AN INTERVIEW WITH MAYA MADSEN, FOUNDER OF MAYA’S COOKIES
On making people happy with her cookies:
It’s so fun to get an unexpected gift of a box of cookies on your doorstep. I love to imagine the full experience. From the packaging, to the unboxing, to enjoying our delicious cookies, I want the entire experience to be memorable.
On her classic flavors:
Our base cookie collection are my classic cookies…We always have these six flavors: Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip S’mores, Marble Fudge, Birthday Cake, Snickerdoodle, and Double Chocolate…those are what we call our OG classics.
Then we have what I call our Premium Collection, which are cookies that are a little bit more over the top. This includes our White Chocolate Macadamia, Brown Sugar Butterscotch, Espresso White Chocolate, Famous “Everything” Cookie, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip with Walnuts and Drunken Grandma.
On creating new flavors:
We have a joke here at Maya’s Cookies. When they’re pressuring me, “Do we have any new flavors?” I always say, “Do you think that Picasso can just spit out a painting at a moment’s notice?” We have to be inspired! So there’s no rhyme or reason….I get inspired from travel, people, nature and the outdoors, to things that are trending in pop culture… I’m always looking for something that’s going to be fun and cheeky, or just over the top. I like to say that our cookies are beautiful drag queens. They’re just over the top bursting with extra flair, an attention to detail, and fully worthy of taking center stage.
On Maya’s Cookies Black History Month collection:
Pictured: the Debbie Allen cookie and the Hank Aaron cookie
I’m always inspired by things that are going on in the world. Black History Month was the source this time for my inspiration. During the Presidential Inauguration, I was watching Amanda Gorman like everybody else. And I was like, what the heck did I just listen to? Where did she come from? Where is this angel that floated onto that podium? And, you know, I was mesmerized. I kept watching it over and over on YouTube. I thought to myself, I want to create a cookie to honor this queen. She deserves it. I was inspired by the brilliance and brightness of her outfit. She seemed so elegant and powerful in her yellow coat and red headband. That visual manifested into a beautiful lemon raspberry cookie. For the Debbie Allen cookie, I’m a huge fan of hers. She is fierce, is dedicated to excellence, and cares so deeply for the next generation and is invested in their success. I had just watched her special on Netflix about the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker…as you may know, it’s a production they do every year …and the Debbie Allen Dance Academy is in an underserved area that provides scholarships, access, dance, and the arts for children that would normally not be exposed to that…and… the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is their grand finale every year. The Hot Chocolate Cookie is exactly as you might imagine, a delicious chocolate cookie stuffed with a marshmallow inside. And then of course the Hank Aaron. I have three sons, they all played baseball. We love to celebrate Black history through baseball and the Negro Leagues. We have a lot of Negro League memorabilia and when Hank Aaron passed away, I immediately started singing to myself: “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks”…and so I took our luscious brown sugar dough and filled it with peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and butterscotch.
On ASL Fridays on the @mayascookiessandiego account:
Since I started my business in 2015, I have had a significant amount of customers within the community of people with hearing loss…Bella, who is one of our employees, (knows) ASL…She works every Friday. …I wanted to let our customers know that we have someone on staff who knows ASL and to please come in, we’re accessible! When we posted that, we got so much feedback from the community, it just really resonated with people. So I said, ‘Bella, every time you work, I want to keep this conversation going because I want to be sure to open more doors for people to enjoy Maya’s Cookies.’
On building a brand and running a business:
You just have to be honest and be authentic and be yourself and not pretend. When you are at fault and make a mistake, own it. I call it “Own your shit.” I don’t swear, but that’s one of my terms. When you get knocked down, get up, dust off, figure it out and climb over that fence because that’s going to make you stronger. I’ve had so many hurdles and obstacles. You get knocked down in this business and then you have to get back up and figure it out and the buck stops with me. When something happens and we get knocked down, I have to figure it out, because I have staff counting on me. There’s no one else I can go to. I’m the problem solver here and I’m the one that’s accountable. So I would say just don’t let failure stop you and don’t let people stop you. You have to stay mission-driven and you have to have grit. You can have grit and be tough, but also be kind and compassionate and gentle.
On business challenges:
In order to be a successful business person, you have to have mental toughness and know that it’s not going to be rainbows and unicorns. Stuff is going to happen and you have to be ready for it. In June (2020), we experienced a huge spike in business. You may remember the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement and during that initial phase, there were several lists floating around supporting Black-Owned businesses. We were on several of those lists, including one that was retweeted by Kerry Washington. It was almost overnight that we experienced a 10,000% increase in business. It might sound exciting at first, but that excitement quickly turns to panic when you realize you simply don’t have the supplies or manpower to support the orders. From a goofed up supply chain with COVID, to not being able to secure packaging quickly enough, or an overwhelmed postal service… You get knocked down and you can either let that rock you or you can jump up and let that challenge fuel you.
On consistently supporting Black-owned businesses:
I want to thank everyone who supported us during that spike (in orders in June)… we’re so grateful as it allowed us to scale up…But I also want to remind people… don’t just be reactive to what’s going on in the moment and then forget about those businesses. If you like the product or you like the service that you supported in June, then continue to consider them. … I made efforts to make sure that we could continue to grow and I was intentional about our growth….But I want to also tell people that a lot of the small businesses that you supported did things such as purchase equipment or purchase a larger facility in order to fulfill your orders. They rose up to the challenge so remember to stay connected and continue to support them.
On advice for rising entrepreneurs:
I would say find a mentor. That’s a huge piece of advice that I can’t stress enough. Having a mentor has been invaluable to me because when I face challenges, I can contact them. They’re honest because they don’t have to tell you what you want to hear. They want to tell you what you need to hear to succeed and be successful.
On giving back to your community:
I’ve always believed in giving back to your community, especially underserved communities. Before the whole Black Lives Matter movement, being a mother of three Black young men, I was living Black Lives Matter my entire life. As a result, I knew that reaching back out to my community and contributing would be a core value of Maya’s Cookies. When the trajectory of my business changed, we were suddenly able to do more and I jumped at the chance! Maya’s Cookies was able to support a couple of charities- one helps mentor young girls of color and underserved communities and gets them on the path to college success and the other one is an animal sanctuary. I was so proud to be able to donate to those charities in 2020. When people order from a small business like mine, just know that it’s a trickle-down effect that, you know, I’m going to pay it forward by hiring, creating jobs in the community, and also giving back to underserved communities and animals.
On sharing her story and inspiring others:
One of my biggest sources of pride is when I see families, Black families, coming in to the storefront and the moms will introduce me to their young daughters and say, see, anything’s possible… I’ve experienced that on several occasions. It makes me happy to see young brown girls see someone who looks like them…being successful and I hope it inspires them to feel like they can do it too. The sky’s the limit.
Maya’s favorite San Diego brands and organizations:
Meet the author:
Kate is a bookworm and a vegan endurance runner. She spent seven years diving deep into book-to-film communities as co-administrator of a Hunger Games fansite, worked for the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards®, and is currently a M.A. student at Tufts University’s Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development.
You can follow Kate on Instagram @kfarrell94!
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