Like any “overnight” success story, The Cookie Joint’s narrative is actually many years in the making. But it’s no surprise that the unexpected combination of two of America’s favorite guilty pleasures has resulted in a specialty snack sensation.
Over 10 years ago, Jill Balick and Susie Schuster, ran into each other in the parking lot of the Highland Park Recreation Center and caught up on their respective lives.
The Highland Park residents soon found out they were both avid bakers and as empty nesters ready to start that next chapter. Both women were also poised to take what had always been a hobby to another level.
“We wanted to do something with a signature cookie,” Balick says.
They toyed with opening a retail store in the city but ultimately decided to start an online business and see where it went. After a lot of experimenting, talking about what shapes would work best and bouncing ideas off of one another, they came up with Cookie Fries.
“We both love cookies and we both love fries,” Schuster explains.
That combination of a fun, delicious shortbread cookie shaped like crinkle-cut fries and served with fun dipping sauces as condiments proved to be the winning ticket.
“We wanted it to be playful but also sophisticated,” Balick says.
For the first several years, the pair worked out of Balick’s home kitchen. They were getting a lot of orders even right from the beginning. It helped that Schuster’s husband, Randy, is in the party planning business. And then through word-of-mouth advertising, other consultants were placing orders and their business was taking off.
After a few years, they outgrew Balick’s kitchen and began working in the kitchen of a local caterer. Their PR rep placed a short piece about them in an American Airlines in-flight magazine. That’s when their business began to soar.
“That was a turning point, because then we were known nationally,” Balick says.
Cookie Fries are available in 10 varieties including original, chocolate chip, cinnamon spice, and chocolate toffee crunch. The side condimentlike dipping sauces include peanut butter, salted caramel, hazelnut, chocolate, and marshmallow. Schuster and Balick are always innovating and coming up with new flavor sensations. They’re packaged in cute fry cartons and served in one-of-a-kind gift baskets including a unique deepfryer basket.
Soon after the American Airlines article, The Cookie Joint was the featured item in Oprah magazine as one of her favorite things. That was just the beginning of their popularity in celebrity circles. Khloe Kardashian used custom Cookie Fries to launch her new jeans line. Chrissie Teigen ordered Cookie Fries for her daughter’s “Fries” party. And if that wasn’t enough, cookie fries were featured on the popular cable TV show, Chopped.
The bulk of their business comes from gift baskets which are sold on thecookiejoint.com and a popular gourmet food site called Goldbelly. In 2019, The Cookie Joint was one of only three nominees out of 400 to receive the “Most Innovative New Product” at the 2019 Sweets & Snacks Show at McCormick Place.
They will be celebrating their 10th anniversary in business this year—especially impressive considering what the world has been through. In fact, they now have their own space and recently expanded in order to accommodate growth. And while they still do some of the baking themselves, they have a professional baker who does most of the baking for the business. Balick and Schuster are totally hands-on with the business, working on orders and preparing baskets for shipping.
Looking back over the last 10 years, both Balick and Schuster say it is such a good feeling to walk into your own space because they’ve never had this before.
“Having our own kitchen and our space is unbelievable,” Schuster says. “Every time I walk in, I think, oh my god, this is ours,”
Balick adds: “And we’ve learned a lot. There have been a lot of obstacles but that’s kind of translated into growth and how you learn. And it just feels good to be your own boss.”
Cookie Fries can also be found at Sunset Foods and a number of specialty stores around the country. They are a certified women-owned business.
These two empty nesters are indeed making this next chapter as sweet as it can be.
For more information or to place an order, visit thecookiejoint.com.