Entrepreneurs spread cookie love
Daddy’s Dough owners start business at request of daughter and now are seeking commercial licensure.
The mom-and-pop operators behind Daddy’s Dough say cookies are a universal language, and they are getting fluent.
When MarcQus Wright first started baking cookies a few years ago, he took a batch to work and got an enthusiastic reaction from his co-workers — but he wondered if, perhaps, they were just being polite.
When he made some for his family, his daughter told him to start selling that sugar.
“It’s one thing to give them to your co-workers, but when I gave them to my family, I knew they would not lie,” he said, chuckling.
MarcQus Wright and his wife Tawanna Wright launched Daddy’s Dough LLC in October 2015.
The Wrights have developed more than 30 cookie recipes to date. Their top sellers include The Beauty (chocolate, toffee and pecan); The Beast (butterscotch, coconut and walnut); and The Summer Breeze (lemon and coconut), as well as oatmeal cranberry, carrot cake and snickerdoodle varieties.
They’ve developed a public presence selling cookies at farmers markets, Local First’s Fork Fest, the Bridal Show & Wedding Expo at DeVos Place, the Grandville Fourth of July Celebration and the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) Market.
Often, they’ve either provided cookies at cost or donated them to organizations such as Girls on the Run of Kent & Muskegon Counties, KConnect, Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids/Gilda’s LaughFest, the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit and Rock the Runway.
The business started as a side venture while they worked full-time jobs — he as director of TRiO Student Support Services at Grand Valley State University, where he’s been working with first-generation college students for 13 years, and she as an attorney with a solo estate planning, trademark and copyright law practice.
But MarcQus Wright is wrapping up his last week at GVSU so he can focus on growing the business full time.
The rising popularity of Daddy’s Dough means it is poised to outgrow Michigan’s cottage food law, which allows a business to operate in an unlicensed residential kitchen as long as the operation generates less than $25,000 per year in gross sales revenue.
“It has worked up to this point, but it’s becoming a capacity issue,” MarcQus Wright said. “We made 500 cookies in our kitchen for the Neighborhood Summit (in March). We have one oven and a couple mixers.”
Tawanna Wright will continue operating the business side, while MarcQus Wright plans to throw his energy into production and obtaining commercial food licensure through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
He said the most complex part of being licensed is the labeling process. In order to be approved by MDARD, a label needs to accurately list ingredients, the weight of the cookie or cookies, the name and address of the establishment, and other details consumers are used to seeing on the back of packaging.
“Then, someone from MDARD, they have to come see your process, and the kitchen you are in has to be licensed,” MarcQus Wright said.
Before any of this can happen, the business owners have to secure a lease agreement for a commercial kitchen space. The Wrights are looking at venues such as the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, Celebration Cinema! and other large operations with kitchen space for rent.
“The biggest part is, if you rent space in a commercial kitchen, you won’t have access to the kitchen all the time; you’re working around others who want to have that space,” MarcQus Wright said.
The pair said someday they plan to get their own space and then scheduling will be autonomous.
“If we have our own space where we can access the kitchen whenever we want, (we can) make 1,000 cookies in two days,” MarcQus Wright said.
He noted another factor to weigh is whether to keep growing the business as a solely production-based model with online and wholesale commerce, or whether they want to evolve into a retail bakery model.
“Do you create a space that’s a factory, or where you’re producing stuff but people can also walk in and say, ‘I want this, this and this’? Sometimes, people don’t know they want cookies until they see them,” MarcQus Wright said.
Tawanna Wright said one of the biggest insights she has gained on the business side during the past couple years is how important it is to listen to customer feedback.
“When we started, we weren’t thinking about vegan or gluten-free. Now, we do. And we are getting people asking about sugar-free, so we are working on a sugar-free cookie. But we can’t roll it out until it tastes just as good as the others,” she said.
Her husband agreed, noting The Summer Breeze cookie recipe idea came from a customer suggestion.
“We want to be ‘cookies for everybody,’” he said. “You’re diabetic? Here’s a cookie for you. You’re celiac? Here’s a cookie for you.”
The Wrights said cottage law prevents them from enabling direct cookie ordering online, but people can use the contact form on their website, daddysdough.com, to start a dialogue about placing an order.
They also have signed agreements to start selling cookies at the Grand Rapids Public Museum café in the near future, as well as at the Meijer-owned Bridge Street Market when it opens in August.