As with any great story about opening a bakery, DŌ began when Kristen Tomlan’s childhood love for baking (and all things cookie dough) blossomed into an amazing and innovative idea. Since we usually eat most of our cookie dough before baking it anyways, why not sell it that way? But don’t worry — it’s totally safe to eat.
After looking at all of the drool-worthy doughs Kristen offers, we just had to find out what inspired this business, her absolute favorite flavor combo, and everything else in between. Not only did she share her secrets for success as a part of the Wild Ophelia Women Entrepreneur Series, but she also made us crave cookie dough to an extent we never thought possible. Be sure to have a roll — or tub — handy.
Spoon: How did your childhood passion for baking develop into wanting to start your own company?
Kristen Tomlan: So, my childhood passion for baking — I guess for me it was always kind of a hobby, something I did for fun. When I moved to NYC, it was just a way to kind of have a stress reliever at the end of the day. I would always find myself in the kitchen baking up some yummy treats to bring in to coworkers or for friends, or to bring to a party.
It was really just a hobby, and I loved experimenting with new things. I was trying things that people were talking about. So, this hobby turned into something — into a business, because I just had a huge passion for it. Especially cookie dough. I always loved making cookies, but I would typically make a large batch and end up eating half the dough, not even baking it. I started talking to some friends and I realized that everybody really loved to eat cookie dough. So, why was this not really a thing? I used that and developed this brand and made some fun flavors, and it really just took off from there.
Spoon: What was the most intimidating thing about opening a business?
KT: There were a lot of intimidating things, because I don’t have a business background. My background is in design. It’s not like I had this lifelong dream of owning a bakery — it was just something that kind of happened. The most intimidating part was just not really knowing what necessarily to anticipate. You can do a ton of research and you can hire all of the right people to help you out, but at the end of the day, you have to kind of go with your gut feeling and do what makes you happy.
So, that was a big leap for me. When I started the business, I had a part-time job, so at first I was like, “How am I going to manage all of this?” Then, once it kind of took off, it was intimidating to leave my job and really say, “You know what, I’m going to give everything I have — all of my time and effort — into this business that I believe in.”
There are so many things along the way that are intimidating. New York is a really difficult market — there’s a lot of competition in dessert. But just follow your dream and go with your gut for sure.
Spoon: What was the most exciting or fun part?
KT: The most fun part was really developing the recipes and developing this brand that people really reacted to and loved — all of the bright, playful colors. The most exciting thing was just the response I got from people. To be honest, just making people happy and making people smile. There’s something about dessert that just really makes people happy, and that’s what I loved the most.
It was exciting that it was really taking off and that people were sharing it — you know, just getting picked up by some really great press. It was all really exciting — like, oh my gosh, how did this thing that started in my really tiny kitchen turn into this legitimate business? It’s all been very exciting. Every day is something new.
Spoon: Did anyone doubt you when you began the process of starting your company? How did you respond to those people, and how did you cope with your fears?
KT: I think when some people found out I just started an edible cookie dough company, they were kind of like, “Oh, that’s cute. That sounds like fun.” A lot of people thought I was just starting a fun thing on the side and just having fun with it, but my goal from the beginning was to start a business, and my business just happened to be really fun and something I enjoyed doing, but it was never meant to just be. I had really grand plans for it and still do.
I think some people just doubted that it could be a thing at all. I mean, everybody was super supportive, but I think I proved a lot of people wrong in that there is a big market and that we can take something that’s just an idea and make it a legitimate business. There are obviously going to be doubters along the way and people that think what you’re doing is cute and fun, but they don’t really understand the amount of time or work or passion you put into it and that you’re legitimately trying to make it much bigger than just a little hobby.
Spoon: What advice — whether practically, financially, or emotionally speaking — would you give to any of us college kids who dream about opening a bakery?
KT: I would say definitely follow your heart. One of the best pieces of advice that I got was — when I was trying to figure out what I was going to with my idea — somebody said, “You need to think about what you want to be doing day in and day out, and make sure that what you start, you’re okay with doing that day in and day out.”
I had toyed with the idea of not doing an online store, not doing a storefront — just kind of going straight to wholesale — and that has very different implications for a business than what I currently do. So it was like, okay, do you want to be on the phone taking down retailers and pitching your business to big wholesalers, or do you want to be with customers?
You have to really figure out what makes you happy, because you’re going to be spending way more time and way more effort than you ever imagined in starting a business.
Financially speaking, I would say start small and test things and see what kind of response you get. Be nimble enough to be able to change things, and be able to understand that even though you may love one thing, it may not be working, so you need to let it go. Being open to change would definitely be some advice I would give.
Spoon: Though people often associate women with the culinary arts, the majority of prominent chefs and bakers out there are men. However, strong female entrepreneurs like you are changing the game. What kind of impact do you want your business to have on the industry?
KT: I want my business to definitely give hope to all of the young females out there that have a dream. I think that women are very quickly becoming — are, not becoming — a force to be reckoned with and can do things just as great as the men in the industry. I mostly just want to give inspiration and empowerment to women and just say, “You can do this.” It doesn’t matter about your gender at all. Sometimes women have the best ideas, in my opinion. Women have the same potential in any industry, especially the food industry.
Spoon: Do you find it difficult to continue to experience your delight in baking while also keeping up with so many responsibilities as a businesswoman?
KT: I would say yes. I think that one of the fun parts for me is getting in the kitchen, experimenting with new flavors, testing new things, looking for new companies and products to collaborate with — that is really still what I love most. At the end of the day, there is still going to be a really long list of tasks and payrolls and taxes and stuff that aren’t that fun, but really getting in the kitchen and getting my hands dirty is a way I can get that relief, find that delight, improve my company and the products we offer, and finding new ways to make people happy.
Spoon: What was your biggest failure or disappointment in the kitchen? How did you learn from it?
KT: I wouldn’t necessarily say failure, but I did a lot of experimentation for the gluten-free and vegan options. Not being a vegan, I didn’t know much about vegan baking. I definitely failed many, many times and went through dozens and dozens of recipes for things, which was a great learning experience. Also, testing those recipes with people who really cared about being vegan and people who absolutely were not vegan.
Spoon: Please excuse the cliché, but we all know that the key ingredient in anything is love. How does your love for baking motivate you in your endeavors?
KT: We put so much love and time and effort into making the best possible product we can and finding the best ingredients and using the best techniques. It is a cliché, but it’s true — if I didn’t have a passion for it, there’s no way that I would be doing what I am today. I won’t pretend like it’s easy, but it’s really my love for baking that’s the reason I started it and why I love it so much. It makes it all worthwhile.
Spoon: What is the craziest flavor combination you’ve ever made, and how did you come up with it?
KT: The craziest one — my favorite — uses a sugar cookie base and then some of my favorite things: Nutella, caramel bits, chocolate chips, and sea salt. It’s called Heavenly, and it’s hands down my favorite product that we have on our regular menu. But we do take requests. People are able to customize their cookie dough, and so sometimes people like to add the whole kitchen sink into their cookie dough. If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.
Spoon: What was your go-to guilty pleasure treat in college?
KT: Probably cookie dough straight out of the Pillsbury carton. It wouldn’t even make it to the oven. Or, I used to make this cookie cake that was half-baked so it was super gooey — basically still cookie dough in the middle — with marshmallows, M&Ms, and chocolate chips on top. It was so good — like so, so good. After a night at the bar, I’d get a bunch of friends and go to town on this cookie cake.
Spoon: For all of the sweet tooths out there, what is your fruity cocktail of choice, if you have one?
KT: I tend to stay away from the fruity drinks now. In college, I would probably get a frozen strawberry margarita. With a side of chips and guac. Done.
Spoon: What is the weirdest craving you’ve ever had?
KT: I would probably say one of my favorite foods is artichokes. Like, “I just really want an artichoke.” That’s probably one of the weirdest.
Spoon: What kind of music do you jam to when you’re baking?
KT: Everything. We have a daily DJ at the bakery. Somebody from the staff has to be the DJ and choose the playlist and what songs to play. We have DJ Sprinkles, DJ DŌ… It’s kind of just a fun thing. Because we listen to music all day every day, we like to change it up. Sometimes we’re rocking out at Justin Bieber, and somedays we’re like ‘80s throwback or Billy Joel. We just try to have fun with it, because why not?
Spoon: For my fellow students who hope to study abroad, what is the ultimate food destination, in your opinion?
KT: I studied abroad in Europe, and there’s nothing like Italy, France, and Spain. Europe in general, if I can generalize that much. Just go with it. It’s worth every frickin’ bite.
Spoon: Where is the best place to eat in NYC?
KT: My favorite restaurant is this really small, tiny place that you wouldn’t necessarily know exists. It’s in this neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s rustic Northern Italian, so it’s all super fresh and homemade and they use all sorts of seasonal ingredients. They have wonderful wine and drink pairings. It’s also not crazy expensive, which is nice, because some of the best restaurants in the city are crazy expensive. They just have really, really great food. You know whatever they have on their menu is going to be delicious. I probably eat there once a week. The name of it is Rucola.
Spoon: Now, it’s time for the ultimate decision: rainbow sprinkles or chocolate chips?
KT: I can only have one of them? This is like the worst “would you rather” ever. I guess sprinkles. Sprinkles just make everything better.