Jimmy Wachter is sick of cancer.
“Cancer in general — I’m just so sick of hearing about it,” said Wachter, who lives in Liverpool. “So many people around me have this cancer or that cancer. The older I get, it seems the more people I know [have it].”
Wachter’s own mother is a colon cancer survivor, and his partner, Geoff Ameele, lost his mother to pancreatic cancer last May.
“I just can’t deal knowing these people suffer so much,” he said. “Geoff’s mom was a fighter. She outlived [pancreatic cancer] for a year after they told her. To me, the hardest part was holding her hand as she went on to her next life. It’s very hard. She was amazing.”
That’s one of the reasons Wachter, proprietor and baker for Sweet Jimmy’s Cookies and Confections at Syracuse’s Regional Market, decided to do something about it.
Wachter, who is friends with Hope for Heather founder Frieda Weeks, decided to make sugar cookie cutouts — one of the recipes he’s become known for during the two months he’s been in business — in the shape of ribbons and cover them in teal frosting, the signature color to raise awareness for ovarian cancer. Hope for Heather is dedicated to educating women about ovarian cancer, and September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Wachter has been selling the cookies at his stand at the Regional Market all month; he also sold the cutouts at last Sunday’s Teal Ribbon Walk/Run at Syracuse’s Inner Harbor, with all of the proceeds going to Hope for Heather. He also sold a number of the other kinds of cookies he makes and donated half the proceeds to the organization.
“Heather was so young. It just breaks my heart when you hear of somebody so young,” Wachter said. “I know it’s a small part, but it makes me feel good inside knowing that I can do something.”
That benevolent spirit is typical for Wachter, who started his business shortly after the passing of his partner’s mom.
“I was working in a restaurant, and I had a work accident the day after Christmas,” Wachter said. “At that time, Jeff’s mom was battling pancreatic cancer. She died on Mother’s Day. We had a memorial for her, and I made cookies. The first cookie I made, it’s called the Original Sweet Jimmy. It’s got walnuts, oatmeal, cinnamon chips, peanut butter chips and chocolate chips. I made those and I had them out on the table. Jeff’s boss was there, and she came up to me, and she said, ‘Oh, my gosh, you need to market these. You need to sell these cookies.’ So all these ideas started going around in my head. ‘Can I really sell these?’ And I went right to it.”
Ameele’s mother had nicknamed Wachter “Sweet Jimmy,” and it seemed like the perfect name for the business, as well as a tribute to the woman both men had loved. Wachter said business has been steady ever since.
“In general, I think I’m doing really well,” he said. “And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. To think that people actually pay for my cookies? People want to buy the T-shirt. You mean you want a picture of me on your chest? I get these warm feelings inside when people tell me that they really like my cookies.”
It helps that he’s been baking his whole life.
“I just think it’s in my blood,” Wachter said. “I’ve been baking for many years. I’m from an Italian family. I have a German last name, but the Italians kind of took me under their wing when I was younger. [I always baked with] my grandmother and my mom.”
Indeed, a good number of his cookies come from old family recipes.
“I have a book that my aunt compiled on a disk that’s my grandma’s recipes, her sister’s, and I printed it out one day,” Wachter said. “It’s about 300 pages. I use a lot of them. When people look at cookies, they like old, traditional cookies.”
His trademark cookie? Those famous cutouts.
“My family looks for those, and a lot of people come back for those,” Wachter said. “And I’ve had a lot of people’s cutouts, and I can honestly say that none of them come close. I know the trick, and I’ve told a couple of people, but that’s my little secret.”
His other favorite is a lime and coconut macaroon, a creamy concoction with a lime glaze topped with pistachios.
“They’re fresh, they’re soft and they make your taste buds want another one,” Wachter said.
Sweet Jimmy’s stand is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at the Regional Market across from Destiny USA. Right now, Sweet Jimmy’s moves around week to week, but Wachter is looking to sign a lease at the Regional Market, which means he’ll have a permanent spot. In addition to the cutouts, macaroons and original Sweet Jimmys, the baker has traditional favorites like oatmeal raisin and Italian chocolate pepper, as well as more intriguing fare, including vegan and gluten-free choices. Sweet Jimmy’s cookies are also available at The Red House and at shows at Jazz Central. That’s where Wachter would like to expand — small shops and restaurants — as well as into your home.
“I love to bake during the holidays, and so do a lot of other people,” he said, “but unfortunately, there are a lot of others who just don’t have time. And hopefully I’ll be the person they’ll go to for their cookies.”
For more information, find Sweet Jimmy’s on Facebook at Facebook.com/pages/Sweet-Jimmys.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.