That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

There’s nothing quite so mouthwatering as the smell of freshly baked cookies, especially when they’re made with butter and love.

We’ve stopped in for a decadent cookie tasting at the worldwide headquarters of Elm Hill Cookies on Kerr Street in Oakville. Okay, so it’s a tiny shop that you could almost drive by if you didn’t know it was there. But, mark my words: It’s not a well-kept secret for us Oakville locals.

How sweet it is
With bestsellers such as Pumpkin Whoopie Pie, the Kerr Street and 20–30 other flavours in the showcase each morning, it’s no wonder Elm Hill draws a crowd of passionate regular customers from near and far. Luckily, cookie connoisseurs can even find branded mini-bite cello-packed cookies at Holt Renfrew and Pusateri’s. Elm Hill’s trademark “square” cookies, marketed with the clever “no corners cut” slogan, are what owner Janis Smith calls “a special treat.” While her promise is to use the very best ingredients, there’s no doubt about it… these cookies are divine but decadent.

A recipe for success
So here’s the inside scoop on Smith’s journey as she tells it. After 16 years as a stay-at-home mum for her twins, Smith decided to take the pastry chef course at George Brown College and give birth again. This time, however, against the advice of friends and family, it was to a specialty retail cookie business. “I saw a gap in the bakery marketplace for a really good cookie that you could select and enjoy, one at a time. I went with my gut and then spent time creating a very good plan and great recipes. For me it was, and still is, all about focusing on one thing and doing it really, really well.

The right ingredients
“Because I was the first in my family to become an entrepreneur, I had to battle the skeptics and, of course, go through a huge learning curve. I was good at the creative side but I had little experience of the business side of things, which I’ve actually now come to enjoy.” Smith doesn’t get much time to bake anymore, although she still develops new recipes, leaving the day-to-day production to her in-shop team. Yet she’s just as passionate as the day she opened her shop seven years ago. The wholesale and corporate sides of the business have grown like Topsy. Smith tells us that clients love to gift her cookie platters and custom glass cookie jars. They include a mouthwatering assortment of cookies fit for a king. And the festive season gets better each year, with the bakers baking round the clock for three busy weeks.

One smart cookie
But, when all is said and done, Smith tells us her heart is still on the retail side. “I miss rolling up my sleeves in the morning and baking with our bakers and savouring that addictive smell of freshly baked cookies. Every day I get some cookie love, when I get behind the counter and spend time with my customers. That’s my recipe for happiness.

Doug Eglington is a South African who sells European appliances to Canadians.

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