Behind the scenes at YouTube baking channel Cookies, Cupcakes and Cardio

After four years of teaching full-time and filming at night, Jenn Johns is diving into YouTube full-time.

Feb 29, 2020, 8:02 pm*


Rae Votta 

Rae Votta

After succeeding on her channel with 1.2 million subscribers, YouTuber Jenn Johns decided to quit school in 2015.

It’s not quite as dramatic as a teen creator deciding to give up on education for a life of crime. Johns is quitting her job as a teacher to focus full time on Cookies, Cupcakes and Cardio, her wildly successful baking channel.

“We’ve been doing this since 2011, and I’ve been teaching all the way through,” she explained to the Daily Dot. “It’s a night-time thing, and I never felt like I could give either job everything. It’s a disservice to that and a disservice to YouTube. I’m excited to be able to give everything to this YouTube channel.”

For 12 years, Johns defined her identity as a school teacher, working and living in the small Canadian town of Cranbrook, where her digital fame only surfaced occasionally.

“I could tell at school if another teacher had played my video, because all of a sudden there’d be random kids saying hi in the hallway at school,” she said.

YouTube has a reputation for being the domain of the teen stars, but Johns is a full-fledged adult who turned to YouTube as an extension of her home baking business, encouraged by her husband, who has a media background.

“[He] figured, ‘You’re already doing it; let me film you,’” Johns explained. “We had no idea about lighting, we had a teeny tiny camera… The early stuff is garbage! People just started watching, and the views kept increasing—slowly.”

Her videos are informative and straightforward, with inspiring baking ideas like a rainbow cake or giant gummy bears. You won’t find any crazy jump cuts or elaborate graphics on Johns’ videos, but you will ideally know how to bake a dream concoction once you’re done watching. Johns made her inaugural trek to VidCon this summer, where teen stars reign. Despite not being in the target demographic, Johns said she met a wide range of fans, including those teens, but she also said she met some very young kids, and, of course, their parents.

“All the moms kept coming up and saying, ‘thanks for having something for us,’” she said.

“I’m excited to be able to give everything to this YouTube channel.”

Before VidCon, Johns had never done a meet-up. In fact, VidCon 2015 had the same number of attendees as her entire town in British Columbia.

“We come from a town of 20,000 people, and there’s 20,000 people at VidCon,” Johns laughed. The big difference between VidCon and Cranbrook? There’s a lot more teen boys being chased, Johns said.

“There’s a couple people we’ve met through other YouTube events, but the people they’re screaming at… I’m just not watching the vloggers. Great for them, but I’m watching food.”

There’s diversity inside YouTube’s food bubble, with food shockers like Epic Meal Time sharing space with Johns’ baking contemporaries like My Cupcake Addiction. Johns said she always assumed she’d use the Web to simply do a blog with recipes, but video was a game-changer in her kitchen.

“It became bigger than I thought it would be,” she said.

As Johns transitions from the world of education to the world of full-time digital stardom, she knows she’s got to pick up on more of the expanding world of digital platforms to grow her brand. But unlike other YouTubers who are teens and digital natives, Johns said she’s struggled with new things like Snapchat.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Johns laughed. “I have a couple of friends who have kids, and [I had to ask] them to come over and show me how to use this. Nothing makes you feel older than not knowing how to use an app.”

While she might be giving up teaching for YouTube, she said he hopes to return eventually to working hands-on with kids, not just through the computer screen. Johns focuses on family-friendly entertainment, the kind of stuff families can watch together. Her channel is part of the kid-safe YouTube Kids app, and she often gets fan videos from young children pretending to be her and cooking with clay. She said it took her a while to realize her channel was changing young lives, just as she did in the classroom.

“I remember the first time we ran a contest, and somebody wrote to me the impact I had on her life through the videos,” she said. “That was kind of the moment where I thought, ‘wow.’”

With her decision to drop her steady job and focus on the Web, Johns said she’s faced some concerned reactions, especially from her parents, who are both teachers.

“They’re super happy for me, but it’s frightening for them,” Johns said, emphasizing that they’re still supportive. “They’ve seen how hard we’ve worked.”

She may be a grade-school dropout, but she’s definitely poised for success.

Screengrab via Cookies, Cupcakes and Cardio/YouTube

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*First Published: Sep 10, 2015, 10:00 am