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Cookies With the Right Stuff

Mon, 01/23/2023 - 13:31
Julie Lavin has transformed a family tradition of hiding treats in baked goods into a successful business centered around chocolate-chip cookies stuffed with things like Oreos and peanut butter cups.

It takes someone with a special sense of excess to devise something as sinfully decadent as a stuffed chocolate-chip cookie, but Julie Lavin grew up in a kitchen where baking was abundant and indulgent. 

"My mom's a big Italian cook and baker. Ever since I could remember, I was sitting on the kitchen counter watching her make a thousand different cookies during Christmas . . . and she stuffed things whether it was bread or a cake or something else."

This history came into play as it did for so many during the Covid-19 shutdowns. A refugee from the corporate world, where she worked in the "live entertainment, events, and experiential marketing world," Ms. Lavin found herself back at her parents' house wondering what to do next, sitting in that same kitchen.

A few weeks of Instagram scrolling demonstrated that the rest of the world was in the same standby mode. Then came a shift. "All of the sudden, people were cooking and baking and posting and boasting about it -- things I had been doing since I was 3 years old."

By September 2020, she had a new full-time consulting gig lined up for virtual events, but cookies were a hot thing back on Instagram. She couldn't resist joining the craze. Right before she started the job, she posted a stuffed cookie on Instagram with the question: "Would you buy this cookie?"

It turns out, the answer was "yes!" From that post alone, she sold 100 cookies. Then her friends began posting to their networks. More sales followed, and as these pandemic food business stories go, the next thing she knew, her company, A Slice of Julieanne, was outgrowing her home processor's permit for her kitchen in Manhasset. She moved first into a local restaurant kitchen and then, last July, into Beach Bakery in Westhampton Beach, where her cookies are made now.

She worked at the side business part-time until July 2021, and then told her parents, "I know you're going to think I'm crazy. But for the next six months through Christmas, I'm going to try the cookies full time. And surely they thought I was crazy. I'm not 22 anymore. We had just come through a global pandemic . . . but I did it."

Last year, she doubled the outlets that sold her cookies, adding 17 spots from Westhampton Beach to Montauk. By October she had sold a total of 35,000 cookies. Although she started baking herself in Beach Bakery, when the summer high season cooled down, the staff there had more time to work on her cookies. That has freed her up to develop more outlets and begin thinking about expansions to other areas in the region, different packaging, and maybe even a distributor if she can extend the shelf life of the cookies.

But right now, she's still delivering cookies every day from her car all over Long Island. She also has a mail order business, and makes custom cookies for special events, other occasions, and gifts. One client wanted to stuff her order with the Biscoff cookies Delta Air Lines serves on its flights, because it is her son's favorite sweet treat. While not Ms. Lavin's favorite, she still went to King Kullen and bought the cookies and used them as the stuffing in that order. "And he just went over the moon." 

She added, "I'm still small enough that if you tell me you want something special, I'm going to do it." The ones she sells at stores are limited to four stuffings: rainbow cookie, peanut butter cup, Oreo, and chocolate cake. The $5 cookies weigh more than a quarter pound and are made with real butter, eggs, chocolate, and other premium ingredients. A dozen cookies can be ordered for $50. Those can be customized with fillings like Rolos, Snickers bars, KitKats, Twix bars, and Milky Ways. 

They are available year-round at Stuart's Seafood in Amagansett, the Montauk Bake Shoppe, Villa Italian Specialties in East Hampton, Kromer's Market in Noyac, and, of course, Beach Bakery. These locations can also accommodate pickup orders at no extra charge. Home delivery costs are extra. The company's website has the most current availability and pickup information. Last summer, Ms. Lavin also sold at about 10 South Fork farm stands before they closed in the late fall. She plans to expand to the North Fork later this year.

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