How one couple’s pursuit of a passion project during the pandemic paid off.
Being featured in the annual Oprah's Favorite Things holiday gift list is a highlight for any business. When you’ve been operational for just about three years and only opened doors to a flagship location earlier this year, that piece of welcome news is a testament to the hustle every entrepreneur knows.
At Frisco, Texas-based Cookie Society, owners Marissa and Jeff Allen can speak to that adventure. Though they established their gourmet cookie business in 2018, the boutique bakeshop opened to the public just as the pandemic hit pause on everything around them in April this year. Not one to flake out on their passion project, the couple pressed on.
Their efforts bore fruit. From some of their bestselling flavors, such as chocolate chip, banana pudding and salted caramel, to six new holiday flavors, you can taste their artisanal cookies in The Oprah Magazine-featured holiday gift crate.
The First Sparks
Marissa caught on to the idea for the business in 2017. “We were in New York trying out bakeries, and we tried Levain,” she shares. “We heard it had amazing cookies and I just came home really fired up to create my own versions.”
Over the next few months, she was in the kitchen making cookies and sharing with friends and family until one day, someone wanted to buy them. That planted the idea for the business. Marissa made a banana pudding cookie that Jeff remembers tasting for the first time. “I had never heard of it. It was one of the best desserts I had ever had. And that’s when we decided to go for it.”
Brainstorming names for the business, they landed on something basic: Cookie Society. The URL was available, and the name hadn’t been trademarked. That was the sign to jump right in. And they did. Finding success online, they started leasing private space at a commercial kitchen to fulfill orders.
To meet local demand, the duo could be seen at pop-ups and farmers markets, and pretty much anywhere they could set up a table for sampling their treats. With Marissa’s background in food blogging and Jeff’s in professional football (he’s a retired 8-year National Football League veteran), they found supporters among their existing platforms and following to get the business going.
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The demand outgrew the weekend-only appearances the two were used to, so brick and mortar retail was the way to go. The next step was evident – Cookie Society’s first storefront.
“The pandemic forced us to make some decisions that we wouldn’t have made without it being around,” says Jeff. “We accelerated our growth online because more people are at home, and online sales went up a lot. From the process standpoint, we were able to implement preordering and curbside pickup to get cookies to customers without them coming inside.”
Building on Momentum
With neither of them coming from a core culinary or entrepreneurial background, the challenges were somewhat stacked against them when opening doors to their location earlier in the year. May and June witnessed a huge push to support Black businesses, which did wonders for Cookie Society and also meant keeping up with demand. To address that, significant changes included bringing in new equipment, hiring more people, and predicting traffic to the business.
“We definitely got it figured out. We are moving like a well-oiled machine, and we are way more efficient than I ever expected us to be going into our holiday months,” says Marissa. “But we have literally tripled production in less than six months, selling about 10,000 cookies in-store every single week. I am really proud that we didn’t let it crush us. I think we are stronger because of it, just being fluid with the situation.”
Adds Jeff, “We are small business owners, so each day we learn something new. We do as much research as we possibly can, try to make educated decisions, but the best teacher in life is experience. We’ve been learning. We haven’t made many mistakes, but there are some things we could have done better to begin with.”
For instance, he shares that production should have been overestimated so bigger machines and equipment could be invested in earlier rather than getting a new mixer, fridge, and upgrade electricity in the same day, which cost more money later. “During the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, we had no way of anticipating what our numbers will look like, but now we are able to use more data and make better projections,” says Marissa. “If I had to give anyone advice, whatever phase of business you are in, keep the data. It will save you money and time, and it will save you from making a lot of misguided mistakes.”
Cookie Society now has 20 employees spread across multiple shifts a day. The storefront is 1,500 square feet, but the majority of that is kitchen space to have everything under one roof, and the service area is intended for an in and out quick service rather than a sit-down experience.
They also ship nationwide and have flavors on rotation that change weekly and seasonally – check on their site for what’s in stock. Starting out, Cookie Society offered a baker’s choice box of four featuring chocolate chip, cookies and cream, banana pudding and Nutella brownie flavors. But this year saw them going through 40 of the flavors – including a peach cobbler cookie with actual pieces of peach in the cookie, matcha green tea, coffee, pistachio brittle and baklava – and they have many more that they are looking to launch soon.
They ship nationwide and also have plans to open stores in other big cities and will announce some fun partnerships too.
Solidifying the Future
“A lot of love goes into every single cookie,” says Marissa. “But as far as research, I did a lot on the chemistry, the different roles ingredients play, and have a good grasp of acid and moisture and salt in a cookie.”
Many ingredients at Cookie Society are also made in-house, such as the shortbread used in the strawberry shortcake cookie and the peppermint bark for the peppermint cookie. Some of her favorite flavors include peppermint chocolate and apple crisp, while Jeff’s are banana pudding and sweet potato pie.
Their USP? “We take a unique approach to recipe development. There are a lot of places that are putting unique flavors in different types of desserts, but we maintain the integrity of good cookie quality texture,” Marissa adds.
“Texture is everything to me, so we’ve got really crispy around the edges with a textured top…that is what we have done to set ourselves apart.”
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