For 30+ years, my five sisters, sister-in-law, and I have been baking Christmas cookies together. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving we gather at my brother’s home, which my parents built themselves in 1954, and we bake dozens and dozens of cookies. When we first started our tradition, we had about a dozen different recipes that we made every year, but we were always looking for new recipes to add.
At least 25 years ago, my younger sister, Beth, shared a cookie recipe with me. She thought that it might be a good one to add to our Christmas baking list. It was a rolled cookie dough, but the taste reminded her of a drop sugar cookie that our mom would make for us. I loved the cookie dough, but I didn’t care for the royal icing that accompanied the recipe. The thick, soft sugar cookie did not seem to be enhanced by the hard, tasteless royal icing.
So, I developed my own special almond flavored frosting to complement the cookie. We decided that this combination was the ultimate “comfort cookie” and Laura’s Cookies was born. We soon referred to the cookie as the ultimate “comfort cookie”.
How did Laura’s Cookies develop from there?
In 1993 I moved to Dayton from Morristown, NJ. In the fall of 1999, I left my position as administrative director of surgical services at Miami Valley Hospital. I had been in hospital administration for my entire professional career (17 years) and decided that I wanted to move in a new direction with my career. What that direction would be, I had absolutely no idea.
I took full advantage of the assessment programs and career development sessions offered by a local career development firm. Through this experience. I found out a few things about myself. Most significantly, I seemed to have education/work experiences, skill sets, and a self-awareness of my strengths and weaknesses that indicated a potential to be a successful small business owner. I was intrigued—but what business could I start?
A one hour informational session by a representative of the local Small Business Administration led to me taking a 10-week SBA class at Sinclair Community College. The main goal of the course was to help individuals develop a “business plan.” So, I needed to identify what my business was going to be.
I had a few more expansive food business ideas, but the instructor was wise to inform me that my ability to secure financing would probably be slim. So, I scaled it back to a cookie baking business. Each week I would bring a variety of cookies to get feedback from my classmates and instructor. The “Comfort Cookies” (now known as “Laura’s Cookies”) became the most requested for “repeat” tastings.
At the end of the class I had a fairly decent business plan on paper; I just needed to figure out how to get it started. My primary challenge was to find a place to bake and sell my cookies.
Enter Dorothy Lane Market. How did you cross paths with DLM?
As a pet-owner, I needed to find a kitchen facility to bake in. I also needed an outlet to sell my cookies. This was 20 years ago. One of my book club friends had a relationship with Dorothy Lane Market through Scott Fox, DLM VP of Bakery. Through the friend, I was able to get a meeting with Scott. I met with him, explained that I had a cookie that everyone seemed to really like, but that I needed a place to bake. Scott expressed interest and shared that DLM likes to promote quality “local” products. He asked me to bring in a sample.
A day later, I brought in 2-3 dozen “Laura’s Cookies” in different shapes. We met in the OAK Bakery manager’s office (a very pregnant Shelley Eberle). There are two things about this meeting that I will never forget. The first is Shelley opening the container, biting into a cookie, and then turning around in her chair exclaiming “this is the best cookie that I have ever had!” Scott tasted one and he agreed with Shelley, and asked if he could have samples to share with more folks at DLM. He called the next day and asked me when I could start baking!
What is it about Laura’s Cookies that you think makes them special?
I think that it is the fact that the cookies are both visually appealing and that they taste delicious. I trust Scott Fox when he tells me that he has never seen or tasted a cookie that even comes close to a Laura’s Cookie. They are truly unique.
Has the recipe changed at all over the years?
The only thing that has changed is that the “trans fats” have been removed from the ingredients. P.S. Don’t even ask about nutritional value. There is none. Just remember that everything is good in moderation!
When you first started, did you ever imagine Laura’s Cookies would have grown into what it is today?
Honestly, no (insert laughter). My informal business plan when I started was to make enough cookies to cover my living expenses, save for retirement, take a couple vacations a year, and maybe have a couple of employees.
Fast forward to 2020 and 5,337,000+ cookies later. Laura’s Cookies has a huge fan base, an amazing team, a new production facility, and I get to take those vacations!
Why exclusive to DLM?
Laura’s Cookies has been an exclusive product to Dorothy Lane Market from the beginning. DLM allowed me afterhours access to the bakery production area if I agreed to sell the cookies exclusively through their bakeries. Laura’s Cookies has become one of the DLM “destination products” as they aren’t available anywhere else. It has been a win-win relationship.
Sweetest memories over the past 20 years?
I think my favorite sweet memories are those shared with me by customers. Laura’s Cookies have become an essential part of so many people’s lives and celebrations. Major life events have been made even more special with Laura’s Cookies. Innumerable grandchildren have been delighted when a grandparent arrives with Laura’s Cookies in hand. Corporate clients look forward to holiday gift boxes of Laura’s Cookies. A gift of a single Laura’s Cookie can brighten someone’s day. It truly brings me joy to know that there is most assuredly “a happy memory in every bite”.
A few early memories stand out. When I first started, a former neighbor would go to the DLM Oakwood Bakery and stand near the case. She would casually point out my cookies to other customers, telling them how tasty they were and encouraging them to “try one!” I think our biggest marketing strategy has been the cookie itself with how it looks to the eye and tastes in the mouth.
I wasn’t in business more than a month when a DLM Washington Square associate came back into the production area to tell me about a customer interaction that she had just had. The customer was standing in front of the Bakery counter and kept saying to herself, “I can’t believe that I’m doing this.” The associate asked if there was anything that she could do for her. The customer then explained that she lived in the Cincinnati area, but had been to Dayton the previous day. She had stopped at DLM and saw the Laura’s Cookies for the first time. She had bought three different shapes and didn’t even make it out of the DLM parking lot before they were gone. She made a special trip to Dayton and DLM the next day … for some more Laura’s Cookies!
Now, tell us more about THE Laura—you.
You really want to know more about me? When friends introduce me to someone new, it normally goes something like this:
“Do you ever go to Dorothy Lane Market?”
“Have you ever had a Laura’s Cookie?”
“Yes,” or sometimes “No.”
“This,” they say, pointing at me “is THE Laura of Laura’s Cookies!”
Invariably whether the individual has had a cookie or not, I end up telling my story. What I really want to say is …I’m more than just “THE” Laura.
So, I love to read both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve been a member of a book club since 1996 and, yes, we discuss the book before we get too deep into the wine! I love to travel. I enjoy photographing my travel adventures; perhaps a bit to the extreme. In fact, my nickname from my family is “clicky, clicky” as they are always trying to hurry me along. I enjoy live theater performances and movies. I’m a fairly accomplished gardener. It only took me 25 years to get my two-bit garden to have something in bloom from crocus to chrysanthemum! I am a National Public Radio and Podcast nerd. I know a little bit about a lot of things. Except Laura’s Cookies, I know a lot about Laura’s Cookies after 20 years.