The cookie corner in Lakewood
The cookie corner in Lakewood
Peter Ackerman, Asbury Park Press
When Miriam Lopiansky was pregnant with her first child, she decided to quit her job at a catering company to spend more time with her new baby. So she started her own home-based business selling decorated cookies on Instagram and Etsy.
Now, seven years later, her online cookie shop has transformed into a bustling 6,200-square-foot pastry shop in Lakewood with some 25 employees, and she’s one of 300,000 women running small businesses in the New Jersey.
“It tastes homemade. I wanted baked goods that didn’t taste commercial,” Lopiansky said, explaining that freshness and a sense of home are most important to her.
To cookie corner, each pastry is made from A to Z and sold the same day it is baked. Items that do not sell are not recycled for the next day.
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“Everything is fresh and handmade. No shortcuts, nothing frozen, nothing pre-made, no mix-ups,” Lopiansky said.
For example, for the white chocolate mango tartlet, the mango purée and mousse are made directly from whole mangoes, because Lopiansky is resistant to processed foods. So much so that once, when she was looking for hard-to-find kosher strawberries, her salesperson offered her strawberry-flavored frosting, cream and additives as an alternative, but Lopiansky declined. Instead, she removed strawberry-based items from the menu until she could find fresh, kosher strawberries.
After two years of selling cookies online to customers across the country, demand has grown enough that her home kitchen can no longer keep pace. Lopiansky started looking for a place where she could prepare her treats, but she couldn’t find any. The only thing she found was a small retail space, with no display cases or room for tables.
She had only three employees and her sales were slow.
“There were no tables. There was only a counter with a register. We had no one to help us with the front (of the store). If a customer came, one of the people in the kitchen would come out and served the customer. That’s how quiet it was,” she said.
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Learn to manage a business
For the first two years, Lopiansky was losing money and growing in debt, but she kept going. After investing a large sum of money, much of it borrowed, she felt like she couldn’t give up. Instead, she backtracked several times to redesign her business. “I had to think about it for a long time,” she said.
With no prior experience or education on how to run a food business, Lopiansky taught herself, did market research and consulted with industry experts.
A pastry chef from Maryland, who is a friend of hers, helped her answer questions about using equipment, running a commercial space, and maintaining large-scale food. Her older sister, who owned a bakery in Israel, helped her with prizes and ideas for her sweets.
At one point, Lopiansky did his own market research, sending over 300 boxes of samples to Lakewood families who would later provide feedback.
Thanks to the advice she received and the efforts she put in, the company continued to grow and take off.
“Once we found that balance between aesthetics and flavor, that’s where the company grew,” Lopianski said.
After two years of losing money, The Cookie Corner began to profit. She settled her debts, gained confidence and expanded her offer by adding unsweetened meals and opening a bigger store at 101 Stonewall Court, where she operates today.
After six months of building his bakery restaurant, Lopiansky was very excited to finally be able to sit down to eat. But unfortunately once she opened she couldn’t seat anyone. The COVID-19 pandemic had just hit the United States and indoor seating was prohibited.
For several days, Lopiansky just cried.
“The construction site had just been completed. All the sellers wanted to get paid and no one knew at the time how long it was going to be,” she said.
Through delivery, curbside pickups and catering for Passover meals, The Cookie Corner weathered the onset of the pandemic. Once restrictions eased, Lopiansky’s business became busier than ever.
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“It tastes homemade”
With a high ceiling and soft colors, the place is warm and welcoming, yet vibrant with geometric patterns and chic decor. With enough space for 40 diners, The Cookie Corner serves as a lounge where guests can enjoy coffee, smoothies, breakfast, lunch, and desserts.
The glazed cinnamon roll, butter pecan pie, and sourdough avocado toast are popular favorites.
Doing everything from scratch is what brings out the homemade flavor of its menu. On one occasion, while she was baking carrot cake, a vendor sold her peeled and grated carrots. After trying them, she didn’t like their taste and bought a new set of fresh carrots. It took his staff an entire day to peel and grate all the carrots for this specific cake order.
“I offer homemade pastries that have no commercial taste. It tastes homemade,” she said.
The Cookie Corner is one of more than 300,000 women-owned small businesses with 500 or fewer employees in New Jersey, representing 40% of all small businesses in the state, according to a 2021 report published by the US Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy.
But in the restaurant industry, women significantly outnumber men. According to the national organization Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, only three in 10 restaurant owners are women, and Lopiansky found that a challenge.
“When I opened the store, I realized that there weren’t many women in the area I worked in. Most of the people who serve the bakeries or the food establishments and the sales people are all men All the companies you would get help from or share your experience with are mostly male (inmates),” Lopiansky said.
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On occasions when she felt uncomfortable with certain negotiations, she turned to her husband, Nachum Lopiansky, for help. She also took the advice of her older sister, who owns a daycare business in New York, and joined a WhatsApp group chat of women bakers for help.
The majority of Lopiansky’s staff are women. Among them is Cándida Arévalo, who started working as a part-time dishwasher in the old premises before being promoted to head of the pastry section.
As a dishwasher, Arévalo sporadically helped with small baking tasks, until she eventually trained new employees on how to make the pastries.
“When I started working with desserts. she (Lopiansky) would delegate small tasks to me and all of a sudden I found myself mixing the dough and taking care of the recipes,” Arévalo said.
“I never imagined that I would work as a baker. I am very happy and grateful for life and my bosses.
The staff start making the pastries at 3am so whatever they sell is done the same day. At the end of the shift, leftovers are donated to staff and the homeless.
Today, Lopiansky hopes to continue to grow her business so she can open more locations outside of Lakewood.