Shaker resident Penny Parker makes people happy every day.
By Sharon Holbrook
It’s safe to say Shaker resident Penny Parker makes people happy every day. Or, rather, her cookies do. Through her 11-year-old business, WOW! Cookies!, she sends fragrant packages of delicious, handmade cookies to surprised recipients across the country. And she loves it.
Penny wasn’t always in the baking business. But after a 35-year career with a Fortune 500 beauty company, Penny found herself unemployed with a generous severance package and some time for herself. She treated herself to college classes as well as culinary school, where she gravitated toward the pastry program.
Around the same time, at a local outdoor community event, a new career in cookies was born. Browsing the food choices with a friend — who became her partner in her first venture, Cookie Chicks — Penny realized she didn’t want corn dogs or cotton candy or any of the other carnival-type food.
“‘I’d like a cookie and a glass of milk,’” Penny had said, “and that kind of started the whole thing.”
Penny had enjoyed baking for decades, and also had decades of on-the-ground business experience, so marrying the two was a natural fit. The Cookie Chicks spent two grueling years baking all week, and then selling cookies (but, alas, no milk) at outdoor events 30 weekends a year. After two years, the partnership was dissolved, and Penny immediately launched WOW! Cookies!.
If you’re thinking about sending flowers, a box of cookies can be just as nice.
She had been exploring a new business model when she was still with Cookie Chicks, and was ready to launch her new venture immediately.
“I’ve been in business for a very long time,” says Penny, “and so I decided I was going to start a company that would focus on sending high-quality cookies and brownies anywhere in the United States as a gift item.”
Penny spends a lot of time connecting with corporate America because she knows businesses are looking to buy unique, quality gifts to thank customers and for a variety of other reasons. “I’ve got a very large law firm downtown that sends a cookie package to welcome new employees to the firm,” says Penny.
Individual customers are also a significant market for WOW! Cookies!. It could be “any reason from congratulations to birthdays to condolences to missing you. If you’re thinking about sending flowers, a box of cookies can be just as nice.” On the WOW! Cookies! website, Penny offers a variety of packages of all sizes and combinations of baked goods.
All these packages get sent out directly from Shaker Heights. In her Thornton Park-area home, where she moved in 1999, Penny has designated a garage-studio space as her business headquarters. But for a couple of extra freezers at home, though, all the actual cookie part of the business is done offsite. All her baking is done in a Shaker Heights commercial kitchen, and she also rents space in a massive downtown freezer facility.
Penny couldn’t possibly keep up with the volume of her orders in her home kitchen, but she can bake 150 cookies in
15 minutes in the commercial kitchen. This is especially critical at the end-of-year holidays, when WOW! Cookies! takes in 70 percent of its annual income. She’s learned to spread the work out with prep and freezing, and hires up to eight temporary workers around the holidays to help get out thousands of cookies.
No matter the volume, Penny takes great pride in each cookie. Each enormous cookie (she uses an ice cream scoop to portion the dough) is handmade and uses high-end ingredients, like imported chocolate and freshly dehydrated fruits from a local farm.
“We get a premium price for our goods, so we want to make sure they are outstanding,” explains Penny.
Penny believes WOW! Cookies! could be grown even larger and, if she’d started the business earlier in her career, she says she’d probably work towards additional growth. But at this point, Penny, who also serves as the director of Meals on Wheels for Shaker Heights, Beachwood, and University Heights, has no desire to take things to a bigger level. “I’m very happy with my business the way it is,” she says.
By all accounts, her customers are too.