By Kimberly Elmore
Early in Melissa McGarrigle’s entrepreneurship, she came across a Zen saying: Leap and the net shall appear. Melissa says she held to that belief and can testify to its validity. Leaving the security of corporate America to go to culinary school, Melissa says, was such a leap of faith, but the net did appear.
“In 2006, I left corporate life (software development) to follow my dream of running my own food-based business. I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh in October 2007 where I studied pastry arts,” said Melissa, who was raised in Pittsburgh (go Steelers!) and now resides in Long Valley, NJ. “I then worked at a couple of bakeries in Pittsburgh to gain practical experience in bakery production. I also used this time to decide what type of business I wanted and how and where I would have that business.”
Another motivator for Melissa to make a career change was for her health. After her doctor sent her for a cardiac stress test, she decided she needed to make some changes in her life to improve her health. So she made the changes she needed to make.
Ultimately, Melissa decided cookies would be her specialty because her cookies were very popular with friends and family and you never outgrow a good cookie! Melissa added, “You can’t be in a bad mood when you eat a cookie.”
In October 2008, just three years after she began this adventure, she leased commercial kitchen space and Cookie Crumb Productions was in business!
In November 2009, Cookie Crumb Productions opened its own bakery.
“There were many challenges, but finding the right packaging for the product I was producing was probably the most difficult aspect of starting this business. The cookies have to taste good, of course, but if the packaging isn’t appealing, people won’t try the cookies in the first place,” said Melissa. “That means the packaging is every bit as important as the cookies—I was prepared to work on the cookies, but the packaging took me by surprise!”
Melissa added that equally as challenging as the packaging is the shipping. She ships her cookies all over the world, so she needed to become well-versed in shipping. These challenges, though, are worth it because of the rewards she gets from her business.
“Without a doubt, the best part of my business is helping people celebrate events in their lives,” said Melissa. “I love designing the perfect cookie for a wedding favor, a son’s christening, or a grandmother’s 100th birthday. I love having someone ask me to ship a dozen signature cookies to someone for his or her birthday or to say thank you.”
Melissa, who has support from family and friends but runs her business solo, is motivated by living up to or exceeding her customers’expectations. Her gourmet cookies aren’t inexpensive, so she strives to make them just as her customers would want.
“I have to work at accepting I can’t do everything all the time, so I try to prioritize,” said Melissa. “I make lists, I make schedules, and I constantly adjust to changes, and I ask for help when I need it.” Cookie Crumb Productions is expanding. This past fall she held baking classes, which were very popular and brought a lot of new people into the bakery. She has been testing specialty desserts with a limited menu of order-only pastries, and if the pastries are successful there will be pastry cases with ready-made desserts available for purchase. And, of course, she will continue to expand her menu of cookies.
“I started with six flavors of signature cookies and currently bake 11 flavors. I have added whoopee pies to the menu, and offer a different flavor each month. And I’ll continue to look for new, fun cookies to offer customers,” said Melissa.
The thought of being considered an entrepreneur is still a new concept to Melissa. “Maybe when my cookies are a household name I’ll consider myself an entrepreneur. Right now, I’m just chief cook and bottle washer at my gourmet cookie company, and I love it!”
In keeping with Identity’s mission of Accept Appreciate Achieve, below are some more questions that fit in with that theme:
What have you accepted in your life that took time?
I’m not infallible and that’s okay. I can be incredibly hard on myself. I’ve finally accepted that I’ll make mistakes and I’ll forget things, but as long as I’m doing my best, that’s okay.
What do you appreciate the most in your life?
It’s such a cliché but I most appreciate my family and friends. They’ve definitely been there for me and supported all of the changes and upheaval in my life over the past few years. I wouldn’t be where I am without their support.
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life?
Culinary school. I still have to pinch myself to believe I had the strength to make this change.
What is your not-so-perfect way? I’m incredibly impatient.
Complete this phrase, “I Love My…”
I love my life. It isn’t perfect and it has its challenges, but I wouldn’t change it for anything!
Identity Sponsor, B.I.G. (Believe, Inspire, Grow) is an nationwide networking, support and education group for women entrepreneurs. Together Identity and B.I.G support women like you to make or continue your move in life. Follow your passion. You deserve to be featured and spotlighted.