Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Farmers Market Day and the Idea Behind Cookie Love

Yesterday was Saturday -- farmers' market day. Saturdays are a wee bit hectic in the Cookie Love world, to say the least. A little over two years ago, our first dollar was made at a farmers' market -- the Shelburne Farmers' Market to be precise. I now handle that market by myself, and Paul now does the Middlebury Farmers' Market.

So here's how it went down. I got up at 6:20, which also happened to be the time the kids were waking up on their own. We have two kids, a five-and-a-half-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. I helped the kids get situated with their juice and something to eat, made some coffee for Paul, who would be waking up soon, threw on some clothes, and ran out the door to the shop, which is half mile or so from our house.

I made six air pots of coffee, packed up my minivan with the tent, table, cookie display case, cookies, frozen dough, coffee, and all the bags and other stuff I need at the market, set out Paul's market stuff out on the picnic table for an easy load up, and ran back to the house to get the kids.

As I pulled in, Paul was ready with the kids and their stuff. We all have stuff. They were gazing up at a hot air balloon floating directly over the house from the Vermont Balloon Rally. Really cool. Paul hopped in his car and headed up to the shop to get his ... you guessed it ... stuff. The kids strapped into their seats in the van and we headed off to the market, a little early. Unfortunately, a mile from the market I realized I had forgotten the little kiddie potty that I always bring for my daughter. She just potty trained, and really needs to go right when she needs to go, so, we do what we have to do. I turned around and headed back home.

We made it to the market in time to set up and and start selling at 9:00. Usually I don't have both kids with me, just my daughter. My son likes to go to the Middlebury market with Paul. But he chose to come with me this week. It's doable, having the kids with me, but it involves lots of running back and forth from the tent to the van, where they usually hang out.

The market ended at 1:00. Thanks to the balloon rally, it had been a pretty busy day. I sold out of most of the cookies I brought. I packed up all the stuff and headed back to the shop with the kids. Paul was there already. The shop opens at noon on the weekends. After I unloaded my stuff Paul and I decided which of us would win the honor of staying at the shop until closing -- 8 p.m. Paul was the big winner, which meant that I got to take the kids to the Shelburne Museum for the balloon rally. Paul didn't get home until about 8:45.

Two years into this business and we put in far more hours each day now than we ever have before. I imagine the work commitment required of us as a kind of arc that we are still ascending. I am hoping that at some point we reach the pinnacle, which would be the point at which we could hire more people to help us.

So how did we get started down this insane road in the first place?

By way of background, I had been the designated cookie baker in my family from the time I was about 11 years old. I remember memorizing the recipe on the bag of chips, which I executed in a completely imprecise way. I would guestimate the amounts of things rather than measure them. I had to unlearn that technique when we got around to developing our recipes, but more about that later. I had come of age in the early 80s when several cookie shops were coming into their own across the country. I worked at one when I was at college, and I stopped into others at every opportunity. I love a good warm cookie! I also have a law degree and a penchant for research.

Paul's background was in restaurants, having worked in some of the best in New York City and San Francisco. His role just prior to our moving to Vermont was as a sommelier at Per Se in New York. He believes that these years taught him, among other things, how to sell, how to multitask, and how to cater to a customer's needs.

On Mother's Day in May of 2006 I was six months pregnant with my daughter. I had just returned from being with my own mother as she passed away. We had a good friend staying with us for the weekend. Paul had been talking about starting a business since before we had moved to Vermont. We'd fantasized about having a specialty food and wine store, a diner that would serve only comfort food, or a burrito truck. The latter held the most appeal for Paul, but he ultimately decided that sitting in a truck through the Vermont winters would get really old, really fast. I, on the other hand, had always thought that if I were to start my own business, it would be either a book store or a cookie shop. Just a few months before I had been making some notes on my computer about a cookie shop.

As we related our various ideas to our friend, we started to joke about how we might combine Paul's ideas with my ideas. One of us (we still debate which of us) came up with the silly notion that we could make frozen cookie dough shaped and packaged like a burrito and call it a "DOUGH-rito." Ha ha. We all laughed. How silly.

WELL. Within the next couple of weeks Paul started to chew on the idea. He said he felt there was a real idea there, and a niche in the market for home-style cookie dough without preservatives, and we should give it some serious thought. I don't think there was a definite moment when we decided to start this company. It evolved gradually over the summer. Each idea would lead to the next, which would lead to the next, until we felt a momentum build and an excitement that we were both soon consumed by. By the time my daughter was born in August, we were both on board with the decision to launch this new business the following summer at a farmers' market.

I guess the point I would share in telling the germination of our business idea is that it doesn't have to be completely original. Cookies have been done and done and done and done and done. Cookie dough is also done in a big way, but mostly by the big companies that make refrigerated dough that is far from all natural. It would have been very easy for us to talk ourselves out of this because of those facts. But we gave more importance to the passion for the idea that built inside us, and believed to our cores that we could do it and make it something special.

My next post will be about coming up with the name for the company.

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