SYRACUSE — Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen — a three-year-old, local, homemade baked-cookie business — will soon open its first-ever store in Syracuse’s Armory Square.
Cathy Pemberton, founder and sole owner of Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen, tells CNYBJ she has leased an 826-square-foot space at 266 W. Jefferson St. — in the former location of the Blown Away hair salon.
The store, which she expects to open to customers in the first week of December pending city permits, will give her business a storefront and a commercial kitchen in the back so she can attract new retail customers and increase her production volume.
Pemberton, a self-taught baker, started her business at her home in Camillus and most recently has been baking everything at the commissary (commercial kitchen) at Fairmount Community Church on West Genesee Street in the Fairmount section of Camillus.
She says her customer demand has outgrown what she could produce through that arrangement.
“I couldn’t bake enough,” Pemberton says. “My growth was limited in Fairmount.”
At the church’s kitchen, Pemberton can bake 4 dozen cookies at a time. With the oven she has purchased and installed at her new Amory Square location, she will be able to bake 10 dozen cookies at a time and it will take half as long, she says.
“This store gives me the capability to meet that customer demand,” Pemberton says.
Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen currently generates 75 percent of its sales from wholesale accounts — selling her cookies at places like Liehs & Steigerwald on West Fayette Street, Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters in Destiny USA, and Green Planet Grocery in Camillus. The other 25 percent is direct to individuals. “I would expect that retail side to grow” with the store, Pemberton says.
Pemberton is currently her business’s only employee, and she handles the marketing, shopping, accounting, taxes, bookkeeping, cleaning, deliveries, and of course, baking. She will soon hire a part-time employee to help with baking and running the front counter at the store. She is also looking for an employee to help make deliveries.
Pemberton says she found her space by driving through Armory Square twice a day for six months.
“I kept looking for different places. There were lots of misses,” she says.
She spotted the vacant storefront at 266 W. Jefferson St. in September and called the real-estate agent Steve Case of Paramount Realty Group to lease it. Blown Away had closed its salon sometime this summer.
Pemberton says she started leasing the space on Oct. 1.
Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen’s annual sales have increased five-fold since Pemberton founded the business in June 2013. She declined to reveal sales totals. This year, her sales are up about 15 percent and would have grown much more if she had more production capacity, she contends.
With her new store and commercial kitchen, Pemberton says it’s possible she could more than triple her sales in 2017.
All the cookies Pemberton sells are her own recipes. She sells more than 20 cookie flavors like Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip and Rocky Road — 12 that can be made gluten-free. The cookies are sold at $3 for a pack of two; $15 per dozen; or $12 per dozen if buying 3 dozen or more.
When the new store opens, Pemberton plans to sell not only cookies, but also hot chocolate, coffee, tea, and the occasional cookie cake, which is a giant cookie. Pemberton wants to continue to sell to corporate and retail stores, and continue to take online and private orders.
Pemberton opened Cathy’s Cookie Kitchen while she worked as an assistant supervisor with the Syracuse City School District. She also taught cooking for a few years at several different city schools. Pemberton says she’d like to eventually offer baking classes to children at her new store.
Small-business resources that Pemberton tapped along the way to grow her business include: The U.S. Small Business Administration Syracuse District, SCORE, WISE Women’s Business Center, Downtown Committee, and Syracuse First. The help she received included assistance with her business plan and marketing plan, referral for accountants and financial professionals, referrals for lawyers, and tips on potential real-estate sites.
Pemberton helped finance her new location with a loan from a family member. She declined to disclose the amount. Up until now, she had funded the business with her own cash.
She says she bought about $25,000 worth of equipment for her new store/commercial kitchen for only $7,000 because it was used.
“I’m opening this business on a shoestring,” she quips.
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