Baking Cookies to Make Dough: Two Elon Students Start a Sweet Business

Maritza Gamboa and Leah Hayes stand in front of the oven they use for Midnight Cookie Crave.

 

When sophomores Maritza Gamboa and Leah Hayes couldn’t find on campus jobs, they made up their own.  In October 2011, thanks to having an oven in their Danieley suite, Midnight Cookie Crave was born.  The business model is simple: Saturday night, if you’re craving a giant chocolate chip or sugar cookie, you send an email and soon, a cookie will arrive at your door.  Business has been good and Gamboa and Hayes hope to eventually expand their production.

Gamboa is a transfer student from Drexel University, where she saw advertisements for a similar student business.  She and Hayes decided that they could run a baking business like Drexel’s from their kitchen, knowing that college students love huge, homemade cookies.  After checking to make sure they weren’t breaking any school rules, they got to work.

“We went to Danieley Commons at, like, three in the morning because we didn’t want to take up the computers and we printed out, like, 200 copies of posters and just started putting them up.  We just did it, it just happened,” Gamboa said.

Gamboa and Hayes said that they were able to started the cookie business without any hesitation and without worrying about how much money they would make.  They both love baking and Gamboa’s a business major, so it all seemed to fit.  Hayes is a psychology major, and they joke that she deals with their customers.

Neither of them expected much to happen on their first night of business.  “I remember the first night, we were expect to make, like, maybe ten dollars, and that was from our suitemates,” Gamboa said.  To their surprise, they sold a hundred cookies and that’s usually their average per night.  “It’s still always a really good feeling.”

Hayes showing off the oven.

And the other good feeling?  Probably the fact that they each make about forty dollars on baking nights.  They admit it isn’t much, but it is enough to buy food or gas for the week.  “We have never had a night that we have lost money, it’s always made a profit,” Hayes said.

Making a profit isn’t always easy work, though.  Gamboa and Leah typically start baking orders around 9 p.m. to get a head start on all the orders they’ve received in advance.  They don’t actually start deliveries until 11 p.m., but by the time they’ve finished baking at 3 a.m., they’ve made countless trips to dorm rooms where students pay a dollar for a large, warm, homemade treat.

Hayes has a car on campus, so either she or Gamboa delivers the cookies while the other stays to continue baking.  Most business comes from Danieley, though, probably because of the concentrated first year student population.  Hayes prefers Danieley deliveries because she can walk up to the suite door to deliver, whereas in buildings like Carolina she has to wait outside the building for the customer to come to her.  “You’re just kind of standing there awkwardly with cookies,” she said.  But that’s why she and Gamboa work so hard to make sure that communications run smoothly; both of them have the business email sent to their phones so they can keep in contact with customers and with each other.  Making a cookie for a customer that doesn’t receive it isn’t good for anyone.

For now, the cookies they bake come from a pre-made mix, mostly to be cost effective.  “When we first started, we weren’t sure how much money we would be making, so if you spend the extra money on supplies, you have to make sure that you’re getting it back… we just wanted to go with the cheaper option to make sure that we were gonna make that back… and then decide what to do later,” Hayes said.  However, both she and Gamboa are proud of their product because they are able to control the size of the cookies.

Midnight Cookie Crave also only offers two types of cookies because of the same concern of being cost effective.  So far, there hasn’t been a large demand for cookies other than chocolate chip or sugar, which is why Gamboa and Hayes haven’t spent too much time experimenting with other types.  “We added cake pops to the menu, but we literally sold, like, five,” Gamboa said.

Behind the business side of baking, though, it’s easy to tell that both of them enjoy how they are spending their time.  Gamboa has even shown interest in baking outside the business; she will be shown in an upcoming episode of the popular Food Network show “Cupcake Wars”.  She is unable to comment on the episode until it is aired, but she seemed excited about it and even hopes to put something like “Baker featured on Cupcake Wars!” on Midnight Cookie Crave flyers next school year.

But prospects for next year aren’t looking so bright.  A number of things have kept Gamboa and Hayes from selling cookies for the majority of the Spring 2012 semester, including sorority involvement and illness.  “When we started in the fall, neither of us had much to do,” Gamboa said, explaining why business was better in Fall 2011.  Now, their cookie requests have fallen dramatically in number as students have caught onto the fact that there hasn’t been any baking for the past couple months.  Gamboa and Hayes have also stopped posting advertisements.

During Fall 2012, Hayes will be studying abroad in Ireland and Gamboa will be living off campus without a car, severely limiting their baking capabilities as well as their delivery system.  “But living off campus might open up more opportunities,” Gamboa said.  “And we’ll have a better oven,” Hayes added.

Despite their optimism for the future of Midnight Cookie Crave, an outsider might view the business as a one-semester attempt.  Their suitemate, first year student Samhita Tankala, still thinks her friends made a great effort, however.  After all, she was the first to buy a cookie on their first night of business.  “It’s an awesome [business] idea… and if I come up with another idea, I know it would work because they did it,” Tankala said.

Even if this business prospect doesn’t have what it takes to make it longer than one semester, ultimately Gamboa and Hayes accomplished what they set out to do: to have fun and make some dough.

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