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Toronto-Based Craig’s Cookies to Launch Significant Store Expansion in Canada via Franchise Model: Interview

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Craig’s Cookies began several years ago as a way for Craig Pike to pay his phone bill. 

He began by selling the treats over Facebook and Instagram in 2013. Today, he has five locations in Toronto, one in Newfoundland, and plans for a huge expansion through a franchise model.

“I’m an actor and musician and in 2013 I had a month off of work so I started to make cookies to help pay my phone bill,” said Pike. “I hopped on Facebook and Instagram and used them as my marketing tool and sold 200 dozen cookies in a month.

“I used to bring chocolate chip cookies to potlucks and everybody used to like them. So I decided to hop on Facebook and I said does anybody want to buy cookies and I’ll deliver them free on my bike.”

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

After selling those first 200 dozen, Pike went away to do some acting. When he came back, he thought he’d continue to make cookies while he was bartending. He did that for the first three or four years. 

“I would bake, deliver on my bike, do little pop-ups on sidewalks, at flea markets. That kind of thing,” said Pike.

Craig Pike

In 2015, early 2016, he received a call from Air Canada’s enRoute magazine. They wanted to put him on the cover and that opened his audience base to more of a downtown Bay Street crowd. 

“So we started selling more cookies for events, for business meetings, which then led to a pop-up shop at Williams Sonoma at Yorkdale mall. I used to wake up at one in the morning and I would bake for six or seven hours and I’d show up to a pop-up and I did the same thing at Yorkdale. Showed up and we’d sell out in two or three hours. Folks were coming in, buying cookies and sticking around. I was invited to do another pop-up there about a month later and I said could I bake on site,” explained Pike.

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

“So I was able to show up at eight or nine in the morning and bake live which was really, really fun and it also created a beautiful, wonderful, baking smell that wafted down to the mall and attracted customers into Williams Sonoma. Ultimately Williams Sonoma saw it as a really great opportunity to do something a bit more permanent. They invited me to do a six-month pop-up shop beginning in the fall of 2017 and that was kind of the first foray into having like a permanent space.”

About two months later, he was about burned out being an entrepreneur himself and almost gave up the business. But a location became available through Instagram. He decided to go look at it. He always said to himself that if he was going to open a store it would be about 300 square feet. This place checked out and the landlord wasn’t asking too much.

The first location opened in Parkdale in April 2018. It was at the west end of Parkdale. When that opened it was just himself and one other employee. 

“My business model was to work my buns off for two years and then after the two-year lease was over to kind of reassess. BlogTO which is a local Toronto blog, they came by and did a little video of Craig’s Cookies,” he said. “And it got 1.4 million views in the first I think week or so and since then sales have been over $1,000 a day and we had to hire about 12 people overnight.

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

“About a year later, I thought maybe it’s time to open a second location. I thought where should I open one? Being of the queer community in Toronto, I wanted to open one in the Village here so our second location was on Church Street on Halloween 2019. Then the pandemic hit and because there was no theatre or music happening during the pandemic, I figured I’d put all my energy into expanding the business. In Halloween of 2020, we opened our third location on Bayview Avenue just north of the downtown core and that spring of 2021 we opened our fourth location in Leslieville which is on Queen Street but on the east end of Toronto.

“The fall of 2021 we opened two locations within a week of each other in Yorkdale mall as well as St. John’s, Newfoundland.”

Recently it moved its original Parkdale location to one just down the street in a larger footprint on Queen Street W.

“We are really excited to move to a part of Parkdale that has a lively food and beverage scene,” said Pike. “Parkdale is the original location of Craig’s Cookies and one of the most honest communities I’ve had the chance to open a business in.

“Parkdale and Craig’s Cookies is synonymous, so while we’ve moved, we are thrilled to still get to call this neighbourhood home.”

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

Today, Craig’s Cookies has about 120 employees and ships throughout Canada. 

It also has a presence in two Nordstrom locations and the potential of more growth within the next year or two.

“The one thing I’ve learned with Craig’s Cookies, because it’s my mom’s recipe which is a really simple but delicious chocolate chip cookie, the possibilities of growth are quite simple but also there’s a huge opportunity. You don’t have to be a real trained baker to work at Craig’s Cookies,” said Pike.

“I’m not a trained baker. I’m not a trained business person. Early on when we opened our second location, I had the wherewithal to think about potential future expansion and branding and marketing. I made the second location kind of look like our Parkdale location. The same flooring, we have hardwood floors up front to make it feel like you’re going through grandma’s home. Or my grandma’s home in St. John’s. It’s a blue tile in the front which is reminiscent of the Atlantic Ocean. With tons of art on the walls that are specific to each community in which we open.

“Ultimately it’s paved the way for really great brand recognition. We’re going to franchise. All the stores will have a similar vibe.”

Pike said the success takes him by surprise quite often, making him pause and be grateful for the incredible team he gets to work with.

“It’s really inspiring to see that kind of work ethic rally around the company that started with me just biking around the city with cookies in paper bags,” he said.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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