Why I Left the Fashion Industry to Bake Cookies
After 12 years of working for Bulgari, I knew it was time to do something a little more grounded and something that would connect me more to my community in San Francisco, so I opened up a cookie shop, Cookie Love.
Cookies are timeless.
I've always been a huge cookie fan and I've always loved to bake cookies. When I first got out of college, I wanted to start a cookie dough company. Then I got a real job working for Bulgari, so there went that idea. I worked with them for more than 12 years, but I knew it was time to do something a little more grounded and something that would connect me more to my community in San Francisco, so I opened up a cookie shop, Cookie Love.
Cookies just have this way to automatically uplift you. Whenever people come into the shop, they always leave happier than when they entered. Cookies are not a trendy item. I don't think they ever will be. There is just a strong sense of nostalgia and positive associations with cookies. One of my strongest memories is baking cookies with my mom as a kid and then waiting until my she was done mixing so I could lick all the dough off the hooks. This is a memory that other people also have. I grew up around Mrs. Fields, but she is tired, old, and boring.
I was initially inspired by Hot Cookie. I lived near that place for seven years and I have nothing but good things to say about their stuff, but I knew I could build something completely different, something a little more experimental, so I did a ton of baking and experimented with different cookies. I would take them to bars at first to get people to try them and give me their feedback. I'm big on texture, so I don't like cakey cookies. Some cookies—especially the ones with fruit in them—tend to end up being like muffin tops. Although the most popular cookies at Cookie Love are still chocolate chip and a s'more-like one I call "campfire cookies," my current favorites are the milk chocolate blueberry, the lavender white chocolate, and a matcha white chocolate one. My newest cookie is a butterscotch banana one, which took a while to perfect but is definitely as good as it sounds.
The process of turning cookie-baking into a full-scale brick-and-mortar business was very educational, to say the least. I'm not a professional baker and I don't claim to be one. I can't bake a cake. I just bake cookies. I didn't have any experience in the food industry at all, but something told me that I could do it if I tried. I learned basic baking things, like knowing that it was better to use ground vanilla bean over vanilla extract, along the way. I also didn't know anything about the technical side, like zoning, change-of-use permits, and that in order to get approval from the health department, your restaurant has to have light-reflective paint. I also learned about electrical requirements in buildings, and that you can't just plug in an industrial oven and start baking.
I feel ridiculous admitting challenges like this now, but I didn't have anybody help me much. Nonetheless, I wasn't afraid of working hard and making these mistakes. You are constantly learning things in this industry, which is one of the biggest reasons why I left my previous job. There wasn't anything new, interesting, challenging, or different to learn anymore. As a small business owner, I can assure you will never have to worry about that happening anymore.
As told to Javier Cabral
Erika Olsen is the owner and baker of Cookie Love in San Francisco. For more information on her insanely delicious flavors, visit the bakery's website.