The Just Cooked Cookie Company
The academic year starting in 2012 was a bad one for this particular drama lecturer. The grades had been so good in previous years, but in the exam season of Summer 2013, for no obvious reason, they had plummeted.
The nose-dive left me wishing for once that drama was more like maths or science, something with a right or wrong answer, and not a subject with its value firmly in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, a particularly solemn looking visiting examiner.
The whole next year was spent trying to win back the favour of A Level students who – a year in – had lost faith in their teacher, as well as appeasing some angry parents and reassuring an, always nervous, central management.
(After all an A Level lecturer is only ever as good as their last results day).
As we headed towards the summer in 2014, with the next RESULTS DAY looming in August, I started to reflect on what else a person could do who needed a change to teaching the same set texts year, after year, after year.
A chef, was and had always been the number one alternative but retraining at this point in life, with a mortgage to pay and two kids to support seemed a rather indulgent and fanciful idea.
But what if retraining wasn’t necessary? As a keen baker, I couldn’t help musing if something with a fairly simple recipe – like cookies – with enough dedication could be mastered to perfection, so that they might finally be something as good as even the best of best chefs could do?
Didn’t want a shop, that was never going to be affordable, but with a six week summer break coming up, the prospect of experimenting with something at a local market was becoming more appealing daily.
Thanks to a colleague at work petitioning for compensation from British Airways, for holding up our Performing Arts trip to New York at Gatwick that year, all of the staff and students involved, including me, had just received a generous £500 that we weren’t expecting.
Before it had hardly cleared in the bank account, it was spent. I found myself driving down from Bournemouth to Cornwall to pick up three cookie ovens I’d managed to bag on Ebay for the winning bid of £120. The guvnor in charge at Winchester Market said a small pitch was available on Saturdays for forty pounds and so over the next fortnight, B&Q at Castlepoint provided the materials for a 3metre by 3metre stall to be designed and finally assembled.
From the very outset the feeling of having your own business, even in the presently very elementary way it was being dabbled in, was completely absorbing. I found myself thinking about it constantly. How to make it work in terms of the name, the product, the display, everything.
As trading was about to begin on that first market day, I remember thinking that I ‘d be happy if even just one person – that wasn’t a family member or friend – wanted one of the cookies.
By the third or fourth Saturday the cookies had established…a queue. Won’t pretend it was the longest queue in the world, but that didn’t matter, what didmatter was that there were two or three people at certain points throughout the day ‘queueing’ to buy the cookies. The feeling was so satisfying. It was as if every new customer was personally and positively validating your existence.
More ideas started to come, ‘I should bring the ovens, they should be baked here, fresh’. The idea of a presentation table was irresistible. Making and baking them in front of the customers, with them being able to smell the aroma and serving them still warm into their hands, seemed the most original and winning idea one could imagine. Midway through the summer a banner saying ‘The Just Cooked Cookie Company’ was printed.
By the end of the summer break the thing definitely had an identity of its own on the High St with, at peak times, a modest queue and a significant number of return customers.
The experience was being enjoyed so much that when results day came around again, I was almost indifferent to the glorious news that suddenly the grades had gone from the profoundly disappointing to suddenly the best for ten years.
It was definitely a bitter-sweet moment. It was great news but there was now much less reason to risk taking the massive step of trying to make this cookie thing into an actual full-time job. So alas at the end of the summer, the cookie stall had to go into storage in the garage.
Couldn’t help remonstrating that “It would have worked, I could have got it to work” but it sounded like a pipe-dream and my wife smiled in the exact same way as when our boy tells her that when he grows up he wants to be a professional footballer.
Over the subsequent couple of years despite gathering dust and taking up far too much space in the garage, for some reason the idea of getting rid of the ovens and the rest of it, was depressing. Couldn’t let go of the idea that maybe one day they would come back out and The Just Cooked Cookie Company would start trading again. Every time that Ebay was considered as the most obvious fate for them, something in me stopped it from happening
Fast forward to 2017 and our long-suffering performing arts dept, as well as many others in the wider college, were facing the prospect of forced mass redundancies on a scale probably never seen before. The gloom that descended on the whole place was almost palpable. Staff seemed to be crying everywhere you turned. However, it was the opportunity that a secret part of me had been waiting for. It took a leap of faith but voluntary redundancy was finally applied for and granted.
The very first thing that was eagerly done was bringing in those beloved ovens from the garage. Once dusted they were plugged in and as soon as the familiar sound of the fan started to whirl, there was no doubt it was the right decision, for now at least.
The Just Cooked Cookie Company emerged from the ashes, but different from before. I’d taken the decision to make them gluten-free and also vegan. I wanted to serve a niche but increasingly mainstream market that I’d seen starting to emerge in the student population at college.
So instead of making the trip to Winchester High Street, the plan now was to deliver a variety of six cookies, frozen, to cafes where they could cook up as many of them as they needed, whenever they wanted. I provided each café with a handmade wooden display with The Just Cooked Cookie Company proudly burnt into the wood and where necessary an oven to bake them in.
Fast forward to now and after a year of more of selling to a whole bunch of different cafes, the idea was finally seized upon by Ian Saul from Naked Coffee who’s been good enough to take me under his wing and attempt to make the dream a reality.
Through him The Just Cooked Cookie Company has now recently been picked up by The Compass Group Plc, the largest contract foodservice company in the world with operations in over 50 countries, employing over 550,000 people. The new commercial venture is due to start its life at Bournemouth University in the new year.