The idea for Pacific Northwest Cookie Company may have come out of a joke, but it’s no joke how much success the fledgling company has had in a short period of time.
Only a few months ago siblings Callie and Alex Carpenter were at a family barbecue when someone suggested that the duo make and sell their mother’s cookies. Everyone laughed, but the seed was planted.
“Me and Callie kind of had this moment where we looked at one another and said ‘why not, let’s do it,’” Alex said.
The Carpenter siblings are two of the seven children of Susy Carpenter, whose pies, cookies and other baked goods were part of the offerings from Catrina’s Catering Company during the life of beloved Adna resident Catrina Gardipee. Growing up with five brothers, Callie said her mother pushed her to learn baking, but she was more interested in playing outside.
“I didn’t want to learn to bake because my brothers didn’t think it was cool,” Callie recalled.
“But she took to it like a duck to water,” Susy remembered.
“And now, flash forward 15 years and all our brothers are jealous I get to bake with Callie,” Alex added with a laugh.
Callie, a competitive body builder, said she sometimes used to de-stress by baking, but the hobby wasn’t healthy for her family members who had to eat the results. She said she was immediately inspired by the idea to make and sell cookies.
She and Alex began giving their treats to friends and family to sample, then Susy joined in to make sure her recipes were being strictly followed.
Their cookies were popular but Callie said she received numerous requests from people looking for vegan (using no animal products) or gluten free cookies. Since she does not personally eat that way, she said at first, she was hesitant but eventually decided she would try making something that fit those special dietary parameters.
“I finally just said ‘I’m going to do it to prove I can’t make something that would taste good,’” Callie admitted. “If we’re going to sell something with our name on it, it’s got to be not just good, it has to be so good you remember it.”
They set out with the goal of creating cookie recipes that are made from ingredients that are minimally processed (for instance, palm oil instead of vegetable shortening and evaporated cane juice instead of white sugar), preservative free and sourced as locally as possible. The trio estimated it took then 12-16 weeks to perfect their new recipes but they created cookies that they truly believe are indistinguishable from their white flour, butter and white sugar counterparts. The new recipes are carefully guarded family secret, even including temperatures at which they bake the cookies.
While Pacific Northwest Cookie Company has perfected cookie recipes that are vegan and gluten free but look, taste and feel like traditionally-made cookies, Callie said one of the challenges they still face is getting people to try their product. She said for some reason when people hear the words vegan and gluten free, their minds think it will taste terrible. But once they try them, the feedback is always the same.
“Every person I have talked to literally haven’t had a negative thing to say about our cookies,” Alex said.
In June, Pacific Northwest Cookie Company got another boost to its business base when the trio signed up to participate in the Lewis County Economic Development Council’s inaugural Smart Tank. The “Shark Tank” inspired start-up business pitch contest gave 17 individuals from nine different start-up companies the opportunity to pitch their ideas to industry leaders, as well as receive mentoring and education. EDC executive director Matt Matayoshi explained the event was begun as part of the EDC’s overall goal of creating opportunities for new business owners and entrepreneurs to network with industry leaders who can share their own wisdom.
“The hardest thing for an entrepreneur is what is the next step? You have this idea and you’ve started a great business but what is the next step?” Matayoshi said. “Nothing can replace experience and that’s what this brings to the table.”
Pacific Northwest Cookie Company won the Smart Tank pitch contest, earning a scholarship from event partner Moonshot at NACET, an entrepreneurial program from Flagstaff, Ariz., that will cover a year of small business mentoring for the company. The scholarship has covered many needs for the company, including: assistance with how to create nutritional labels; help creating a logo and Web site; weekly check ins from a business mentor; and even legal advice from Attorney Peter Abbarno. Susy said they have made many amazing contacts through the scholarship, it is almost overwhelming.
“If you go to someone you don’t know and say something like ‘how do you do your labels they’re going to say ‘I’m not going to tell you, it took me a long time to figure that out.’” Susy said. “We’ve received so much help through this, even some we had no idea we needed.”
Matayoshi added that, on average, it would likely take a small, start-up business about two years to grow in the way Pacific Northwest Cookie Company has grown in just a few months because of the education and assistance offered through the scholarship.
The EDC hopes to make Smart Tank an annual event. Matayoshi said small businesses have the capacity to drive significant economic growth in Southwest Washington. He gave the example of SA Tech rubberized floor mat company of Chehalis, which started in 2002 as one person but today has 70 employees. EDC Project Manager Rebecca Tripp noted that those are the kinds of success stories the EDC hopes to see more of in the future.
“I suspect there are entrepreneurs out there that we haven’t met,” Tripp said. “I think this area has a lot to offer that hasn’t been brought to light yet.”
Pacific Northwest Cookie Company cookies are sold at the Ribeye restaurant and starting Sept. 13 will be available at Chehalis Dutch Brothers. In October, they are planned to be offered at Avenue Espresso. The cookies are baked in the former commercial kitchen of Catrina’s Catering in Adna. The trio estimates at this point they can make about 1,600 cookies in one day and besides looking for new business partners, they’re hoping eventually to be able to accommodate online cookie orders. Callie said the success they have seen so far has been a little overwhelming but she ultimately has big dreams for their small cookie company.
“I want to be globally known, nationally known, but as long as I can I want to keep this business local,” Callie said.
More Information: Pacific Northwest Cookie Company
Cookies can be purchased at Ribeye and will soon be available at Chehalis Dutch Brothers (Sept. 13) and Avenue Espresso (October). There will be a sampling event at Dutch Brothers Chehalis from noon-3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14.
Cookies can also be ordered by contacting the company at info@PNWCookies.com