Born and raised in Pasco County, Mary Katherine Mason, Founder of Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread, LLC, attended the University of South Florida for one year before joining the United States Marine Corp in 2002. She served for six years while also going back to USF and earning a degree in Mass Communications and Advertising in 2006.
Following active duty, which included a significant injury while deployed in Iraq, Mason accepted a position with the Meridian Companies, working in the hospitality industry. She began her career in Tampa, but relocated to Orlando several years later. In August 2018, Mason took a sales position with Innvision Hospitality. She sold interior finishes to hotel owners and had a great job until the spring of 2020 – when the COVID-19 Pandemic forced many employers to downsize their workforce.
“I was furloughed in April,” she said. “Fortunately, being in the Marine Corps instilled characteristics and traits that kept me focused. For me, failure is not an option. I’ll trip and fall, but I learn from every challenge.”
By combining her “never fail” mentality and a multi-generational dessert recipe, Mason shifted her energy and attention towards turning her side hustle, which started in 2011 after she won a shortbread competition, into a full-fledged business.
“After winning the Scottish Highland Games competition in 2011, I’d make shortbread for friends and family and if someone had a wedding or a party,” Mason said. “I never really had the time to grow it.”
Mason continued, “When the Pulse Nightclub shooting happened, I made heart-shaped shortbreads and donated them to the hospital. Pam Iorio, the ex-mayor of Tampa, got word of it and ordered 700 heart cookies for a convention in Orlando. The potential was definitely there to grow the business and take it to the next level; I just didn’t have the time.”
After moving home to Dade City in April 2019, which gave Mason access to a support system of friends and family, and with notice of her furlough, she now had all the time in the world to grow Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread.
“With help from Dan Mitchell, Program Director with Pasco County’s SMARTstart program, I secured a commercial kitchen, got my tax receipt and manufacture’s license and made the business ‘legit’. His office was extremely helpful.”
Since making it official, Mason has produced over 1,000lbs of shortbread. She’s grown the business by utilizing social media marketing and word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers. She’s also made it a point to share her delicious shortbread with as many people as possible – including local publications and new channels.
“I went to high school with Carley Boyette, a host of Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend on WFTS,” Mason said. “I wrote a ‘filler’ story for her and dropped off a bag of shortbread, thinking they might create a segment and squeeze me in somewhere. It worked! I was also invited back on, this time on an actual live air segment, when I introduced our new flavor of the month – lemon blueberry.”
Mason’s shortbreads are available through her website and at a variety of retail locations throughout Pasco County. Patrons at the European Emporium, in Dade City, have access to the gluten-free version, while customers at Tropical Wine Shop, Crusty Buzzard Snak Shak and the Rustic Pearl Boutique can choose from the original recipe and other new flavors.
According to Mason, what makes her shortbreads so buttery and mouth-watering comes down to preparation and just three simple ingredients. “My shortbread, without giving away too many secrets, is baked differently than most. It’s also thicker, which makes it soft and moist. It’s truly ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ heaven.”
Looking ahead, Mason and her husband, who now works with her on a full-time basis, are focused on growing the brand and expanding to additional retail locations. They’ve also considered the possibility of opening a retail location – one with a shop on the first floor and possibly an upstairs speakeasy.
What advice does Mason have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Definitely start your business as a side-hustle,” she said. “If you have an idea or something you’re passionate about, go for it, but don’t go all in. Start small. Use social media to your advantage, give away your product and get people’s opinions. Along the way, you’ll have doubters that will make you think what you’re doing is silly, but if you have the drive and the passion to make it special, don’t listen to anyone. Also, utilize as many free resources as possible. You can create logos, stickers, shirts and even a website for a lot less than you might think. There are creative and free ways to do everything.”
Mason continued, “Being a business owner is humbling and gives your respect for other small businesses. It’s scary not to have a company to rely on to give you a paycheck, but it also motivates you to succeed. Ultimately, if your business is going to make it, you need to push it. You need people to get excited by you getting excited.”