INTERVIEW: COURTNEY COWAN
For our readers that are new to your business, tell us what Milk Jar Cookies is all about.
Milk Jar Cookies is my homegrown concept, built on the premise that the simple combination of delicious cookies and fresh milk could make for an unforgettable dessert experience. Our menu offerings range from classic favorites like Chocolate Chip to specialty flavors like our famous Banana Split, both of which go down smooth when paired with an ice-cold glass of milk from a local Los Angeles dairy or a mug of delicious Sightglass Coffee. At our Miracle Mile storefront in the heart of the city, we bake our cookies in small batches throughout the day to ensure they are consistently fresh and absolutely irresistible. Join us in living the sweet life, because like our motto says: “Life is short, eat cookies.”
How did you first become interested in baking, particularly cookies?
Cookies have always been my favorite dessert. When I was a kid, my mom taught me the basics of baking and how to make the Toll House cookie recipe. I quickly fell in love with the process, and my sister and I would make cookie dough whenever we had a chance. In my teens, I came up with my own chocolate chip cookie recipe and continued to tweak it over the years until I got it to what I thought was the perfect cookie.
What drove you to open your own business? When was this?
After a few years of bringing cookies to work and having them mistaken for “bakery” cookies, I realized I might have created something special. In 2005, I started experimenting with other flavors and loved it! I decided to start an online business that I did on the side, while I was still working. As the orders started coming in, I enjoyed it more and more. I loved the thought that, with each of the deliveries I made, someone’s day got little bit sweeter (pardon the pun), and the end goal quickly became to go brick and mortar. I wanted a shop where I could host these people and provide a place to enjoy a cookie and a glass of milk.
Did you have any previous professional experience in this field before starting your business?
I didn’t, but I didn’t let that stop me. Even if you don’t have experience, don’t let that deter you from going for it. Ask a ton of questions and work your ass off doing what you love.
What were your biggest concerns/insecurities about starting this venture? How did/do you overcome them?
I was very insecure about the fact that I didn’t go to pastry school or even have experience in a commercial kitchen. I found myself second-guessing my recipe and the viability of opening a shop because of this. To overcome it, I just kept making my cookies, doing a ton or research and seeking out any opportunities I could to learn about the industry. For instance, I took a few business classes through the SBA Small Business Development Center and arranged informational interviews with local bakery owners. The constant encouragement of my husband and family certainly didn’t hurt either.
What was/is your favorite go-to source that kept you inspired to follow your own path, when starting out?
My parents are a huge source of inspiration for me in everyday life and with the shop. From the first time I started talking about opening a cookie shop, they have believed in it, and me, 100%. They’ve been a constant source of advice and support through this process, and I thoroughly enjoy discussing the ups and downs of business ownership with them.
How did the idea of milk jar cookies change from the very beginning of inception to what it is now?
When I was doing the business plan, I thought the majority of our sales would come from catering and corporate orders. However, when we opened and saw how much foot traffic we were getting, we had to rethink our approach a bit. It was a really wonderful, welcome surprise.
What would you say is the greatest thing you learned about owning your own business from running Milk Jar Cookies?
I’ve learned a ton of things that pertain only to my own business, but the best thing I’ve learned which would apply to most businesses is to follow your gut. There are so many decisions to make in any given day, and whenever I’ve gone against my initial gut instinct, it’s turned into a learning experience.
What was the first ah-ha moment, when you realized that all your hard work was coming together as a reality?
I remember one night before we opened, my husband and I were at the shop really late, working on putting the decor together, and I looked around. The floor was in, the lighting fixtures were hung, and I was suddenly awe-struck and completely overwhelmed by what was surrounding me. It was truly happening. That was a pretty special moment.
What would you consider Milk Jar Cookies’ biggest accomplishment so far?
The holidays last year. Throughout the holiday season, we received our largest influx of orders to date, and the fact that we pulled it off with one oven and seven employees is something that I’m extremely proud of.
Can you think back to an unexpected setback or mistake you had to overcome when starting out? What did you learn from it?
I think our biggest setback so far was the fact that our oven was, unbeknownst to us, improperly installed. For the first several months, we struggled with it baking very unevenly and leaving some of our products unsellable. After lots of back and forth, a technician finally came out and saw that 2 very important pieces were left off. Anyway, it was very frustrating and cost us a lot of time and wasted cookies. But, now I will know for the next time, right?
Did you sense any difference in yourself from before you decided to pursue your own venture and after?
While on the one hand, I was nervous, I also noticed an inner peace that came with it. I had been trying to get myself to this mental place of being ready to take the leap for years, and I kept going back and forth between cookies and TV. Once I had finally decided that it was “Cookie Time”, I felt at peace. It really felt right. Scary, but right.
What are 3 words you would use to describe your journey in following your passion?
Challenging, Educational, and Gratifying
Where would you like to see your business 5 years from now?
In the next 5 years, I’d love to open 2 or 3 more locations and serve people of other areas. In 10 years, another 2 or 3 on top of that wouldn’t be so bad. There are several cities across the country that I, personally, adore and feel Milk Jar would thrive. At the moment, we’re nurturing this first shop, but we’ve got our sights set on growth, that’s for sure!
Tell us something about Milk Jar Cookies that most of your fans might not already know.
My husband, Adam, is responsible for our branding. He designs all of our print materials, ad campaigns, and the website. Isn’t he talented?!
What is your favorite Milk Jar Cookie?
Oh that’s so hard! I think if I have to choose, it’s always going to be my first baby – Chocolate Chip.
What advice do you have for those who are on the verge of making a bold life/career decision themselves?
Do your research and never be afraid to ask questions. If you want it, make it happen. Give it everything you have, stay true to yourself, and learn from your mistakes. You will work harder than you ever have in your life, and it won’t be easy, but it will definitely be worth it!
L.A. Lady Culture.
Favorite area of L.A.? I’m torn between the mountains and the coast, but I guess that’s the beauty of living in this city. We get them both!
Favorite restaurant in L.A.? Milo & Olive
Menu item we must try from this restaurant? The garlic knot!
Favorite L.A. weekend activities? A perfect Saturday would include going to the flower market downtown, brunch, a drive up the coast that takes us to a great hike, and a wine & cheese picnic before a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? NPR or Country music
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A. but haven’t yet? Go to a Twilight Concert at the Santa Monica Pier.
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? Going to the Santa Monica Pier and getting margaritas and guacamole at the restaurant all the way at the end.
-Courtney Cowan, of Milk Jar Cookies
Can you relate to Courtney’s story? Are you thinking about making the leap from one passion to another? Tell us about it below and share the Milk Jar Cookies story with your dessert-loving gal-pals!