Scroll down for pic of pb & j whoopie pies – my fave!
We’re at the shoot for the cover of our book today, but we have a treat for you with the second installment in our Sweet Talk series. Last month, we introduced you to Kate Sullivan. Today, it is Marisa Angebranndt of WannaHavaCookie. We’ve worked with Marisa for a few years and she is as sweet as the delicious treats she makes.
1. YOUR STORY IS VERY INTERESTING. TELL US HOW YOU GOT STARTED IN THE BAKERY BUSINESS.
Whether following my grandmother around the kitchen when I was little, or mixing up batches of chocolate chip cookies with my best friend in high school, baking has always been a source of joy and comfort for me. I suppose it was a natural progression to create gift boxes for friends after college, but at the time I thought I’d hit the jackpot! Here was a personal gift that I enjoyed making, delivering, and best yet – that my friends loved receiving. (Of course, there was a side benefit that baking a few batches of cookies could serve as gifts for an entire office of people – a truly cost-effective strategy for someone in their first post-college employment!)
Those cookie boxes quickly became my signature holiday gift, and later on my husband’s friends and colleagues were added to our growing list of goodie-receivers. Then came the Moment of Truth. I worked for a hedge fund that was closing down, and I had a choice: look for a similar position, or take a risk and attempt to create a business from my hobby. With the monumental support of my wonderful husband, we funneled my severance package into the first startup capital for WannaHavaCookie Inc.
2. WHAT TYPES OF DESSERTS DO YOU SELL?
We sell cookies, bars and whoopie pies – though not necessarily in that order! When I started WannaHavaCookie, I was positive that my chocolate chip cookie was going to take the world by storm – I’d spent years perfecting just the right mix of ingredients, and it’s still the best-selling cookie in my recipe box. However, 2008 saw the resurgence of a food trend: the whoopie pie. I already offered a family recipe for chocolate whoopie pies with a twist: instead of marshmallow, I used handmade buttercream fillings. And I went for portion-control: my whoopie pies were big enough to be a treat, and small enough to enjoy without the “ball-of-lead” stomach. My whoopies started gaining loyal followers, and soon I’d expanded my line to include several flavors. In 2010, I introduced seasonal whoopie pies, and now have about 30 different rotating flavors, including my most recent summer flavor: Orange Creamsicle. I also introduced mini whoopie pies for custom orders. These bite-size morsels are perfect for events, as Amy Atlas knows! Amy has used my minis for several of her gorgeous dessert tables, and I’m always so proud that WannaHavaCookie can be a part of her amazing displays.
3. WHY DO YOU THINK THERE HAS BEEN SUCH A RESURGENCE IN WHOOPIE PIES?
The whoopie pie is what nostalgia is all about, but in a grown-up and sophisticated package. There’s something great about finding a dessert that’s easy to eat and yet still evokes the sticky fingers and frosting-covered face of being a kid. I think the whoopie pie is the culmination of everything we love about dessert, all wrapped up in a portable, shippable package. It has a lovely tender crumb, for the adult in us who loves classic layer cakes. It has a smooth, sweet filling, for the kid in us who wants to eat the frosting first. Eating one just makes you smile.
4. YOU “SHARE” A KITCHEN WITH OTHER BAKERS. CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT?
In order to run a food business, I needed a kitchen that was health-code-approved. Building my own was impossibly expensive, so I looked for a space to rent and found much more than just a kitchen. The Entrepreneur’s Space (TES) in nearby Queens is a support system for emerging businesses, particularly those in the food industry. TES runs a kitchen-for-hire, or an incubator kitchen. The concept is simple: I rent a kitchen shift from TES to use their commercial kitchen, and in exchange, TES handles all the logistics including machinery, utilities, deliveries and storage. The shared kitchen means I can afford to produce my own treats in an existing space, with the support of experienced staff that will recommend what permits I need to operate my business correctly. It also means I get to meet bakers, caterers, bread bakers, confectioners and more – all depending on what shift I request!
5. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I get inspired by brainstorming with my husband Mark. We’re both fascinated by the idea of translating great flavors from food into desserts. My ToffeeMills cookie (Mark’s favorite), is a perfect example. Mark enjoys whiskey, and one day I made some cookies with bits of toffee instead of chocolate chips. The cookie paired so well with his whiskey that he wondered aloud if there was a way to combine the two. Several weeks of testing later, I had it: a soft, chewy cookie with toffee chips and a real shot of genuine Bushmills Irish whiskey in the batter. The ToffeeMills was born!
My PB &J whoopie pie was also the brainchild of many discussions. How could I create the flavor of a grade school lunchbox staple into a handheld treat? Months of testing yielded a scrumptious answer: chopped peanuts in a soft, peanut butter cookie baked until just golden, with a generous dollop of raspberry buttercream smack in the center. Yum. (FYI, those are available online from July-October). We’re working on a cappuccino whoopie pie next. Let me know if you have any suggestions!
6. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FLAVOR WHOOPIE PIE?
I must confess I usually opt for savory snacks these days (I always joke that losing weight is easy when you’re around sugar all day – you never want any!), but if I do crave anything, I go for decadence: a double chocolate whoopie pie. Rich, tender succulent chocolate cookie with a smooth, saturated deep chocolate buttercream in the middle. It’s always been my personal favorite.
7. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
Allow me to qualify by saying that while the following is not my favorite moment, it is by far my most unforgettable one: After just 1 ½ years in business, WannaHavaCookie was chosen to be in Real Simple Magazine’s 2009 Holiday Gift Guide! Not only were we in the magazine, we were the first photo of the gift guide online, and the first photo to appear within the gift guide print edition. What a rush! Of course, the six weeks of literally 20-hour days that followed were rather terrifying… So I will never, ever forget Real Simple. But I would definitely most rather forget the ensuing craziness!
I will say that my favorite moment continues to evolve. Whenever I get an email or a phone call from a happy customer, my entire reason for starting WannaHavaCookie comes into focus. I bake because it makes me happy. By extending that passion into a business, I get to be a part of what makes others happy. Giving people a reason to laugh together, to share a treat and enjoy a moment – that’s what makes it all worthwhile. Even the 20-hour days…mostly!
8. WHERE CAN PEOPLE GO TO BUY YOUR SWEET TREATS?
All of my whoopie pies, cookies and bars are available online at www.wannahavacookie.com. I’m also starting to branch out into select coffee shops in the NY Metro area, so please check in with these stores if you’ve got an immediate craving:
Café Angelique, 317 Bleecker Street, NYC
Lafayette Espresso Bar, 189 Lafayette Street, NYC
Showbiz Store & Café, 19 West 21st Street, NYC
Wicked Spoon Yogurt, 321 9th Street, Brooklyn
If you think your neighborhood coffee shop is a fit for our product, please email me at [email protected], and we’ll follow up!