Judith Moore: Founder of Charleston Cookie Co.
Q: What do you like about cookies?
A: I've always baked cookies ever since I was a child when my mother had to boot me out of the kitchen so she could make dinner. Later in life, I baked cookies at Christmas like a fiend, giving them as presents to friends and family. Cookies are a gift of love and, very often, of memories of childhood when life was simpler. And a really good cookie can bring a smile to someone's face.
Q: What varieties of cookies does Charleston Cookie Co. make?
A: Lots. Your basic chocolate chip, pecan chocolate chip (our signature cookie), oatmeal golden raisin, double fudge chip, and several more -- like maybe eight. Some we rotate out seasonally to bring variety to our lineup. For Christmas, we have a special white chocolate cranberry cookie that's pretty and enormously popular.
We also bake brownies in four flavors with a special candy cane holiday brownie. It's dark chocolate (obviously) with peppermint swirled throughout.
Q: If you could eat only one type, which would it be?
A: Our peanut butter cookie is sneaking up as my fave lately. It's pretty tasty.
Q: You officially launched your company in 2003. What has changed since then?
A: When I first started, I thought
I was just opening a cookie company. After about a year, I realized that we were running a gift company, and the gifts happened to be some seriously good cookies. The majority of our sales were to people sending cookies to friends and family for birthdays, to say "thanks" or "feel better" or just to express love.
In the past year, in response to the economic situation and also just to grow the company, we began shifting to a great deal more wholesale: to food service and to Piggly Wiggly.
We are seeking to expand sales of unbaked, frozen cookies to undergird the retail, direct-to-consumer (gift) revenue until that segment of our business recovers as the economy does. At that time, we will be poised to grow the company in both the retail and wholesale sectors of our business.
Q: You enjoy helping people who want to start their own businesses. What is your No. 1 piece of advice for them?
A: Honestly assess your ability to deal with risk. If you are not by nature a risk-taker, don't quit your day job. Doesn't mean you shouldn't follow your dream, just don't invest your life savings in it until you're reasonably sure you've got a shot at success. And for pity's sake, DO make up a business plan. Trying to start a business without a plan is foolhardy.
Q: You recently had to recall one of your products. What happened?
A: We private-label cookies for Dean & Deluca under their Americana Collection brand sold via their Web site and in their catalog, and have done so for four years.
All food manufacturers selling product across state lines are routinely inspected by the FDA. During a recent inspection, we happened to be packing for Dean & Deluca. The inspector scrutinized our production with a fine-tooth comb and discovered that one of the labels on one of the six flavors of cookies we make had butter omitted from the ingredients list. It was a typo, and we never noticed it until the inspector was here.
The quality of the cookies was not affected, but it was a nightmare for us because we take painstaking care to make sure our cookies and brownies meet a high standard of excellence, and we were devastated by the incident. It is one of those life lessons that you have to look back on and chalk up as experience, take a deep breath and move on.
Fortunately, it was only a labeling issue. You may rest assured that we have very, very carefully inspected the rest of our labels.
Q: How many cookies will you make between now and Christmas?
A: Wow. That's a toughie. We just finished two orders for Dean & Deluca for about 8,000 dozen cookies (down from previous years). So going on from there, we're expecting to do at least that many again for our corporate customers and to customers purchasing cookies through our Web site for the holidays.
Q: What makes you happy (besides cookies)?
A: This sounds corny as all get-out, but when I see a rainbow, I go nuts. It's the little things like rainbows in life that are small surprises that just make me grin from ear to ear.
Oh, and fireworks. I think fireworks are magic, and I will never, ever grow too old to experience the joy of seeing them. And, of course, there's my daughter and grandboys. And really good friends. Life would be a sad place without girlfriends.
Q: What do you think is the most important ingredient for success?
A: Interestingly enough, moxie. That fits perfectly.
I recently heard a quote that pretty much summarizes my philosophy: "The game isn't over until I win."
Which, for me translates into don't quit. Things may get tough, and they certainly have this year, but if you really believe in your dream and there are enough others whose opinions you trust who agree with you, just keep on keepin' on until you make it.
Q: MSNBC filmed you Monday for an upcoming episode of "Your Business." What was that like?
A: Fun! They spent most of the day here taping our entire process and ate a whole bunch of cookies!
Q: And when will the show air?
A: They're saying some time after the first of the year. Stay tuned!