The Sweet Taste of Success
New grad’s cookie business takes off during its first year.
On winter break from Michigan State University, Max Surnow of West Bloomfield always tried to do something positive with the time off. When he was a junior, he got his pilot’s license. Last year, as a senior, he launched a new business, Birmingham-based Cooper Street Cookies, with his mother, Elaine.
“My grandma had an awesome recipe for cinnamon chocolate chip cookies that everyone always asked about,” Surnow said. “My mother and I had been talking about opening a cookie business to sell them since I was in high school.”
Armed with the one recipe and a rental space at a kosher commercial kitchen in Pontiac, Surnow began to get “all my ducks in a row,” he said. Those “ducks” included getting a license from the Department of Agriculture, incorporating as an LLC, building a website and arranging to get the cookies into stores.
“I never thought I would do it full time,” Surnow, now 22, said. “I was still attending MSU, looking for a job and coming home to bake with my mom on weekends.”
Surnow ended up with a finance degree from MSU last spring, but he’s stopped looking for a job. “I got a taste of being an entrepreneur,” he said.
Surnow first got Cooper Street Cookies into Market Square, where they “flew off the shelves.” Then came a few more stores to stock the gourmet cookies in their bakery sections.
“I dedicated the summer to working full-steam on the cookie business,” he said. “I hired some people to bake and branched out to four flavors.”
His main goal was to get into Whole Foods. However, when Whole Foods looked at the cookies’ ingredients, they said no because not all the ingredients were natural, a requirement to sell in their stores.
“I met with chemists and re-engineered the recipes,” Surnow said. “We changed to all-natural ingredients and the cookies tasted even better.”
For those counting calories, the news was good, too. Only 100 calories per three delicious cookies, and they’re lactose-free and nut-free for those with allergies. Next month, they’ll begin selling gluten-free cookies as well.
By mid-July, Cooper Street Cookies were in four Whole Food stores in Michigan. Currently, the cookies are found in nearly 70 gourmet markets as well as Macy’s department stores, where their Cookie Towers, retailing for about $31, are selling briskly as the holiday shopping season gets under way. Special requests for Cookie Towers can also be made online at the company’s website, http://cooperstreetcookies.com.
Surnow has a hand in all aspects of the business. “I’ve got a million jobs,” he said. He also gets help from his family. Cooper Street Cookies is truly a family affair. His brother, Sam, an accountant working in Manhattan, handles the books; his father, Jeff, acts as a general “business guru” helping to make big decisions; his sister, Lisa, a student at the University of Michigan, helps with product demonstrations and customer service; and his mother Elaine, who is the “face of the company,” concentrates on sales and customer service.
“I couldn’t ask for a better experience than working with my son,” Elaine Surnow, a former artist, said. “He’s bright and kind. I raised him. And now, being his mom, I’m learning from him. I’m so thankful.”
Both Max and Elaine are proud that the cookies are made right here in Michigan. Originally, they considered launching the business from New York or Chicago. “We made it work right here,” Elaine said.
Coming up on the company’s one-year anniversary, Max said he isn’t thinking about anything else but expanding the business. “I’m having fun,” he said.