Craig Pike Discusses How He Founded Craig’s Cookies and Plans for Expansion [Video Interview]

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Craig Patterson sits down with Craig Pike of Craig’s Cookies. They discuss how Pike got started, how the business grew into multiple stores, and how he’s planning to expand the business under a new franchise model. 

A transcript of the conversation can be found below.

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Transcription

Craig Patterson 0:03
Welcome to the Retail Insider Video Series. I’m your host, Craig Patterson, and we’re joined here today with a special guest. This is Craig Pike. He’s the founder of Craig’s Cookies, which has a few locations primarily in Toronto as well as I think now in Newfoundland?

Craig Pike 0:17
Yeah, we have a location in St. John’s.

Craig Patterson 0:20
St. John’s, Newfoundland, where you’re from welcome, Craig.

Craig Pike 0:23
Oh, thanks for having me. Greg.

Craig Patterson 0:25
Tell us how you got started. Because I think you’re from Newfoundland originally, is that correct?

Craig Pike 0:29
I am, I was born and raised in St. John’s. I moved to Toronto in 2004. To go to theater school, I went to George Brown. After I graduated, I was working in the city doing independent theater. I ended up working at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I was there for four seasons. And then I moved back to the city in 2012. And in 2013, I was working at a restaurant downtown and they fired everybody. And I had a month off of work, and I needed to pay my phone bill. So I thought I would sell cookies for fun. And I hopped on Facebook and Instagram and at the time, Facebook and Instagram were relatively new and definitely no one was even marketing on Instagram. So I thought it would be a really great free tool to be able to get the word out about this pimped out bake sale that I was starting. And in a month I sold 200 dozen chocolate chip cookies, delivering them on my bike around the city and I went away, did some theater, came back and started selling cookies again while I was bartending and acting. Did that for about five years. In 2018, I opened my first location in Parkdale and now we have five locations across the GTA as well as you said, in St. John’s Newfoundland.

Craig Patterson 1:51
Holy cow, can you take us through a timeline of when these stores opened? Parkdale obviously was the first one I think was Church Street the second?

Craig Pike 1:58
Absolutely, yeah. So technically, for the first four years starting in 2013, I was selling cookies on my bike, but also doing flea markets in the city (Parkdale flea, the Bellwoods flea) and I would literally sell cookies on the side of the road on a sidewalk. I’d wake up at midnight or one of the morning, bake a dozen cookies every eight minutes, do that for seven hours, put them all into Zip-lock bags, went and sold them for six hours and then I would head home. So I did it for about four years.

Craig Pike 2:30
And then in 2017, I was approached by EnRoute magazine (which is a magazine that Air Canada used to offer) and they put me onto the cover as a cookie company story that we’re doing. They matched me up with a Montreal-based cookie store. That kind of opened up a business to more of a Bay Street crowd. Before then it was definitely friends and family delivering cookies to people’s homes and neighborhoods. Now I noticed (starting in 2017, after this article came out with EnRoute) I was doing a lot more corporate gigs, catering, and business work. So that led to a relationship with William Sonoma. They reached out and asked if I would do a pop-up shop. So I went in and I made some cookies and got up at one in the morning and the whole dozen every eight minutes and went up to Yorkdale Mall. And we sold that I think in like two hours. They asked me back a month later. William Sonoma, I’m not really sure if you or your listeners know, but they had little kitchens inside of their locations. So I thought, well, this is a great opportunity that I can actually bake on-site and not have to wake up one morning. Still, they were totally on board with that. So the next time I came back, I just bought my ingredients and baked on site and the smell of the freshly baked cookies wafted into the mall. So people were coming in asking “What’s that smell?”. We sold a bunch of cookies, but also William Sonoma was selling products as a result as well. So they saw a really great opportunity and invited me to be part of a six month permanent pop up shop.

Craig Pike 4:14
So in November of 2017, I took a huge risk and they rented me this little like 6×3 foot space where I could put two little Breville ovens, a mixer and a cutting board and sell cookies there. And it got to a point where after two months, we were doing really, really well but I was also rehearsing a play. I also conduct a choir called ‘Backfire’ in the city and I just was burnt out. I couldn’t I couldn’t keep up with it. I almost stopped “Craig’s Cookies” because it’s not necessarily my passion. The Arts is really where my passion is. And then this space became available in Parkdale. It was 300 square feet. I’d always thought that I was going to open something I want it to be small to feel like you’re going into your grandmother’s kitchen to grab a cookie. So when I looked at it, and I thought it was perfect. The landlord, you know, didn’t necessarily need much background checks based on his integrity, but that’s a whole another story. So between the jigs and reels, you know, I have $4,000 in my bank, I gave my bank draft, and I gave him all of my money first and last month’s rent. And I thought I could just open a cookie shop. And very quickly, I learned that it would be a lot more than just $4,000 to open a business in Toronto. So I was able to start an online fundraiser, somebody came on board and was able to lend me some money who found out about the store opening just from the public. We opened our first location on April, the eighth in Parkdale so that in 2018.

Craig Pike 6:15
That was supposed to be just me and one other person for two years, that was the business plan. I was going to give up acting and the arts for two years, and just really commit and see how this going to work. And like I have a really great career in theater but it was more that I was curious (at that point in my life five years ago) “What would happen if I if I tried this completely different thing?”. Within a week, BlogTO came by and did a little video. That video got 1.4 million views or something in like, the first month and we went from two employees to I think eight employees within four days. We were expecting to sell something like maybe $80,000 and cookies that year, and we ended up doing $600,000 in sales.

Craig Patterson 6:15
Wow!

Craig’s Cookies at 483 Church St (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Craig Pike 6:16
Which was which was wild. And you know, let’s six months later Nordstrom reached out and we started with our relationship with Nordstrom and at Christmas of 2018. Which has been long lasting, but until now.

Craig Patterson 7:32
Funny enough, I’d actually discovered Craig’s Cookies at Nordstrom at the CF Toronto Eaton Centre. It was a kiosk by the escalators. Because my name is, of course, is Craig. And I thought, Oh, these look great and I tried one and I thought, Oh my God, these are amazing. Are these special recipes or how did you come about creating these? Because people love them, and they’re delicious.

Craig Pike 7:59
To answer your last question very quickly, I opened the Church location and in 2019. The Bayview location, then opened 2020 during the pandemic during the Halloween weekend. And then in 2021, I opened Leslieville. And then in 2021, in the fall, I opened Yorkdale Mall. So that’s the kind of the timeline, of major part of our growth as far as ‘bricks and mortar’ that happened during the pandemic. The recipe is my mom’s recipe. It’s a really good chocolate chip cookie recipe, and then I kind of went bonkers and started putting stuff inside of them.

Craig Patterson 8:41
That’s amazing. How many different varieties of cookies (I’m not sure if I’m using the right terminology) are there?

Craig Pike 8:50
Perfect, it’s, it’s perfect. Everything is kind of the same dough and whether or not we put chocolate chips in it or not. And then if it’s the chocolate cookie, then sometimes we put a Mars Bar inside or Peanut Butter Cup inside. Sometimes you just don’t put chocolate chips in it at all, which then makes like a toffee cookie or a butterscotch cookie. But in total there, anywhere between 80 and 90 flavors at our locations, the menu board can only fit about 20 to 22 flavors at a time. So part of the charm is that there are different flavors every time you come in. So you get to try something new every single time they come to a Craig’s Cookies.

Craig Patterson 9:30
Amazing, amazing. How large are the stores typically? I’ve been to the one on Church Street and I mean, I’m not even sure what the square footage is. But the first one in Parkdale was 300 square feet. What typically are the stores now in terms of size?

Craig Pike 9:43
I mean, the store in Parkdale. 300 square feet. We used to like it was four but they used to sit around or stand around a table that was about the size of like a typical bathroom vanity and made hundreds of cookies. So three square feet was definitely not ideal. What we usually try to look for is a minimum right now of 1000 square feet per location.

Craig Patterson 10:06
No, no, that makes sense. Absolutely. Now, the initial expansion, it sounds like it was quite successful. You mentioned this location. Bayview, Parkdale, Church St, Bayview Avenue, which is I think in Leaside. Is that the part of Bayview that it’s located?

Craig Pike 10:19
I believe so. I feel like Leaside is this kind of like mysterious place where my phone changes, and I need a passport to go to. But I think yeah, I think that’s what it’s called the Leaside.

Craig Patterson 10:19
Yeah. And Leslieville, which is becoming a very hot area in itself. Is it Queen Street East?

Craig Pike 10:36
Queen Street East, yeah! I don’t have a business background. So I kind of just remember reading an article years ago about Starbucks, and the amount of time and effort their team spends looking into where they should open locations. So when I started expanding, I just started really thinking, “Well, where is there a Starbucks?”. If a Starbucks just opened in the neighborhood, then I should probably open to Craig’s Cookies in the neighborhood since they’ve done a lot of research on whether or not a neighborhood is viable. So don’t tell anyone, but I kinda piggyback on Starbucks. Its really brilliant way of doing things like that. We can all have opinions on coffee and flavor, and etc., etc., etc. but as far as that brand is concerned, and their ability to continue incredible customer service over so many stores across the world, it’s quite impressive.

Craig Patterson 11:38
Absolutely. I mean, and also Starbucks has closed a lot of locations, but that’s probably irrelevant. I mean, they chose locations that were considered to be optimal for the most part. A lot of them are successful, that’s for sure. There’s a bit of an expansion, I think, happening now with Craig’s Cookies. And it involves franchising. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Craig Pike 11:59
Yeah, absolutely. So, I opened six stores and what I’ve learned is that, in the last five years, there’s been so many great opportunities that Craig’s Cookies has been able to offer marginalized communities, local community centers, schools, arts organizations. But there’s also challenges that come with owning six stores and the HR around that and the day to day running an operations. So I got to a point where, after the pandemic, and about about a year ago, I thought, you know, I’m happy with the six stores now. This isn’t necessarily my complete passion (owning a business). I love so many things about it, I love being able to employ folks. I love being able to give people jobs, I love offering a safe, welcoming space for people to come and enjoy baked goods. But you know, my passion is the arts. So I was able to take a second and think, if there’s an expansion within the company, how can that then feed into a not for profit that I ended up starting this past August. Its called “That Arts Group” which is the parent company to “That Theatre Company” and “That choir”. “That Choir” is a professional ensemble that I conduct. And “That Theatre Company”, we have our first play being produced in a month. We start rehearsals in a week. And so with the growth of the company, you know, we’ve been getting so many inquiries about franchising over the years. Anywhere from Vancouver to Abu Dhabi. So there’s definitely interest. We started some really interesting, slow, but serious conversations about a year ago, and certainly within the last two or three months that things have really ramped up. And we’re in serious conversations about franchising, and it’s been really eye opening to me, it’s I’m learning quite a bit, but also really forcing me to reflect on how to continually have protection over the integrity of the brand as it grows. So not going too fast, but also recognizing the opportunities when they arise.

Craig’s Cookies at 1332 Queen St W (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Craig Patterson 14:31
Absolutely. Is there a goal in terms of the number of franchise locations that we might see for Craig’s Cookes across Canada?

Craig Pike 14:38
Yeah, there really isn’t. It’s a good question. I think at the end of the day, I’m happy if there’s one if there’s one store that opens in a year, there are folks that I really enjoy and they stand behind the ethos and the culture of Craig’s Cookies. And if there’s 40 stores that can keep the integrity of what I’ve built them that’s also fine. I mean, it’s also kind of making sure that us at head office here, which is a small team of only five people, where we are prepared for that kind of growth. So while like I said, you want to take advantage of an opportunity, if it arises, you also want to make sure that you don’t grow too fast. Because if you do not have an infrastructure in place to be able to support it, then that’s where, in my opinion, in my little research, that’s where businesses kind of can begin seeing quite serious challenges.

Craig Patterson 15:33
And in terms of the baking with the franchisee be involved in that? Say, if they opened a location or what would be the plan there?

Craig Pike 15:40
You know, it’s pretty, it’s pretty exciting, because all of these kinds of decisions can be super fluid, and we’re learning as we go. But currently, all Craig’s Cookies are baked fresh on site. That is the that’s really important for the integrity of the product that all cookies are made and baked fresh on location. Right now all six stores, all cookies are made at each specific location.

Craig Patterson 16:07
Oh, yeah, no, that’s instead of having one centralized kitchen, which I know that some places will do. Like, I think Carlos Bakeshop everything is made in (the are only two locations that are standalone in Toronto) Port Credit. But I was at the one in Yorkville, and they said that it’s too small. They don’t make the stuff there. They just get it shipped. And it’s not that far anyways.

Craig Pike 16:27
Yeah, we make everything on site.

Craig Patterson 16:31
Yeah. In terms of the design ethos of the spaces, is there a sort of a consistent design? I’m just thinking like, you know, in the village and Toronto on Church Street, you know, there’s wood floors. At Yorkdale, the Yorkdale Shopping Center location has a large rainbow awning on the top. Are the locations – do you do foresee sort of a similar design or something unique for each location? Or what are you thinking? Any ideas there yet?

Craig Pike 16:54
Well, I feel like it’s twofold. I think that there’s the culture of crates and keys that meet that that needs to be represented with every location. Myself, being a member of the queer community and being a business owner. I think it’s important for me, and I think it’s also important for any business owner for their business to reflect their own values. So Craig Cookies is quite vocally and publicly a queer owned business. So when you speak of the rainbow colors, that Yorkdale, including the bipoc and trans colors, I did that on purpose, because I think I have an opportunity as a business owner to be able to give visibility to that community. And I decided to go bold with it. So as far as the culture, it’s really important culture stays the same at every location, but Craig’s Cookies remains a business that advocates for, for the queer community and marginalized communities in general. I would say as far as the look and vibe, the physical look and vibe of each location. Absolutely. You know, when I opened our second location, I remember. I mean, I’m kind of like a sponge. That’s the I think that’s the only thing I really had. Not the only but one of the things I had to offer to my growth of businesses, I kind of listened to everything that people say. And I remember somebody along the way said, if you’ve ever opened a second location, make sure it looks that like your first location and spend the time to do that. So then you’re building a brand and you’re building a visual for for your brand. Okay, cool. So when I opened the second location, I made sure it was same blue tiles, the same hardwood floor, stain countertop art on the walls, black and white checkered floors. So now all six locations have the exact same vibe. It’s hardwood floors up front, blue tiles, hardwood is the call back to my grandmother’s Victorian home. In St. John’s, the blue is for that ocean. Some people assume that its a cookie monster blue, but it’s that actually blue for the for the Atlantic Ocean, the black on my top and the back are just kind of stereotypical kitchen tiles to make you feel like you’re going to somebody’s home as opposed to a store. That is going to be something that’s in place and mandated moving forward with any franchise.

Craig Patterson 19:24
That’s terrific. That’s terrific. Do you think you’ll tie anything around the art into the business at some point given that that’s your passion as well?

Craig Pike 19:31
Yeah, what the opportunity is is to be able to then see how the cookie shop (my six locations and then also anything that’s coming from the from the franchisees) can then go back into the arts. Whether or not it’s financially or just visibility as far as being able to support the donations of cookies or other opportunities that might arrive.

Craig Patterson 20:04
Terrific. Terrific. Has anything else you want to talk about here in terms of Craig’s Cookies today?

Craig Pike 20:09
Oh, no, I’m good. Yeah. What’s your favorite cookie?

Craig Patterson 20:14
Oh, my goodness. I mean, that’s a tough one. I like the straight up chocolate chip ones. They’re just amazing. It’s I don’t know if I have a favorite because we’ve gotten you know, dozens at a time or bought purchased a dozen at a time and a different ones. And it’s sometimes hard to choose.

Craig Pike 20:34
It is hard to choose, it is hard to choose.

Craig Patterson 20:38
I’ll try not to be a glutton because, you know, kind of workout and go on a diet, but it’s hard when you got cookies out there.

Craig Pike 20:46
Exactly. And you got to enjoy life. It’s very true.

Craig Patterson 20:49
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been Craig Pike. He’s the founder of Craig’s cookies, which is grown to six locations is now going to be franchising, which means there’s going to be opportunities to not only Craig’s Cookies, but to even perhaps own a franchise at some point. So I’ll put some information in the show notes here as well. Thank you so much, Craig, for joining us today on this video interview.

Craig Pike 21:10
Thank you, Craig. It’s pretty good to see you.

Craig Patterson 21:14
And I’m Craig Patterson. I’m the founder and CEO of Retail Insider Media. I’m the host of the Retail Insider Video Interview series. Thank you so much for watching, watching or listening. If you’re listening to this on your podcast channel. Take care and bye for now.

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