Brenda Young greets me in an off-white apron bearing the logo of the volunteer-run, not-for-profit society, Mighty Cookie Company. “It’s amazing what you can order online. So easy.” The kitchen, located in a business park near the Victoria International Airport in Sidney, BC, is stark and hollow, but the smell of baking cookies adds a homey feel. “I love that there is natural light,” she says as she swiftly moves the trays of raw dough into the oven. “So many of the commercial kitchens I saw were dark and enclosed. I love this space.”
Previously a cupcake bakery and storefront, the Mighty Cookie Company has a retail display up front and a commercial kitchen in the back. Mighty Cookie took possession of the space in April, but is just now getting started on production after experiencing a learning curve with the operational side of the business.
“Apparently, you need plumbers and electricians and the rest”, Young jokes. “There is no how-to guide, although I might write one now. The oven bakes differently than a home oven, so I’ve been playing with the dough trying to get it right.”
Young is currently working with other cookie baking volunteers on adapting home recipes to the commercial kitchen. “We encourage people to donate their recipes. It’s fun to see your cookie on the website. Those old family recipes are always the best. I’ve been carrying this dog-eared oatmeal raisin recipe with me for so long, I don’t even know where it came from.”
Today she is testing a tweaked batch of chocolate chip cookies. A rack of the oatmeal raisin cools on the counter. “You’ll have to take some of these test cookies home with you.” I readily agree.
The Mighty Cookie Company donates 100% of net proceeds to organizations that support children’s health and education. Young worked with Colliers International broker Anna Schnell in finding a place that was both functional and not overly expensive. It was important that the space be in good condition so more of the money can go towards supporting kids.
“We met two years ago when I had a little strata unit for sale, but it didn’t work out,” says Schnell. “I stayed in touch with her, and every time I saw a space with a commercial kitchen component, we’d go take a look.”
The Mighty Cookie Company’s not-for-profit model was a bit of a challenge due to the lack of capital, but Schnell arranged a shorter term with a longer renewal term with the landlord, and ensured that Mighty Cookie had the option to co-share or sublet the space.
“Anna was one of the only people who took the time to listen to the concept,” says Young. “So many people were just focused on renting their space. Anna took an interest in what we were trying to do and what we really needed, which was refreshing.”
Young comes from a varied background with experience in public and private sectors including non-profit. “It’s so satisfying volunteering for a not-for-profit. I wanted to give back. I like the grassroots feeling, and everyone’s hearts are really into it.”
One of the perks of starting a not-for-profit is working with your friends and family, says Young.
“The idea really came to life with the name. A few friends and I started brainstorming names during our lunch hour. When it was said, you could see it. Mighty Cookie; mighty kids – the idea that something small can do good things. It all took off from there.”
Always looking for volunteers, Mighty Cookie relies on the kindness of strangers and the generosity of family and friends.
“Right now, we bake part-time on the weekends. We’re going to launch Mighty Cookie Mondays, where we deliver the cookies to offices. We also bake for special occasions. Recently, we made sugar cookies for an organization with their logo on them. That was a learning curve! We ended up using rice paper to transfer the logo onto 100 cookies.”
Part of the long-term plan is merchandising, where local artists will be asked to donate a cookie-themed design for mugs and t-shirts, which Mighty Cookie will feature on a monthly basis to help with operational costs. With the already-established storefront ready to use, Mighty Cookie is now considering opening up to the public on the weekends to give out samples or hold special fundraisers.
“Business is ever-changing so we need to stay flexible. If something doesn’t work, we will change the plan. We are open to partnerships, rather than competing with like-minded groups. Something we never considered doing right from the start is frozen dough. I have had a lot of requests from people who are too busy to bake cookies, but when they want one, they want one.”
What about future goals? “More Mighty Cookies. We’d like to see one in every community, raising money for children’s charities. And to be self-sustaining. The operations costs here are quite high, and we’d like to find alternative ways to cover costs so that more of the funds from the cookies can go to the kids.”
As for this test batch, they taste pretty good, but Young is still experimenting.
“My theory is: you can never have too much chocolate.”