I’m walking quickly along Monkland Ave in early January. I’m meeting Caroline at Second Cup, only a few blocks from where I’ve parked. I suddenly realize how cold I am. It’s only -7, I scold myself, but I’m clearly underdressed. Chilled to the bone, I step through the door and immediately see Caroline sitting by the window. She’s familiar. I’ve seen her Instagram profile picture, but people always look a little different in real life. She’s very outgoing and we’re quickly chatting.
Caroline reached out a few weeks ago offering me some cookies. I really know very little about her or her business. It’s small. She’s a solopreneur, I figure, working from home. I respect that. Reminds me of me. I see a stack of cookies on the table. They look delicious. I can tell right away that they’re chewy, not crunchy. They’re individually packaged in clear plastic, half a dozen stacked and tied with a string. It looks well done. She’s won me over without even mentioning them yet.
We start to chat about her business. I ask her how she started and how sales are going. I ask about where she bakes them and how long they stay fresh. In a moment of panic, I worry that she might think I’m asking too many questions. Maybe she thinks I want to steal her business model. So to make myself feel better, I blurt out: “Can I interview you? I’d like to write an article!” It’s true, I do want to write articles, but that isn’t why we’ve met. Thankfully she agrees, enthusiastically, so I start to record our conversation. I feel like a journalist, or what I think a journalist must feel like, and I start to think that this just might be the beginning of something I’m going to enjoy.
Tell me about you and your start in business:
There have never been many vegans around me. So I’ve had to be creative and cook for myself. One night, I woke up and said I’m going to make a vegan cookie that doesn’t suck. And I made it my mission. My friends have a cafe and they gave me my first shot. I brought them my first batch and they loved it. I’ve never looked back. I started to reach out to stores and restaurants to sell them. I knew I would get them to say yes when they tasted it.
Now I get people at the taste. They taste it and they say wow. I see their faces change. They have such low expectations and then they bite it and that all changes. I am so rewarded by that moment. Even vegans have a negative idea of a store-bought cookie.
So I quit my job. I said, if I’m going to do this, I’m going all in. At first I didn’t care about anything, except getting people to taste them. I didn’t make any money. Now I’m in the second phase, where I’m more focused on revenues and reminding myself that this is a business. I’m putting in 80-100 hours a week. I’m baking, marketing, selling, shipping. I am everything. I used to work 9-5, have my weekends off, but in Oct 2016, I said that’s it, I’m going all in.
So what do you sell or plan to sell?
I have 3 flavours. I’ll launch new ones and special editions. I’m at 80g for the retail size. I sell the 40g cookies on my website. I have a lot planned this year. I’m changing the packaging. I’m booking events, to have a physical presence.
My dream is to open a vegan ice cream bar for events. The ice cream, the dips, the toppings, and the cookies. Then you get your ice cream sandwich at the end. I think to do that I’d partner. I believe in supporting local business and I like the idea of coming together to build something bigger. They are doing great things already, so I don’t feel the need to do that on my own.
Why you? Why vegan cookies?
I am passionate. I have put so much energy into a product that I’m proud to give to you. I’ve made sure not to include any ingredients that are weird. I want to keep these cookies as close to natural as possible. I want to break some of the misconceptions about veganism. You can have an excellent flavours, texture, and vegan ingredients, all in the same cookie. I remind people that it’s a treat. It’s still a cookie, not a health bar.
I am a believer in that the only way local business grows, is if we support them. You get to know who is behind the product. At this point, you can call me. I’ll answer! (She says this with a laugh and a smile)
Do you think they need to be marketed as vegan cookies? Should we treat vegan food as just “food” in marketing?
I think we still need to tell people it’s vegan. There just aren’t enough vegans products on the shelves. If people are looking for it, I want them to find it. There are places, like Portland, where you can find vegan anytime anywhere. Here you need to call businesses and waste time going back and forth looking for food options you like.
What’s special about your cookies? How do you get the perfect cookie?
I develop my own butter. There’s so much trial and error. Baking is already chemistry. Vegan baking is another level. It’s a challenge, but I love it.
How can people buy them?
You buy online to have delivered in Montreal and the area. For now, there’s no shipping. I deliver everything myself. For a list of retailers, look here: Where to buy MTL Cookie Co Cookies