When Kelly Simmons fell in love with butter crunch cookies, she was a young girl growing up in 1980s Baltimore. “I was attending Rodonelle Heights Elementary School in Edmondson Village. And I would always have some change to buy those cookies,” Simmons reminisces.
“They were soft, fresh and buttery and weren’t like any other store-bought cookies I’d had.” But when she became an adult, it was hard to find cookies with that same butter crunch taste, so she decided to start making them herself. “I wanted to make them for my nieces and nephews and have them make them in the kitchen with me,” says Simmons.
“I had fond memories of helping my grandmother in the kitchen. And I wanted to show them that all you needed was sugar, flour and butter to get a sweet-tasting treat. And they’d also get the reward of licking the spatula and the bowl,” she laughs.
A Recipe for Success
Simmons came up with the recipe with the help of her grandmother, who had made cookies similar to her favorite butter crunch. But she says she can’t divulge the secret to giving the cookies that special crunch.
She started out giving the cookies away to family, friends and clients. “I’ve lived in many different cities, like Brooklyn, San Diego, Pittsburg and cities in New Jersey, and in all those places, people fell in love with my cookies,” Simmons exclaims. She gave them away for 20 years until she gave them to her students at one of the Paul Mitchell Schools.
“I was a cosmetology teacher, and I would give them to students for doing a good job, and they would say ‘Miss Kelly, you need to sell these,’ says Simmons. “Up until then, it had never dawned on me to sell them. And I thought, well, maybe I should.”
And that’s when Aunt Kelly’s Cookies was born.
- Just Add Milk + Sugar: South Philly Bakery Sweetens a Community
- The Avenue Bakery: On a Roll to Revitalizing Baltimore’s Historic Pennsylvania Avenue
Simmons created a website and started selling her cookies online. The cookies are vacuum packed sealed for freshness and are shipped all across the country. “When they arrive, I want them to taste as fresh as if you were eating them in our shop,” shares Simmons.
She also started selling her cookies wholesale to restaurants like Milk and Honey, Deli 365 and even at a Mercedes Benz dealership. And after three years, she was able to open a brick-and-mortar shop. “We opened our shop in December of 2018,” notes Simmons. She continues, “I knew someone who knew the owner of the building on North Howard Street – he is also Black. It’s a central location in the Mt. Vernon area of Baltimore, along Antique Row. And I also liked that it’s along the Light Rail line,” she adds.
Creative Cookie Creations
Though the very tasty butter crunch cookies (my favorite) are the most popular, there are other cookies Simmons bakes that are a hit with customers. “The classic snickerdoodle and chocolate chip walnut tie for second most popular,” she states. Other tasty cookies on the menu include classic chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate brownie, oatmeal raisin (my 2nd favorite) and peanut butter.
“But we only do peanut butter one day a week because we don’t have a large number of customers who like that one. But it’s a must-have for the customers who do like it,” Simmons explains. She adds, “Since we’re a fresh bakery, we have a cut-off baking time because our goal is to sell out every day. So some customers call in to pre-order to be sure we don’t run out of what they want.”
Aunt Kelly’s Cookies also has a “cookie of the month.” “We’ve done a ginger spice cookie, a pound cake cookie and a lemon snickerdoodle,” she notes. “I look at which of those customers respond to best and I’ll make that a permanent cookie.”
There are also special cookies for holidays and the summer months. “For Valentine’s Day, we’re bringing back the Jam on It, which is a cream cheese cookie that was pretty popular last year. And during the hotter months, we’ll have cookie ice cream sandwiches and cookie milkshakes,” says Simmons, adding, “We use a local vendor, Fells Point Creamery, for our ice cream. The owner is from Ethiopia. Their ice cream is the best!”
Baking Up Expansion
So far, Aunt Kelly’s Cookies has served customers visiting from New York, New Jersey, Philly, Atlanta and Chicago. “A lot of them have family members who live here and bring them here when they visit Baltimore,” notes Simmons.
Her biggest client is Johns Hopkins University, where she caters special events. “I’d love to open a second location near another university like Morgan [State University] – that is if COVID would cooperate,” Simmons laughs. She continues, “We’re already experiencing some supply chain issues. Also, at the beginning of the pandemic, we closed the store for two weeks, but some of our neighboring businesses have closed for good, decreasing the foot traffic on our block.”
Simmons says she’s also had her share of dealing with unscrupulous business people, but she keeps the faith with the help of her good friend and mentor, Todd ‘The Donutologist’ Jones of Cuzin’s Duzin donuts in Brooklyn, New York. He’s been in the baking business for 44 years, and Simmons wants that same success for Aunt Kelly’s Cookies. “I think I have something really good here.”
To order Aunt Kelly’s cookies, visit the website. And to keep up with the latest “cookie of the month” and special events, visit the bakery’s Facebook and Instagram pages. You can also stop by 857 N. Howard Street for cookies baked fresh daily.