When Craig Pike started selling cookies in 2013, he just wanted to make enough money to cover his internet and cable bill.
“I used to bring chocolate chip cookies to friends’ places growing up, potlucks and stuff, and everybody would say, ‘These cookies are really great.’ When it came time to pay a Rogers bill, I thought, why not sell some chocolate chip cookies to friends on Facebook and Instagram,” explained Pike, originally from St. John’s.
In that first month, he managed to sell 200 dozen cookies. An actor and musician living in Toronto, the cookies eventually began to take up more and more of his time.
Craig’s Cookies now employs 100 people and is on the verge of opening a fourth location in Toronto on Easter weekend. That will also be the second new location opened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing with my life,” admitted Pike. “I’m so proud of what myself and also my incredible team has accomplished, especially in the last two to three years, and especially in the pandemic.”
Craig got his start baking cookies with his grandmother Peggy and mother Jean.
“My grandmother used to make peanut butter cookies, and I used to help her put the little fork indents on the top,” he said, adding the chocolate chip cookie recipe he uses for the business came from his mother. “I’ve been baking those since I was a kid.”
There is an anything-goes approach to what Craig’s Cookies sells to customers. Each cookie starts from the basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, with different ingredients added to the mix that on the surface may not appear to be an obvious match for cookies.
“Mars bars, peanut butter cups, peppermint patties. We put Jam-Jams inside of cookies. I’ve put Hawkins Cheezies inside of cookies. We’ll put anything inside a cookie.”
The willingness to experiment has paid off, creating a substantial customer base in Toronto. Pike said the Mars bar and peanut butter cup cookies have become staples, as has a cookie with mini-egg chocolates.
Pike did not have much of a business background when he started Craig’s Cookies, but he did remember some things learned in a Grade 9 enterprise class at Holy Heart of Mary High School.
“Made up a name for the company, did some branding based on different companies that I really admired,” he said. “But it was also really important for me to have a reflection of my values as me, Craig, but also as a Newfoundlander.”
Can this video of a Cadbury Cream Egg in a Craig’s Cookie go viral? #toronto #cookie #craigscookies #viral pic.twitter.com/jcdMpGBE1g
— Craig’s Cookies (@CraigsCookies) March 7, 2021
He wanted to make each shop a welcoming space, similar to if you were entering a loved one’s space to enjoy baked goods. Pike chose hardwood flooring similar to what his grandparents had. There are usually little bits of his Newfoundland background mixed into the décor as well.
Pike is also committed to treating employees fairly. Front-of-house staff and bakers used to make $15 per hour, and he has bumped that up to $17 since the pandemic started. For the newest Craig’s Cookies location, the assistant manager and manager wages were advertised at $19 and $23 per hour, respectively.
“I just know that from my internal values, it’s really important that I try to create a work culture that is fair and full of integrity and creates a space where people want to come to work — where they feel valued,” he said.
The pandemic did create an immediate challenge for Pike, beginning only a few months after his second location opened.
“It was pretty stressful, because I didn’t really know how to pivot, but we did successfully,” he said. “I just believed in the brand and the company and myself. We already had a strong online presence to begin with, so we pivoted to online sales for about a month and a half, while everything was settling with the initial anxiety of the pandemic. Once we reopened, our sales went up 40 per cent … which is a huge blessing.”
Even with a time-consuming business to run, Pike has stuck with his artistic pursuits. He’s the conductor and artistic director for That Choir and plans to start a new theatre company in the fall. He’s also keen to bring Craig’s Cookies to the East Coast.
“I’d love to open a shop in Newfoundland some time,” Pike said, adding he may start with a pop-up shop.
Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John’s.