How We Adapted During COVID-19: Q&A With Creator Nicole Pomije

nicole pomije - the cookie cups

Image credit: Chris Emeott Photography

Every small business owner remembers where they were and what they were doing when news broke in their home state about COVID-19 shutdown orders. Planned events and growth plans were halted in their tracks, and businesses like ours had to make some quick decisions about how to proceed in the face of a looming pandemic.

For us, that day came around March 20, shortly before Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued a state-wide stay-at-home order. Here’s how The Cookie Cups creator Nicole Pomije describes it:

“It was a Monday morning, right after a weekend full of kids birthday parties -- our biggest yet. There was excitement, pizza and loads of sprinkles everywhere. All we could think about was our upcoming sold-out Kids Italian Cooking Class, to be followed by our first-ever sold-out Mommy & Me Ravioli Class. 

Then something called ‘coronavirus’ came across the screen and our entire world changed. Within 48 hours we decided to temporarily shut our doors at two bakery locations to prevent the virus from getting in. We had no idea what the future would bring.”

Both of our locations were able to reopen their doors on May 20, but the two months in between brought some interesting challenges -- and some new ideas for The Cookie Cups. In this Q&A, Nicole explains how we survived and adapted during COVID-19.

When Governor Walz issued the stay-at-home order, what immediate steps did The Cookie Cups have to take?

N.P.: We completely shut the doors in both locations and went “underground,” so to speak, for about 60 days. We only took online orders and DoorDash orders at limited capacity.

Shortly after in-person service at The Cookie Cups bakeries stopped, you began to fulfill delivery orders through services like DoorDash and GrubHub. What was the overall impact of expanding service options for your customers who couldn’t come into the stores?

N.P.: There were positives and negatives (which still exist) to this. The positive was being able to get orders out to new and existing customers and still bring in a little bit of revenue. The negative is the little amount of control we had over the technical errors, and the non-existent communication with customers through these platforms. While I am grateful to be able to sell through the systems and utilize the delivery services, I think there is a ways to go in perfecting the processes to make the working relationship with the restaurants and delivery services more seamless. I give our overall experience a 6 out of 10 from my initial expectations.

What has changed about The Cookie Cups since you reopened your doors in late May? What has remained the same? In other words, what does your “new normal” look like in Chanhassen and Wayzata?

N.P.: The new normal looks a little more normal now than it did in May. We are back open in both locations with limited hours from Wednesday to Saturday, 10 AM to 2 PM. We have not yet resumed birthday parties or cooking classes, and catering has been scarce since there are no large gatherings. We are getting walk-in traffic and orders at about 40% of our normal compared to this time last year.

During the quarantine, The Cookie Cups began developing a new shippable product line as an additional revenue stream. Can you share any details about this product line and where you are in the development process?

N.P.: When I said “we went underground,” I would say it felt more like “survival mode.” With the bakeries closed, I was home with my family and my thoughts for what to do and how we would potentially be able to “pivot” this experiment-turned-emerging brand I had built from scratch out of my home kitchen five years prior.

All of a sudden everyone was doing online cooking classes, which felt like the obvious move -- but who was going to pay for this when Food Network was offering them for free? Then I got a text from my husband, "Mr. Cookie Cup," with a link to one of those home cooking kits. You know, the ones that come with all the ingredients and a recipe. This was my lightbulb moment. 

I spent the next weeks rounding up my troops -- my graphic designer, family, friends. I even turned my bakers into work-from-home employees doing research and product development throughout the pandemic. We expect to launch two types of kits in mid-July and we are excited to finally share our hard work with everyone. 

What are you most looking forward to as more COVID-related restrictions are lifted and Minnesota moves toward broader reopening?

N.P.: Regardless of the changing landscape, we are most looking forward to selling our shippable baking kits nationwide. 

Do you have any advice for other small businesses like yours that are just getting back on their feet after months of shutdowns and slow foot traffic?

N.P.: Sit down and strategize with your team. Things aren’t going to be the same, so how can you change to adapt and still bring in the revenue to exist? If you can’t figure that out, you have work to do. We all do. 

Is there anything else customers should know about what The Cookie Cups is doing right now?

N.P.: You can still order your favorite Cookie Cups and even our Cookie Cups Gourmet Coffee for pick up or delivery! 

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