Mail: P.O. Box 268
Angwin, CA 94508
|Everything Cookies: Now a Staple|
|Written by Lainey S. Cronk|
|Monday, 03 January 2011 22:14|
It's a December evening and four Napa Valley teenagers are baking over a hundred huge, golden cookies in a commercial kitchen. They're measuring (some have the recipe memorized), mixing, scooping, cleaning up, and packaging dozens of Everything Cookies.
The next day the four teens and their "boss," long-time Valley resident Tami McDonald, take the cookies to the Lighted Tractor Parade in Calistoga, where they set up in front of Zenobia — and completely sell out their cookies.
Bringing Everything Cookies to the parade was Zenobia proprietor Lisa Johnston's idea, one she came up with the day before when McDonald visited the shop with a batch of samples. Johnston became an instant advocate, handing the samples to customers and the UPS man and promoting the Cookie's story.
That story started with McDonald and the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center (NVYAC). McDonald developed the Everything Cookie recipe and started holding baking sessions with NVYAC teenagers. They sold cookies for resale to venues ranging from Dean & Deluca to the Chevron station in Angwin, and McDonald tried to help the teens view it as a small business project. In addition to baking and kitchen skills, the teens were expected to learn the basics of accounting, and marketing and to practice good work ethic.
This year, the project keeps growing. More teens got involved; an anonymous grant provided supportive funds; and NVYAC volunteer coordinator Jess Smith and business major Shaina Hasso joined the baking effort. Together, they provide many lessons and opportunities to the teens. "We have all kinds of kids," says McDonald, who can talk about the struggles and strengths of each teen as if they were her own children. The project is a learning and growing process for each of them, with ups and downs. Schoolwork, low self-confidence, or holidays can interfere with the baking schedule, but McDonald sees the teens growing "on so many levels," everything from how to measure flour to time management to learning how to accept constructive criticism without taking it as a blow to the self-esteem.
People have responded with great warmth to this part of the project, a response McDonald hadn't realized would be so strong. "When they find out that the kids are doing the work — that they bake the cookies, package the cookies, sweep the floor, write the receipts — when they get that, then they get behind us 600 percent," McDonald says. "People view teens as lazy, selfish. When they see the kids doing this, it's a big win for everyone."
This could even mean some economic opportunities for students in the future. At the Calistoga parade, the proprietor of the new Calistoga Village Bakery came by and said, "You guys really made these cookies? When you get a little older, come see me. I might have work for you!"
In the meantime, the Everything Cookie is apparently becoming a Napa Valley staple. This winter has brought new connections in Calistoga and Howell Mountain, beginning with Zenobia and Johnston insisting on returning all cookie profits to NVYAC. A Man's Store and Mud Puddles, both also on main street Calistoga, quickly followed suit. At the same time, a contact between McDonald and Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association started another chain of connections. HMV&GA executive director Claudia Chittim was the first to get excited about the project and order cookies, quickly followed by Kathy Dotzler of Outpost Winery — and then Charles Krug winery ordered cookies for their 150th anniversary party.
The influx of orders is both exciting and a little stressful for McDonald, who says the project absolutely cannot expand any further unless they get a commercial mixer. The teens, however, are just plain delighted. "I think it's encouraging!" says student Jordan Penner. "We've got a lot more people coming in to help, and I'm glad that more people are wanting the cookies." He likes seeing the customer response when he delivers cookies: "People are going crazy over them!"
So growing fame is partly due to the deliciousness of the cookie itself and partly due to the value people see in a project like this for young people. "I think what makes this project so wonderful is simply that it is fun," says NVYAC volunteer coordinator Jess Smith. "Who doesn't like a cookie? And when it is benefiting a good cause and tastes great to boot, it is easy to begin capturing peoples' hearts — or stomachs."
"These kids know what it takes to make the perfect cookie," says Angwin resident Sharon Christensen, who spent some time with the project. "Every time a batch of large, toasty brown, fragrant oatmeal cookies comes out of the oven they know they did it — they made it happen."