SALT LAKE CITY — Remember when cupcakes were the latest dessert fad? For a time, cupcake bakeries dotted the sugar landscape, but today, many, like the now-defunct Crumbs Bake Shop and One Sweet Slice, are gone. Or how about waffles? Pop N' Waffles, the Awful Waffle and Saturday's Waffle have all shut their doors. Even specialty soda shops, which are still quite popular, have seen some stores close like The Slurp and Pop 'n Sweets.
Like any industry, the dessert market has trends that come and go. And the latest in Utah seems to be gourmet cookie delivery, with bakeries like Chip Cookies, Goodly Cookies, RubySnap, Cassie’s Cookies and more opening throughout the state.
Is it just a Utah thing?
Cassie Casperson of Cassie’s Cookies believes Utah has a unique dessert market. She ran the same bakery in Florida for almost 11 years but found a completely different client base when she moved to Utah. In Florida, she geared her business towards catering special occasions and corporate events, whereas in Utah, individuals buy her cookies on ordinary days without any call for a special event.
“Here people just love sweets,” Casperson said. She reasoned people in Utah might eat more desserts due to the high population of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “(They) don't drink or do anything else and sweets are (their) vice,” she said.
The theory of Latter-day Saints eating more sweets than others is one Bloomberg referenced in a 2015 article showing data gathered by Hershey Co. naming Utah as one of the top candy consumers, nearly doubling the national average of candy sales. But Bloomberg also noted Utah's high percentage of children could inflate the state’s candy consumption. According to the 2018 United States Census Bureau, 29.9 percent of Utahns are under 18 as opposed to the national average of 22.6 percent. While the study on candy intake is interesting, there isn’t much further data showing Utah or members of the LDS faith eat more desserts than others.
Even if Utah truly does buy more sweets than other states, Rickelle Richards, an associate professor in BYU’s nutrition, dietetics and food science program, said there’s no reason eating desserts, within reason, can’t be part of a healthy diet.
“It's hard to judge the impact of such food trends (cookie or cupcake specialty bakeries, soda shops, etc.) because we have to consider a person's overall food intake across time to consider how it might impact their weight and health,” Richards said in an email interview with the Deseret News. “Eating sweets can be part of a healthy diet, as long as they are eaten in moderation in reasonable portions.”
Although cookie bakeries like Chip Cookies, Goodly Cookie and Ruby Snap got their starts in Utah, other states have their own cookie chains. Tiff's Treats opened its first storefront in 2000 and has locations throughout the South. Insomnia Cookies, which opened in 2003, now has stores nationwide.
Utah-based bakeries have also started expanding into other states. Ruby Snap cookies are sold at some Smith’s locations in Las Vegas, and Chip has opened stores in Idaho with plans to expand further. And while Goodly Cookie only has one location, COO Hailee Henson said they’ve had several people reach out to them about franchising in other states.
The rise of the cookie
Sarah Wilson, the co-founder of Chip Cookies, and her husband had the idea for Chip Cookies when she had late-night pregnancy cravings for cookies and found there was no service to fit her needs. They started the business in Provo, where they had both attended college.
“We knew there were a lot of pregnant women (there) and we knew that there were a lot of students up late,” Wilson told the Deseret News.
After Chip Cookies opened in November 2016, many similar bakeries — such as Crumbl Cookies, Cassie's Cookies and Goodly Cookies — opened in Utah throughout 2017. Wilson feels she and her husband inadvertently pioneered the trend.
"We knew we liked the cookies and we knew cookie delivery was cool … but we didn't know that we were going to create an entire industry in Utah," Wilson said. "This whole, like, gourmet cookie, 6-ounce, four in a box — that's what we started."
Meghan Roddy, a baking instructor at Utah Valley University's Culinary Arts Institute, said she's impressed with the brand Chip Cookies and others cookie shops have built in such a short time. She's seen the loyal following they have with college students, like those in her classes. While Roddy said she couldn't imagine consistently spending that much money on cookies she could bake herself, the very students she teaches to bake do just that. She's also impressed with the consistency of their product.
"I teach the same types of cookies … every (school) block and I can't get nine to 12 students to make their same recipe and have it turn out the same. So, I'm actually impressed with the cookie places," Roddy said.
Competing in the cookie craze
Chip Cookies may have been at the forefront of the Utah cookie delivery trend, but they were not the first cookie bakery in Utah. RubySnap opened in 2008 and, although they don't identify as a cookie delivery establishment, started limited delivering in 2010. Though they've recently gained some competition — as more cookie bakeries open — RubySnap does not see itself as part of any fad.
"(The) RubySnap business has not relied on that trend for growth. Because we have been in business for over a decade, we have very loyal customers. … The trend will likely die out, as all do, however we have worked very hard to be more than a trend," RubySnap founder Tami Steggell said in an email interview with the Deseret News.
Like Steggell, others in the cookie business are preparing for the cookie trend to cool off. They all work hard to compete in Utah's saturated dessert market and they all have different ideas how to stand out.
"I look at the frozen yogurt craze," Henson of Goodly Cookie said. "For a while there were like 10 different places popping up all over that had frozen yogurt. … It's hard to look at this trend with cookies and not feel the same way about it."
In order to outlive the fad, Goodly Cookie has focused on growing on a small, sustainable scale. The business has been renting space in Amour Café since opening in 2017 and only opened its own storefront in March 2019. It also donates a portion of proceeds to Huntsman Cancer Foundation and is working on expanding into other desserts like ice cream sandwiches.
"We feel like that's something that will help us to stick around as more of a late-night bakery, rather than just a late-night cookie company," Henson said.
Cassie's Cookies has another strategy for setting itself apart — lots of different flavors. Casperson has developed more than 50 cookie flavors, ranging from the classics to more obscure cookies like Keylime White Chocolate, PB&J and Pumpkin Cheesecake.
"I personally want to go as a company that is always coming up with something new and something better," Casperson said. "Sometimes you just don't want a chocolate chip cookie. You want something new and exciting."
This attitude is the opposite of Wilson's. At Chip Cookies they only have classic chocolate chip cookies and a second flavor that changes each month. Focusing on making the perfect chocolate chip cookie was part of the business plan from the beginning.
"There's nothing like the original and there's nothing like a chocolate chip cookie…" Wilson said. "We wanted to do one thing and one thing really, really well."
Are cookies here to stay?
But all these entrepreneurs agree there is something special about fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies.
"Everybody just loves a warm cookie," Casperson said. "You picture growing up, and it's a great day if you come home from school and your mom has made cookies for you."
Though the trend will probably slow down eventually, Casperson and the others hope this nostalgia keeps cookies relevant longer than other desserts.
Wilson believes cookie delivery is more than a trend, that they’ve created a demand and a clientele that is here to stay.
"Look at pizza delivery," she said. "Could we live without pizza delivery? I see it very similar. … It's just become a part of your life that you now depend on in some ways. Obviously, you don't need dessert, but when you're pregnant or (it's) late at night, you do need it."
And although Wilson believes some bakeries will close, she is confident Chip Cookies won’t be one of them.
“We've built such a loyal following. … It's kind of crazy to me. It's very humbling because we didn't know this would happen,” she said.
Cater or crumble
But Roddy thinks these companies, as with any dessert fad, will eventually have to diversify to survive.
“If a place only does cupcakes, I think it's just limiting and this is my same theory with the cookies," she said. "If they only make cookies, eventually that wears off.”
But Roddy does think that if cookie companies are aware of the market and able to change when necessary, they have every chance of remaining profitable. One suggestion she made was for the bakeries to start catering, citing how some cupcake bakeries have stayed open even after the cupcake trend died down.
“If those people could do … cakes and cupcakes, I think even something like that helps put them apart because there's always going to be a market for people who need birthday cakes and wedding cakes,” Roddy said.
Kasthuri Cupcakes is an example of a company doing just that. Owner Kasthuri Kateel said her Salt Lake bakery makes a lot of cakes and cupcakes for weddings and corporate events. Along with catering, Kateel also makes flavorful cakes and cupcakes with less sugar, and these two focuses have helped her bakery stay relevant during and after the cupcake fad.
Roddy said cookie bakeries could easily apply the same concept. “If they offer smaller portions and then do platters of (cookies), they could cater things or start playing with stuff for weddings," she said. " … If they have a different offering they could stay longer.”
Whether the trend fades as predicted is yet to be seen. For now, there are plenty of cookie bakeries to choose from. Even though they have to work hard to stand out, Henson ultimately sees this as a good thing for Goodly Cookies and other bakeries.
“Having (the market) as saturated as it is really pushes me as a pastry chef to make things as good as I can. … If another company releases a flavor we were thinking about, it puts us in a situation of 'do we do the same cookie and try to make it better' (or) 'do we do a different cookie?'" Henson said. "I think having a little bit of friendly competition in that way pushes all of us to create a better product.”