Maya Madsen, owner of Maya’s Cookies, is shown in the kitchen of her bakery and storefront in Grantville. Madsen started baking vegan cookies in her own kitchen before launching her business at the Little Italy farmers’ market in 2015. Maya’s Cookies now has a thriving online business and a high profile on the vegan-food scene.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Maya’s Cookies celebrates Black History Month with cookies honoring Chadwick Boseman and other Black icons
As a kid growing up in a tough part of Sacramento, Maya Madsen had a complicated relationship with food. Complicated in that there was never enough of it, and the possibility of getting more was not on the table.
“Today, the fancy term is, ‘food insecure.’ Back in my day, it was just being hungry all the time,” Madsen said during a phone interview from her home in Scripps Ranch.
“When you are a hungry child in a classroom trying to focus, everything looks like food. The teacher looks like a burrito. The kids look like sandwiches. All I could think about was when I was going to eat and how good it was going to taste.”
Many decades later, Madsen is still thinking about food. But what used to be a source of pain and frustration is now a cause for pride and celebration.
Madsen is the founder of Maya’s Cookies, a San Diego-based wholesale bakery whose gourmet vegan-cookie offerings — Chocolate Chip S’mores! Brown Sugar Butterscotch! White Chocolate Espresso! — have customers thinking about when they are going to get their hands on the next one, and how good it is going to taste.
Seven years after the former personal trainer and spin-class instructor started selling her home-baked cookies at the Little Italy farmers’ market, Maya’s Cookies has a thriving online business, a new retail storefront, and a high profile on the vegan-food scene.
Perhaps most importantly, Madsen has survived her blinding time in the zeitgeist spotlight and come out with a clearer vision of what she wants to accomplish and how she is going to do it.
In June of 2020, as the country was being rocked by the marches and protests that swept the nation after the killing of George Floyd by a White Minneapolis police officer, Maya’s Cookies became part of a viral campaign to support Black-owned businesses. Orders poured in by the thousands, a wave of goodwill that threatened to drown Madsen and her small bakery, but ended up pushing her into new territory.
It wasn’t easy, but it was life-changing.
“It was exhilarating, exciting and scary. It was daunting and emotional. You have all these people looking at you to move the machine forward,” said Madsen, who worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week for 90 days straight to keep up with customer demand.
“I don’t even have a college degree, but what I have are problem-solving skills and passion. I try to think of the positive, and that has made me able to get through many things in life. I lean on my faith. That’s huge for me. And that has really convinced me that anything is possible. You just have to persevere.”
Since that fortune-shifting summer, Madsen has turned the lobby of her Grantville bakery into a small retail space, hired more employees, expanded her corporate-gift business, and forged partnerships with movers-and-shakers like former NBA champion John Salley, who joined the company in an advisory role earlier this month.
Madsen has also been able to give back to the community. She has mentored other small-business owners; worked with nonprofit organizations like Junior Achievement of San Diego County and DETOUR, a local mentoring program for girls of color; and participated in panels about the joys and challenges of being a Black female entrepreneur.
Most recently, the mother of three adult sons has poured her passion for baking and consciousness-raising into her new Black History Month Collection, which honors Black icons with special-edition cookies that use ingredients from Black-owned businesses.
There is “The Superhero,” which pays tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman with a “Black Panther"-inspired dark-chocolate cookie studded with extra-dark chocolate chunks from the Black-owned, woman-owned Kanda Chocolates, whose products are grown, processed and packaged in Ghana.
There is also “The First Lady,” a cookie inspired by Michelle Obama and her mother, Marian Robinson. The lemon-spiked sugar cookie features white-chocolate chunks and marionberries soaked in red wine from a Black-owned vegan winery.
The collection is rounded out by “The Uncle Nearest,” a brown-sugar cookie that contains candied pecans that get a boozy jolt from Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which honors African American master distiller Nearest Green.
The cookies are meant to be savored, not analyzed. But in addition to an ingredient list that includes premium chocolates, organic flours and sugars, and a vegan buttery spread, the cookies in Madsen’s Black History Month Collection are made with purpose.
As Madsen has discovered during this exhilarating, daunting time, people are hungry for that, too.
“Before Black Lives Matter was in the forefront of everyone’s mind, you would shop Black if you could. It was just a thing you did,” the 52-year-old Madsen said.
“I have a platform now, and it’s important within our community that we lift each other up and support each other. We have to be stronger, and when we have a platform, we have to use it.”
Maya’s Cookies are available online at mayascookies.com and at the storefront at 4760 Mission Gorge Place, Suite G, Grantville.
The original column is available here