“I came here to work and get Cranky Granny’s off the ground,” she says. She has poured everything into achieving that mission, leaving New Jersey, where she was selling food plates and sweet rolls out of her apartment, to come to Austin first as a sweet rolls vendor at Midtown Live and now as a 23-year-old business owner in the Domain.
She got into baking almost by accident. Though she has a strong relationship with her mother’s mother and fond memories of her granny cooking and baking for every family gathering, Dean herself only enrolled in a baking and pastry class in high school to get out of another class. She wasn’t even into baking – she loved to cook, but baking was too much of an exact science – but her school had eliminated the cooking class the previous year because of costs.
When the course instructor told Dean she didn’t admit freshmen into her class, Dean joined the afterschool baking club.
“I was very persistent,” she says. “She wouldn’t let me into the class, but I said she couldn’t keep me out of the club.” The next year, she made it into the class, and she stayed her entire high school career.
At 16, she started her catering business, still preferring cooking. But she was learning to love baking as well, thanks to the influence of her granny, her mother, and her high school baking teacher.
She was learning how to make cinnamon rolls in baking class, but couldn’t quite get them right at first. “They were coming out terrible,” she says. “I wasn’t grasping the patience and the time you had to have. It’s not like cooking.”
At the same time, she was in an entrepreneurship club at school. The adviser launched a business competition for students in the club, promising $100,000 to the winner to help launch his or her first business, plus help from his marketing firm.
“I never won,” says Dean. “He told me my very last year that he didn’t think I was ready to be a boss.”
So she set out to prove him wrong. At 19, she quit her job as a hostess at Yard House, where she was making $12 an hour and dove full-time into her catering business and launching Cranky Granny’s. She’d finally perfected cinnamon rolls. Then her motivation evolved from proving to him that she could make it to proving it to herself.
“I really never was a small dreamer,” she says. Plus, “I like to work for myself.”
In early 2020, she was introduced to the owners of Midtown Live, who invited her to sell her sweet rolls in the club.
“I basically had a choice between staying in New Jersey, or moving 1,700 miles away and figuring out how to make it work,” she says. “It’s easy to grow the business where people know you, but it’s totally different to see if you can do that somewhere else where no one knows you.”
After a few pandemic-related delays, Dean and her girlfriend finally made it to Austin in October 2020, packing up as much as they could fit in their car and driving across the country to a place Dean had only visited once before. She had no family, no friends – just her and her girlfriend, and neither of them had a job. She had no choice but to be successful.
Seven months later, she opened her first storefront at the Domain. Now, she’s looking to offer franchise opportunities for Cranky Grannys. She says she’d eventually like to return to her first love, cooking, and open a restaurant – like her granny, who she describes as a “sweet, sweet woman” who “cusses a lot” and was the center of all family gatherings when she was growing up, she sees food as a vehicle to connect people and build community.
“But there’s other things I want to get to outside of the whole restaurant and baking world as well,” she says.
There’s really not a Sianni, there’s a Cranky Granny’s,
Dean says right now, she’s learning more about investing, stocks, and cryptocurrency. And she’s learning about herself, too.
“There’s really not a Sianni, there’s a Cranky Granny’s,” she says. After spending all of her adult years so far building the business, she’s looking forward to diving in and figuring out “who is Sianni? What does Sianni like?”