Joel Clark was doing graduate work at Oxford University last year when he stumbled upon a delicious bit of business: cookies.
Ben's Cookies has a kind of cult following in the United Kingdom, but it has never ventured across the pond. Clark discovered it while pursuing his MBA and quickly joined the dedicated cadre of academics passionately committed to the study of Ben's Cookies.
Whether it is the imported Belgian chocolate or the special ovens used to create their signature crispy-gooey goodness, Clark said, there is something special about the British "biscuits" — something he wanted to bring home to Utah.
So, the Salt Lake native contacted the owner and inquired about the possibility of bringing Ben's to the United States.
The owner, at first skeptical because of the number of similar requests he'd received, gave the go-ahead only after he saw Clark's resume (he was president of the pancake mix company Kodiak cakes before getting his MBA), business plan and site proposals, and after he'd made a trip to Utah to see for himself that things could work.
On Friday and Saturday, Clark will celebrate the opening of Ben's Cookies at The Gateway. It's the second Ben's in the U.S. — the first being the University Mall store in Orem, which opened quietly in July — but Clark said he wanted to wait to officially kick things off "until we knew we got it right."
"We wanted to make sure we got the cookie right," he laughed. "I think we've done that, so we're happy."
Even with its quiet Orem opening, Utahns' response to the yummy British import has been warm, Clark said. Apparently, many Utahns have sampled Ben's Cookies in the United Kingdom, he said, and they swooned when they saw they were available stateside.
"I had one guy come up to me who said he was at Ben's Cookies when it first opened in Oxford in 1983," Clark said. "Amazing."
The Gateway store opening will be very different from the Orem one, Clark said. Mock British guards will greet guests with samples of the cookies, and a "Paul Revere" will ride down the center of The Gateway to tell shoppers of "the British Invasion."
The U.S. locations are jointly owned and operated by Clark and Ben's Cookies UK. Clark said he isn't opposed to opening in broader markets down the road, but he will stick with Utah for now.
"The number one priority for us is to bake good cookies," he said. "We want to see where it goes in Utah. Utahns are pretty conservative when it comes to premium products, and we're a premium cookie. But on the other hand, Utahns love their sweets. So this is an interesting test market. We feel like if it works here, it'll work in other markets."
The cookies are sold by weight and average $1.50 each. Like his British counterpart, Clark also imports Belgian chocolate and makes the dough daily by hand.
To celebrate the grand opening of The Gateway store, Ben's Cookies also will sponsor the "Pounds for Progress" campaign to gather school supplies for homeless students at The Road Home. For each pound of school supplies donated, Ben's will give a free cookie. Donate a computer, Clark said, and you will get a free box of cookies. The Pounds for Progress campaign will run through Oct. 1.