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Ginger Betty rocks gingerbread 365 days a year

I’ve always liked hearing about people who loved something when they were kids and kept loving it year in and year out and ended up turning it into something big and beautiful as adults.

That’s what Beth Veneto, aka Ginger Betty, did with a love of gingerbread she discovered when she was 10.

In college, studying hotel management, she convinced her boss at a doughnut shop in Hicksville, N.Y., to let her make gingerbread. She did the same thing at her job at a nearby country club where she fashioned Hanukah houses. After getting her degree and a job at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, she quit the job and moved home to Quincy with no idea what to do. But through it all, she never stopped making gingerbread: When she worked for a South Shore caterer then an insurance company, she sold gingerbread houses to her customers.

Today, Veneto runs what must be the most extensive gingerbread making shop in the Boston area. If you’re looking for a place to buy gingerbread houses, gingerbread house kits to decorate at home, ginger bread cookies or cookie kits, and all sorts of other sugary, spicy, and nice gingerbread constructions, then Ginger Betty is your girl.
But Ginger Betty’s Bakery isn’t merely a retail outlet, it’s a destination. Veneto has created a colorful shop overflowing with gingerbread confections of every type, and that’s not all. There are soda fountain tables where kids can decorate gingerbread cookies or houses, a party room with a long table where groups can do the same, and all sorts of penny candies, treats, and drinks for the choosing. And, while you’re browsing or picking up an order, you can check out her very sweet children’s book, The Gingerbread Girl.
As Ginger Betty builds a little house for me in the big kitchen (Zip! Zip! Zip! Her practiced hand lays down thick lines of the royal icing that holds the walls together), she talks about all the people who’ve come into her life through her work. There are so many: a friend’s nine-year-old daughter who loved gingerbread like Veneto did at that age; a child with cancer whose Make-a-Wish Foundation wish was to visit Ginger Betty’s; Mama Maria, the mother of Elizia, who’s worked with her for 10 years; the guys from the Quincy National Guard who help with the G.I. Ginger Betty Foundation.
Yup, that’s right: Five years ago, after meeting a soldier on an airplane, Veneto started a foundation. She raises money by giving parties and soliciting donations, and sends her (delicious) chocolate-drizzled soft gingersnaps to service people in Iraq and Afghanistan — and gingerbread houses to their families at home. For this effort, she’s received a commendation from the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We create a few smiles at a difficult time,” said Veneto.
Veneto opened her first shop in a small space in Quincy in 1995, although nobody could understand how a year-round gingerbread business could fly. Her idea? To make gingerbread, not just for the winter holidays, but for all holidays — as well as anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, and corporate events.
Which is exactly what she’s doing.
One recent morning, a group of seniors decorated gingerbread cookies in the shop’s party room while two three-year-olds decorated theirs at a table out back. As the kitchen buzzed with activity (she has 35 employees during the holiday season) Veneto checked out photos of the Gillette Building in South Boston.
“We’re making a replica of this,” she said. “It’ll be about three by four feet.”
Not that custom gingerbread houses are new to Veneto – she’s been making them or years. (In November, her enormous Willy Wonka house won Best in Show at The Gingerbread House Competition at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center.) It’s just that the Gillette gingerbread house will have to be ready in two days.
Not a problem for Ginger Betty. She loves what she does.

215 Samoset Ave., Quincy