. “My daughter worships Henley,” Chandra said. “She runs to open the door when she hears that knock on Saturday mornings for deliveries.” During COVID, the Tuthills and the Silvers formed a bond after seeing each other during beach walks through Inlet Pond County Park. “Anyone who meets that family wants to be part of its tribe,” she said.
In addition to her signature cookies and pastries, Henley routinely bakes cakes inspired by recipes from her travels and reading. This is her rendition of vegan chocolate cake with vanilla bean glaze and crushed pistachio. Photography by David Benthal
That’s a good and bad problem to have. Good when you want to make friends, and bad when you need to make deliveries on time. Henley laughed recalling a time when, while making deliveries with her dad and brothers, she was delayed because everyone had chosen to stand in the front yard to talk. Her dad was talking to the customers, and Henley and her brothers were playing with their kids. “She might have to invest in a delivery service that isn’t as charming as she is,” Chandra joked.
One time, Henley made a delivery of cakes by boat. Her grandmother, who lives on Shelter Island, met her on the docks and took over the rest of the delivery order, which was going to the extended family.
Her brother Brooks, 10, who Henley quipped “is the ‘bougiest’ kid you’ll ever meet,” often accompanies Henley and Royal on Saturday deliveries. “He loves money,” she said. “I pay him 50 cents per delivery. One day, when I wasn’t there, he got a two-dollar bill as a tip. I was pissed!”
But Henley is almost always there; it’s her business after all. Even her free time is spent doing activities like researching and finding new recipes, watching YouTube videos and achieving her mise en place. When she is hanging out with friends, it’s usually in the pursuit of a new adventure: sailing during the summer, playing lacrosse, surfing in Costa Rica, riding bikes around town. Being stationary is not in her recipe.
This includes baking. On Friday nights, when Henley bakes, it is usually just her and her mother in the kitchen after her brothers and dad have gone to bed. They put on Taylor Swift, Henley’s favorite artist, a trait she has in common with many other 11-year-olds. She and Ali sing and dance while Henley spins and twirls around the countertops. That’s Ali’s favorite part of watching her daughter continue to build her business: the thrill. “She doesn’t let it get too intense, she enjoys it,” Ali said. “Work is hard, you know. It’s not always fun and it’s not always beautiful, but Henley hasn’t given up. Most kids would’ve. That’s awe-inspiring.”