At the second annual L.A. Cookie Con and Sweets Show this weekend — the West Coast's largest event of its kind — all sorts of cookie bakers, both amateur and professional, will be showing off their goods in hopes of snagging a production deal with a big-name company. Think American Idol but with baked goods. You'll find no shortage of follow-your-dreams stories here: One sweets enthusiast left her six-figure job to create beautiful cookies; another tossed away one obsession, sports, to start selling raw edible cookie dough; another floated her idea for a brownie and cookie combination past the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank; and another banked on a rebellious culinary school business plan. At Cookie Con, they’ll all be showcasing their sugary creations — and their culinary dreams.
Here are four dessert makers who charmed us with their stories and their sweets.
“It tastes like you just stuck your finger in the bowl with actual cookie dough in it.” That’s what Olivia Pastrana was looking for when she came up with the idea for her company, Unbaked: A Cookie Dough Bar, which ships safe-to-eat cookie dough. You pick your dough flavor — which ranges from brown sugar to red velvet, and can even be gluten-free — and then one or more toppings, such as peanut butter cups or pecans. Pastrana is only 20 years old and recently left her job as an editor/producer for the NFL Network to pursue the cookie dough business. Since opening day in April, she's sent about 80 percent of her dough to the East Coast. She hopes to ship overseas soon and open a shop.
When Kim Kardashian places a large order from your cookie company, you know you must be doing something right. Based on a holiday treat that founder Jennifer Malouf often made for her family — Nutella-stuffed chocolate chip cookies — the 24-year-old left culinary school with a 17-page business plan for Stuffed, which applied Chipotle’s build-your-own style to cookies. A teacher pulled her aside and told her to run with it, so she opened Stuffed in 2014. Malouf whips up simple cookies, like the SnickerNutellaDoodle (vanilla cookie dough stuffed with Nutella and topped with cinnamon and sugar), as well as the more extravagant (rosemary, lemon and orange zest cookies with dark-chocolate honey ganache).
After their first appearance in October 2015 on Shark Tank, Jovon English and her Milk + Brookies partners went from baking 20 to 200 dozen "brookies" (a brownie-cookie combination in the shape of a cupcake) in a single day. “We were overwhelmed,” English says. “We lost a lot of sleep, got some things wrong, made necessary changes and learned extremely valuable lessons. By the second airing, we were a well-oiled machine.” It all started with the O.G., an original fudge brownie topped with a homemade chocolate chip cookie and a white chocolate chip cookie. Milk + Brookies does its business online, shipping all over the world, and had a brief stint as a pop-up at Westfield Culver City, with plans for more pop-ups.
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Private equity is not a very creative field, says Missy Bochatey, who left her desk job at the urging of fellow employees who'd been treated to her baked goods each week. When her friend asked to her to create a wedding cake, Bochatey launched a Cake-a-Week project, bringing each new creation to work. She then taught herself how to make decorative cookies, which a year and a half later have become her company’s signature item. Her company, Cake and Cork, does mostly personalized and hand-painted items, ranging from candy canes to Easter eggs to, as Valentine’s Day approaches, flowers. She orders organic fresh flowers that are overnighted to her, hand-presses and dries them, then applies them to wet icing. “It really amps up the artistry,” Bochatey says. With two big orders from Neiman Marcus under her belt and new business streaming in from Instagram, Bochatey just may have to move Cake and Cork out of her Venice kitchen soon.