Cookie delivery satisfies late-night munchies Delmar Loop shop sells ‘thousands of dozens’ of cookies every month

April 13, 2012

By Georgina Gustin • > 314-340-8195

25 March 2012

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Copyright 2012, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. All Rights Reserved.

It has become a pattern. Students from Washington and St. Louis universities start calling in. Bar patrons in the Delmar Loop wander through the door. Sweet-toothed couch potatoes with a craving for something buttery and warm pick up the phone.

“It starts around 9 p.m.,” says Tamika Moore. “We call it cookie-emergency hour.”

Moore and her partner in life and business, Ernest Dixon, had a simple idea: Bake fresh, made-to-order cookies, and then – most importantly, perhaps – deliver them right to peoples’ doors. (With milk if requested.)

They launched their business, Dough to Door, last August on a cross street off the Delmar Loop, at first walking up and down Delmar Boulevard giving samples. Soon the delivery orders started coming. Now the business bakes and sells “thousands of dozens” of cookies a month, Moore says, many in the critical “cookie-emergency” window between 9 p.m and 2 a.m.

“Late-night is big for us,” Dixon said. “We see some weird situations. That’s the fun part.”

The Dough to Door business model strikes directly at the butter-loving heart of anyone who has ever been enveloped by the smell of baking cookies – and needs one right away. The “munchie” market segment – late-night revelers who want a little something after their indulgences – was actually a formal target identified in the company’s business plan.

“It’s a legitimate marketing category,” Dixon said. “The munchie crowd generates a need based on something else they’re doing.”

But the strategy also taps into generational expectations and the American consumer’s growing need for getting what they want, when they want it. The custom delivery market, first pioneered by Domino’s Pizza in the 1980s, has surged in recent years, and now delivery options go well beyond pizza.

“Consumer expectations of delivery have changed,” explained Darren Tristano, a food industry analyst with Chicago-based Technomic. “There’s such an expectation of convenience now. It used to be very limited what you could get delivered, especially late at night.”

Tristano pointed to the expansion of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, which has grown from 354 restaurants in 2005 to 1,329 last year. Even Burger King, he said, is piloting delivery programs in some urban markets.

Cheese-ology Macaroni & Cheese, a few doors down from Dough to Door, now also delivers, seizing on the market for home delivery, which is particularly ripe in university areas.

“We wanted to do delivery because we knew more students would have access to our food if we did,” said Bill Courtney, Cheese-ology’s founder. “I went to the University of Missouri and I ordered pizza three times a week because there was nothing else to order.”

But the landscape has changed. “Any small restaurant coming into this area, especially the Loop, and with a college-likeable menu,” Courtney said. “They’re going to need a delivery service.”

Moore, Dough to Door’s “senior doughologist,” and Dixon, its “cookiemaster,” say they were inspired to start the business when they were home one night, craving something sweet but unmotivated to go out and get it.

“Honestly, it’s the American way,” Dixon said. “That’s why we think this has potential. We want things fast, we want them the way we want them.”

That second piece is key to Dough to Door’s business. Customers can select from five doughs, with three “mix-ins,” which range from traditional, such as chocolate chips, to more esoteric, such as Pretzel M&Ms. A baker makes the cookies based on the customer’s specific mix. (A minimum of 6 is required for delivery, and with a pint of milk, costs $8.75)

The open-ended options mean some customers chose some strange combinations. “We tell people: Mix at your own risk,” Moore jokes.

This on-demand approach is smart strategy, says James Fisher, chairman of the marketing department at St. Louis University.

“Dell didn’t make anything until they had a customer on the other end. That’s kind of what’s going on here,” he said. “You’re not building a product, hoping a customer will buy it. You get paid up front. And because there’s a better fit with the customer, you have the potential to deliver higher value.”

Moore and Dixon’s plan, however, is something of a hybrid – with a delivery business and a storefront where people can walk in and sit at a table. While 70 percent of their current business comes from deliveries, they are cultivating an in-house business that captures foot traffic. One plan is to start a weekly storytime session for moms and children where cookies and milk are served.

Creating a diverse clientele – one comprised of delivery customers and walk-ins – will be essential for success, says Clifford Holekamp, a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at Washington University.

For Holekamp, Dough to Door’s calling card is its fresh-baked, artisanal approach.

“I would define this as being part of the whole craft movement,” Holekamp said.

“People are seeking higher-quality, more customized goods. People are desiring craftsmanship. They won’t pay a premium over time unless there’s something unique about the product. The delivery is a great service, but I don’t think its their secret sauce.”

photos by Erik M. Lunsford • Washington University students (from left) Brendan Stone, Mike Merzel, Kyle Engelken, Burt Reynolds, Tim Elliott and Jake Bruemmer have some cookies Thursday at Dough to Door in University City. Ernest Dixon, the co-owner of Dough to Door, prepares cookies for delivery on Thursday at his shop in University City. Delivery, often to nearby college students, is 70 percent of the shop’s business. The exterior of Dough to Door at 567A Melville Avenue in the Delmar Loop area. The shop’s busiest time starts about 9 p.m. Talor Woolfolk dishes out trays of warm cookies Thursday at Dough to Door. The shop, which opened in August, custom makes a variety of cookies for its customers.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch