When I first envisioned Top Shelf Cookies, it was as a standalone bakery shop. It had a lot of elements that made sense at the time, as I was dreaming this all up from the lonely confines of an office cubicle. This vision evolved over time, as I learned what that would take to actually pull this off. So, I broke our plan into much smaller chunks. I have always taken a “slow and steady wins the race” approach to this little dream of mine. In each iteration of my “dream space” there have been three things that have remained constant: The first one is that it would be located in the city of Boston. The next one is that it would serve warm cookies, obviously. And the last one is purely cosmetic and kind of goofy - but I always thought it would be fun to decorate it with an assortment of fun and whimsical cookie jars. I remember I had a google search bookmarked for them. The stranger, the better. Alas, I never grabbed any, not even even free cookie jars that randomly made themselves available to me. I always had the thought, “What if you jinx it?” in the back of my mind. I feared that I’d never get the space and be stuck with a bunch of dumb cookie jars like a hoarder. I shut down my google search, kept my head down and continued building and building on this little cookie company.
We started in a shared kitchen with $2,500 that I bet on myself. By the time that initial funding ran out, I had a much better idea of how I needed to operate in a shared space given the cost structure. But more importantly, I learned that people who didn’t even know me were more than willing to give me money for my cookies.
As time went on, we went from offering special orders only to adding in sales at local farmer’s markets. Once we felt like we had a good handle on that, we added in our online store. When the online store became sustainable, we added in wholesale sales to our cookie offerings and started supplying a small number of area stores. Along the way we added in larger events and additional markets. And a year and a half ago we added in frozen dough sales (side note, pre-portioned frozen cookie dough balls are commonly referred to as “pucks” - how funny is that?)
In the last couple of years we’ve taken a stab at some shared spaces for an actual storefront. I realize that we’re all constantly on the move and it’s not always easy to get a cookie when you are thinking about us. I recognize that it’s hard when you want me to deliver and I’m unable to do so. There’s no part of me that likes these things. I typically work 60 to 70 hours a week, so saying no to a customer isn’t a thing I like to do.
On March 11th, we looked at an available space in a great location for us. The building itself is not much to look at right now; it’s pretty much the skeleton of a business that has since moved. It definitely needs some work, but it has some amazing bones. Which is to say that it would make moving in fairly easy, as compared to a having to do a full build-out. During this process, my phone kept vibrating in my pocket. My texts and emails were full of cancellations of events and ongoing sales orders. While we were looking at four locations that afternoon, each time I stopped the car to get out I kept watching how everything we slowly and steadily built over these last six years seemingly was melting away. Here I was actually looking for my own space for my business, yet the bottom was falling out.
But, you know what? The city that I know and love with all my heart came out and supported us. The orders started pouring in online. We started taking a lot of bulk gift orders for folks working from home and students that were finishing the school year virtually. It seemed that each time some batch of cookies went out in these gifts, someone would call and say “my husband got these cookies from his boss, I want to send them to my team”. And just like that we were cranking. I thought we would have some downtime and I could start to think about what we would look like if we actually got through this. But we were no longer working “slow and steady”, we were working at an absolutely frantic pace. Since we work in a shared space, social distancing protocols have forced us to change how we have to bake. Accordingly, we’ve had to change our shipping schedule to once a week and, with very few exceptions, people have been fine with it. Every night I go to bed and I know that we are the exception, not the rule. So many of my friends have shifted from being small business owners to having to homeschool their kids or just simply stay home with no work to do.. I had no idea that mail-order cookies would be a good business in the middle of a pandemic. I am so honored and humbled at the orders we've received, not just because of the sheer quantities, but because we got the chance to connect and comfort so many folks while we all go through this unique and unprecedented time.
So, our plan that we had back March 10th is still the right plan today. It’s time to get our own place. We are currently in negotiations for a lease for a storefront in the city of Boston. Initially, the space will serve as a place for us to bake, offer pick-up orders, work with third party delivery services and pack and ship our online orders. Eventually, we will open for retail hours. I want to have a place where people can get fresh baked cookies, choose from a flavored milk bar, get ice cream cookie sandwiches and perhaps even...cookie frappes. This space will allow us to experiment much more and I think there’s a good chance that we’d be able to offer Fluffernutter cookies on a regular basis.
With all that said…
I am proud to announce that we launched a formal fundraising campaign with MainVest! This will help us reduce the amount of debt we will need to take on with a lender. This is not a donation. This is an opportunity for people to invest in Top Shelf Cookies inself. You’ll be hearing more about it in the coming weeks, as we’ll be raising the money over the next 80+ days. Please note, this type of crowdfunding is not in any way a donation format such as Kickstarter. Even though investment amounts can range from as little as $100, investors in our business will receive a promissory note entitling them to some very aggressive potential returns, as outlined on our MainVest page.
So, that’s our big news. I’ll be keeping you updated as things progress, but I’ll just wanted to leave you with these two things:
- Thank you for making sure I get to keep the best job I ever had.
- My neighbors moved out this past weekend and left this TRex cookie jar behind. I grabbed it. I think it might be a good sign of things to come!
With much love and gratitude -