Craig’s Cookies playing with holiday flavours and nostalgia
Posted on December 14, 2021 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments
Craig Pike, namesake owner of Craig’s Cookies, says it should come as no surprise to hear his specialized bakeries tend to see some of their highest demand for cookies this time of year. The shops are a popular stop-in for people out with friends and family during holiday visits; there’s purchases of cookies as gifts, for holiday parties or for personal enjoyment after a dinner or when a tree goes up. And of course, in many homes, a few cookies for Santa never go astray.
But not everyone who opts for Craig’s Cookies instead of baking themselves will know that the inspiration for the cookie they’re enjoying comes from Pike’s own childhood holiday seasons in St. John’s.
“My mom definitely made chocolate chip cookies every Christmas and it was definitely my favourite, and a lot of peoples’ favourite. It’s my mom’s recipe that I use. So that definitely has a warm spot in my heart,” he recently told Atlantic Business Magazine.
“I think for a lot of Newfoundlanders the holidays and family and cooking go hand in hand. (…) My early memories of baked goods are definitely around Christmas, going to my aunt’s house, going to my grandparent’s house, having cookies, having shortbread, having fruit cake, having figgy duff.”
Pike moved from Newfoundland and Labrador to Ontario in 2004 for theatre school (he is an actor and musician). He started in Toronto and would go on to work at Niagara On The Lake with the Shaw Festival in 2009. In 2013 he moved back to Toronto. “I found myself without work for about a month in the Arts and I needed to pay my Rogers bill and my rent, so I started selling cookies,” he recalls.
Back then, he’d bake the cookies at his apartment in Parkdale and then hop on his bike to make deliveries around the city. It started as deliveries to friends for a little return and, as Pike puts it, “the word got out.”
He continued for years, building a customer base largely by word of mouth and one bag of cookies at a time. Continuing to grow, he believes his company became one of the first food-focused companies in Toronto to actively embrace Instagram for marketing and promoting sales. Pike opened the first Craig’s Cookies shop eight years after the start of his bike deliveries, in Parkdale. Additional locations were then opened around Toronto through the pandemic in The Village, Leaside, Leslieville and then the Yorkdale Mall.
The latest opening for Craig’s Cookies was November 2021 in downtown St. John’s, where Pike said he wanted to bring the business and all its flavours, including his mom’s cookies, back home and let everyone see what he’d been up to, in addition to his work in the Arts.
“It also selfishly gives me a really great excuse to come home,” he said, having just returned to Toronto after a trip home for the launch.
The business isn’t a franchise operation and the growth has been based on Pike’s own interest and drive. Lessons learned from past experiences make new shops easier to launch.
Pike is up front on the fact he had no prior business experience before the first Craig’s Cookies. In fact, he says it’s likely the reason the business exists at all. He says he had no business plan and was naïve about the real dollars and cents it would take to launch, until after he signed his first lease. “Through the jigs and the reels, over the next two months I realized I actually needed $70,000 or $80,000. Had I done the homework before I signed the lease, I would have never signed the lease and then there would be no Craig’s Cookies,” he said.
He’s learned a lot since then. At the same time, he took away a positive lesson that business can’t always be about the planning and following the analysis on what is expected to work and what is not. In his case, he suggested a lot of things have factored into his success to date and the recent growth in the company. It includes the benefits paid to workers (as of Jan. 1, store staff start at a wage of $18 an hour, for example), the features intentionally draw out nostalgia like the smell of cookies and wood floors, and what he refers to as “the ethos” infused into the business, being one of inclusivity. “I’m a queer business owner, so making sure that everyone that comes to the door—whether you’re straight, gay, black, white—everybody’s welcome. Everybody deserves a cookie,” he said.
Pike’s mother’s chocolate chip cookie dough is baked up on its own but is also often a base for the more experimental cookie varieties all Craig’s Cookies regulars have come to expect. Over the holidays, visitors in St. John’s can expect to see some cookies with holiday M&Ms, some with Terry’s Orange chocolate tucked in, or White Christmas cookies being cookies and cream mix with a touch of candy cane (“a little flare of mint”). And the company is testing new flavours all the time, Pike added. And in St. John’s the shop is still new enough guests might just believe it if you tell them you baked them up yourself.
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