Almanac

Community - April 3, 2013

Cookie company with a mission

by Kate Daly

Talk about sweet rewards. "Making a difference one cookie at a time" is the slogan and stated goal of a new Menlo Park-based company run by two young moms.

Dani Muto of Menlo Park and Heather Pietsch of San Carlos were causal acquaintances through the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church's Mothers Together group until they ran into each other at a St. Patrick's Day party last year. Pretty soon they realized they shared more in common. Both desired to get back to work in a meaningful way, and both had close family members with Alzheimer's disease.

That conversation led to a partnership built upon the company Ms. Muto had just started. The former elementary school teacher named the business Grandma Vonnie's Cookies in honor of her grandmother who died from Alzheimer's disease eight years ago. "I was just so close to her, and to see that deterioration was really hard," Ms. Muto says.

The partners say they intend to give 10 percent of the profits to the Alzheimer's Association.

Both Ms. Pietsch's grandmother and great-grandmother had Alzheimer's disease, and her father-in-law has it now.

Ms. Pietsch says she welcomed bringing her business experience to Grandma Vonnie's Cookies, now that her children are ages 6 and 8. She previously worked in marketing at Salesforce.com, where she was one of the first hires. She left to become a mother. At Grandma Vonnie's, Ms. Pietsch "runs the business side of things," says Ms. Muto, who describes herself as the one and only baker.

Ms. Muto says she wanted to recreate the good feelings and fond childhood memories she has of her grandmother baking cookies. The Vonnie, made from Lay's potato chips, white chocolate chips and pecans, is "our signature cookie that she made almost every time I went to her house," Ms. Muto adds.

She now makes eight cookie flavors, ranging from classic chocolate chip cookies and snicker-doodles to the Southern Peach with dried white peaches, walnuts and white chocolate, and the PB no J, a gluten-free peanut butter cookie.

During the predawn hours, she bakes an average of 15 dozen cookies a week in a commercial kitchen they rent from Studio Cake in Menlo Park.

They currently sell their freshly baked self-described "wholesome and hardy" cookies at two locations, Woodside Deli and Beltramo's, but their real target market is corporate clients and special events. So far the women haven't done any formal advertising, and have relied on networking and social media to help spread the word.

Over the Christmas holiday, Ms. Muto says she filled orders for 10,000 cookies. Between that and juggling her family life with two kids, ages 3 and 6, she admits, "I didn't sleep for two weeks."

Oracle was the main client that kept them busy baking, packaging, and shipping boxes across the country in December, but there are also standing orders such as Bear Data Solutions in San Francisco. The partners make personal cookie deliveries there each week. The idea is to boost employees' morale and productivity the old-fashioned way: through treats.

The cookies cost $9 for half a dozen, or $18 for a dozen, not including shipping and handling, with a 10 percent discount for orders over 10 dozen. Corporate orders with a signed three-month contract are discounted by 10 percent, as well.

Business is growing to the point where the women are looking into courier services to help with deliveries and alternative baking arrangements to handle large volume orders. Their public relations rep sees their competition as Mrs. Fields and Otis Spunkmeyer. Ms. Muto smiles when she hears this, saying, "Why not dream big?"

For now the women are focused on growing their customer base to generate a profit. After being in business for such a short time and incurring some start-up expenses, they did not make any extra money in 2012, but were pleased to donate $500 to the Alzheimer's Association and provide free cookies to team leaders and VIPs at their San Francisco and San Jose fundraising walks. Guests received cookies as favors at the Part the Cloud Alzheimer's event in Menlo Park in January.

Ms. Pietsch figures the company donated more than $3,000 in cookies to events put on by My New Red Shoes, Sacred Heart Schools, Baywood Elementary School, the Junior League and Mothers Together.

"Our focus on education, homelessness, and community outreach is very important to us," she says. "All of this makes it worth it. We can sell a wonderful product and give back in the ways that make a difference. What could be better?"

Visit grandmavonnies.com for more information.

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