From the moment you step into Cookies on Demand in downtown Montpelier, your senses are filled with the aroma of fresh baked cookies. It beckons you to the counter where the case is filled with mouth-watering goodness. Once you make your choice and bite into one of the wares, you are hooked on the melt-in-your-mouth mélange of flavor that tantalizes your taste buds. This is what it is like to experience a cookie from Cookies on Demand.
For years, Montpelier resident Becky Freese enjoyed baking a dozen or more cookies to take to events such as meetings, sports events, birthday parties, or just to share with co-workers at her job at the hospital where she was a surgical services supervisor. She did it for fun, and never dreamed that she would actually be paid for her cookies someday. She liked to create new recipes for cookies, rarely even writing down the ingredients and measurements. Whenever she shared her cookies, they were quickly snatched up by eager children and adults. Her talent was quickly recognized. Starting a business was the last thing on her mind.
That all changed in 2009. Her husband Ron had worked at the same business for over 26 years, when suddenly the business closed. Their oldest son Tom had moved out of the home earlier in the year, and their middle child Scott moved out that spring. They went from a family of five down to just Becky, Ron, and their daughter Kalee.
As Kalee graduated high school, she decided that she wanted to go to college. Her brothers had gone to NorthwestStateCommunity College so that they would be able to reside at home, but Kalee had other plans. She wanted to go to college and experience city life and living on her own in Lorain, Ohio, near Cleveland. She and her roommate Marissa Mercer found an apartment that they could afford to share, but Kalee would still need to find a way to come up with her part of the deposit and a month or two of rent to get established. Since Ron was not working, he and Becky told her that she would need to find a way to come up with the money on her own.
Undaunted, Kalee decided to have a bake sale where she could sell her mother’s delicious cookies. Becky said that they would supply the ingredients and the know-how, but that Kalee would have to do all the work and the baking. She would also have to organize the event and estimate the amount of supplies needed. Their daughter agreed, and the Monday before the sale, posted notices on her Facebook account as well as those of her parents. By Wednesday, pre-sale orders had already begun pouring in. There were so many orders that Becky decided to take a personal day off from work on Friday to stay home and help her daughter bake. They began baking as soon as Becky arrived home from work at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, and after they had finished just the pre-orders, they had filled their outstretched recliner, couch, loveseat, table, and counters with stacked boxes of cookies.
By the end of the day of the bake sale, they had made $1,100 in sales. This was enough for Kalee to pay several months of rent.
About this time, Ron returned to school as well. Since he was a displaced worker due to his former workplace moving to Mexico, he was eligible for training and attended classes four evenings per week. Becky worked days, and was now coming home to not only an empty nest, but to an empty house with Ron gone in the evenings. She didn’t know what to do with herself. In the time following the bake sale, many friends had messaged her on Facebook requesting cookies. They would pay her for them, too! Ron suggested that she go ahead and start selling cookies, and Becky agreed.
Within five minutes, Ron had set up a Facebook page. Becky had not even considered setting up a business, so when her husband asked her what she should name it, she had no idea. Ron had a name in mind, and just like that, Cookies on Demand was born. It was July 2010. In August, she took several dozen of her cookies to a class reunion. Two classmates approached her and asked to carry her product in their Montpelier stores. A relative took some cookies in to share with workers at Miller’s New Market, a local grocery store, and they also wanted her cookies at that business. By December 2010, Becky was selling an average of 500 dozen cookies per month. This was all done at home in her kitchen. She was still working full-time at the hospital, and was often baking as many as 125 dozen cookies per day.
Becky thought that business would slow down after the Christmas holiday, but business remained steady. She created the Jump Start bar, a high protein, high fiber health bar, in January 2011. In the first month, she sold 2000 of this product, all via Facebook and at Miller’s. She had never anticipated that sales would be so brisk, and she was making the Jump Start bars two to three times per day in addition to baking cookies. She was amazed that the cookies that she had been giving away for free for the last 23 years were cookies that people were actually willing to pay for.
Her most famous cookie was the pumpkin cookies. These were the ones that all the kids wanted. Little did she know that she was building a customer base for the future. Those same children who clamored for her cookies when they were youngsters were now adults, and they wanted to buy them for their own families. People were buying her cookies for every event imaginable; for families at the funeral homes for visitation, for visits to homes, for bridal and baby showers, for communions, for anniversary celebrations and birthdays, and even for weddings. Becky’s cookies were involved in every aspect of people’s lives.
Ron had returned to work November 2010. The cookie business continued to thrive. By February 2011, Becky was still working full-time. She was now baking 1200 dozen cookies per month, one dozen at a time. She baked from the moment she got home until bedtime. On Valentine’s weekend, orders poured in, and she needed to bake 403 dozen. That weekend, she barely left her kitchen, baking around the clock. Much to her chagrin, she found that her oven had a 12 hour timer, and it shut itself off after the long day of baking. She would have to wait 45 minutes to an hour before she could turn her oven back on again. This delayed the process, but she still needed to fill her last order of 50 dozen cookies for First Federal Bank. Two other businesses had also ordered 50 – 65 dozen each. Despite all the difficulties, she was able to complete the order with eleven minutes to spare, though she had been in “panic mode.”
This experience led to Becky’s decision to either purchase a commercial oven or stop making cookies. She realized that she could not continue to handle the volume of orders and continue to work full-time, so she resigned her hospital job in October 2011. A week later, a member of the community approached Becky and Ron about renting a building in downtown Montpelier. They had heard rumors that she was searching to move her business to Bryan, Ohio, and the Montpelier Chamber of Commerce really wanted her to remain in town. This was not the case at all, and Becky had not considered moving her business out of her home before this point. They were first shown a small building and felt that it was worth the price of the rent, but it was too small to accommodate the size of the necessary baking equipment. They learned that the former Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank building was available.
Becky’s heart sank when she saw the interior of the building, which she described as “trashed,” but Ron said, “We can do this.” They spent the next five-and-a-half months working every night after work and on weekends. Ron often worked on the building by himself while Becky stayed home baking.
Cookies on Demand was set to open their new storefront on Bean Days weekend in July 2012. A commercial oven had been ordered well ahead of the grand opening; however, due to a snafu in shipping, the oven was drop-shipped to a warehouse, and no one knew where it had been left. The company and her supplier searched for ten days for the oven, which was essential for her new storefront, until it was finally located. Arrangements were made to bring it back to the store, and it was installed the day before opening. Becky began baking cookies for opening day from the moment the oven was installed. She worked until 3 a.m., laid down for a while, and then went back to the store at 5 a.m. to prepare for opening day.
On July 20, 2012, Cookies on Demand opened its doors for business at 7 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. that night Response was overwhelming, and Becky said she had not anticipated that they would be so successful. They had 500 customers that day, and her son had to run to Bryan for baking supplies twice that day so that they could meet demand. They had also planned to serve ice cream sandwich cookies that day, but half-way through, the motor on the ice cream machine blew. Fortunately, friends were able to loan them a machine to get them through the day. Another challenge presented was that Becky was used to her home’s electric oven, but the new commercial oven was a gas convection oven. She had to adapt the time and temperature for all of her recipes, and she had very little time in which to figure it out. For Becky, the day went by in a blur, but it all came together and on their first day of business, presented twelve different kinds of cookies.
Today, Cookies on Demand offers 28 different flavors, including: chocolate chip, double chocolate, triple chocolate, butterscotch oatmeal, Heath, sugar cookie (currently the most popular), white chocolate with raspberry, peanut butter, lemon, and the famous pumpkin cookies. They also carry red velvet, turtle, snicker doodle, dark chocolate raspberry, white chocolate cranberry, caramel apple, and this reporter’s favorite Andes mint cookies. They also serve a variety of coffees, teas, bottled water, hot chocolate, milk and other drinks.
This fall, Montpelier native Kim Winzeler, now a business owner in Chicago, visited the area and was encouraged to go to Cookies on Demand and try the product. She liked the lemon cookies so well that she requested 28 dozen of them to be served at a $500 per plate gala in Chicago. Becky has since shipped cookies not only to Chicago, but to 30 states in the nation, and even to Japan. Local persons have purchased cookies to ship to Afghanistan for service people. Twelve dozen arrived on base on Thanksgiving Day to the joy of service men and women. Becky said that it was very emotional to view a picture of Montpelier resident Austin Bailey eating one of her cookies and to know that it made people so far away from home happy. At Christmas time, Keshia Shutts, also of Montpelier, was delighted to receive a care package of cookies while she was stationed overseas.
The month of December was Cookies on Demand’s biggest month yet. Area businesses had learned about the tasty cookies, and ordered multiple dozens to serve at their Christmas parties. The product was also in high demand as Christmas presents. Becky provided special packaging for gifts and by the end of the month, Cookies on Demand had done an average of seven months worth of business in December alone!
Becky likes business to be slow and steady at its present pace of about 1200 dozen per month, but would also like to see the business grow. Facebook has been one way in which people learned of her cookies, and it is free advertising. Word of mouth has been another vehicle. She said, “You know you have something good when you have return customers.” She estimates that 98% of her business is from those who return to buy more of her wares.
Ironically, Becky grew up in a home where her mother and grandmother didn’t bake. It’s not something that she learned in the usual way. She was creative, however, and enjoyed baking and coming up with cookie recipes. The only recipe that she had been given was a recipe for banana oatmeal cookies that had been passed down from Ron’s grandmother, but it was incomplete. Becky provided measurements and baking time.
Becky is amazed at the response to her cookies. She had gone from telling her husband Ron that no one would pay for her cookies to having a storefront and a profitable business. When she decided to make the leap from leaving a stable job with benefits and vacation days, she didn’t think about losing anything, but rather was excited and happy about her cookie business. It didn’t feel as though she was losing anything at all. She mentioned that in order to be successful as a self-employed business owner, she has had to be fully committed to her business. She is her own boss and must be there every day. There is no time to be ill. She praised her husband and said that she could not have done it without his support. He has always been willing to roll up his sleeves and jump right in to help in any way needed.
Becky doesn’t label her cookies as “gourmet,” but to call them anything less would be a misnomer. People all over the country have experienced the mouth-watering morsels. She doesn’t know what the future will bring as far as her business is concerned, but for those who have been lucky enough to taste her delicious cookies, they can agree on one thing — the sky is the limit.
Cookies on Demand is located at 225 W. Main Street in Montpelier, Ohio. They are open on Monday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., from Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Their phone number is 419-485-0070. Becky can also be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and also on Facebook and Twitter. They are in the process of setting up a website for the business.