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Naming your bakery Best Damn Cookies is a bold move, but Chef Dave Dreyfus, co-owner and head baker at Best Damn Cookies in New York City, has the credentials to back it up. A former chef at the Michelin 3-star restaurant The French Laundry, Dave shifted focus from gourmet cooking to baking cookies during the pandemic. At first, cookies were a way to cope and connect with others: He had lost his position as a private chef and wanted to help his friends and family find happiness during a dark period.
Given Dave’s fine-dining background, these weren’t just any cookies—they featured ingredients like cardamom, nori, and roasted corn, to name a few. And once Dave started posting about them on social media, business took off. “I thought I would sell five, and I ended up selling a couple hundred,” Dave said.
One of his earliest customers was Mo Sahoo, who bought a dozen of Dave’s cookies and was so inspired by the flavors that he asked Dave to go into business together—even going so far as to create a logo and a Google form to collect orders.
“People are always asking us, ‘Did you intend for this to happen?'” Mo said. “And the answer’s: Definitely not. We had no idea what we were doing. He knew how to make cookies. I knew how to market stuff. After that, it was [all about] learning lessons.”
Their ability to learn on the job—even if it meant making mistakes—is one of the keys to their success, according to Mo. Being new to the baking business also meant that the duo was unafraid to ask for help, which led to collaborations and partnerships that are foundational to the spirit of Best Damn Cookies. “People really want to help you, and that’s how you actually forge closer friendships and closer connections, especially in the business owner industry,” Mo said.
For example, when Dave and Mo were just starting out in 2020, they baked cookies out of an upscale Mexican restaurant, Sobre Masa. This partnership not only gave them the kitchen spaces they needed to grow the business, but it also inspired them to incorporate flavors from Sobre Masa owners Diana and Zack Wangeman’s own background, growing up in Oaxaca, Mexico.
After consulting with Diana and Zack, Dave created one of his signature cookies in their honor: the pinola cookie, featuring roasted corn, canela, chile de arbol, and mango. “We would not exist if [Diana and Zack] personally had not sacrificed to let us be there. That cookie is made with love for [them] and [their] culture,” Mo shared.
This process became the blueprint for a future of partnership at Best Damn Cookies, which is baked into their menu and their marketing. “When we talk about [our menu], it’s important for us to talk about [the people behind it] specifically,” Mo said. “Every cookie we made, every story we told, we talked to the person [who inspired us] first. We asked them, ‘Hey, what do you want to say? What is important about your culture?’ And then we really tried to do something towards that.”
However, not all partnerships will be right for your business—something Dave and Mo learned early on. As a fledgling company, they had an opportunity to collaborate with a big-name, international juice company, but logistically, Best Damn Cookies wasn’t prepared for that kind of rapid and wide-spread expansion. Recognizing the limitations of your business is just as important as realizing its potential.
“We talk about the beauty of collaboration, and it’s wonderful, but making sure you’re doing it at the opportune moment and that it benefits both parties has been a big lesson to us. Intention is amazing, but you have to execute that intention. Not every good opportunity is the right opportunity,” Dave said.
Another aspect of the business where they’re constantly learning is their branding—from their storytelling to their social media. Mo has taken several approaches to Best Damn Cookie’s social media over the years, finding that he gets the most engagement when he balances a hard sell with telling stories of the people and flavors who inspire them.
Mo and Dave also extended this approach to the bakery’s decor and the presentation of its goods. At their brick and mortar in Essex Market, Best Damn Cookie displays some of its unique ingredients in the showcase, such as the heirloom corn or chile de arbol. “It’ll make you think of the ingredients that are going into the cookies,” said Yelp’s Brooklyn Community Manager and Yelp Elite reviewer Morlene C.
While Best Damn Cookies has become well-known in New York City for its bold name and purple logo, Dave and Mo know not every customer will agree with the moniker. When reviewers suggest they’ve had better cookies elsewhere, the co-owners remind themselves not to take it too personally.
“Someone left a bad review saying that our shortbread cookie was ‘a buttery gingery explosion in your mouth, and I hate it,'” Dave said. “That’s exactly what I wanted it to be! I wanted it to be like a buttery ginger explosion in your mouth. You understand what we’re doing, and you just don’t like it. And that’s fine.”
The two respond to each and every review but also maintain a good sense of humor in the face of criticism.
“There were two people who left us a review on the same day. One said, ‘Why is there so much chocolate in this cookie? Gross!’ And then another person said, ‘There’s not enough chocolate in this cookie. Gross!'” Dave said. “And I just wanted to connect them and they could cut each cookie in half and they could share.”
Some additional lessons shared by Dave and Mo that you might apply to your small business include:
- Social media messaging is more successful when you play to your strengths. Trying to be someone you aren’t, even as a business owner, will be obvious to your customers. Showing your authentic self is key.
- When hiring, start by setting an example of the atmosphere you want in your business. In a customer service position, Mo feels if you hire genuinely kind people for your business, and you yourself model that kindness, it will bloom under your example.
- Have an employee training plan in place before hiring. No matter how talented the new employee might be, they will need to learn your processes and procedures from someone knowledgeable. Take the guesswork out of the equation.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Mo, Dave, and Morlene, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.