WATERLOO — Tracy Beier doesn’t mind being called “the cookie lady.”
She hears it practically every time she’s delivering cookie-filled boxes to her commercial and individual customers. Occasionally Beier has taken an order for a dozen of this-or-that cookie shouted to her across a parking lot.
Four years ago, Beier turned her passion for baking into a home business. Monster Cookies & More … is fast becoming a monster success. Initially she did all her mixing and baking using a hand-held mixer and the oven in her kitchen. It wasn’t long before she burned out the mixer motor and outgrew the space.
“I’ve loved to bake since I was a little girl. I baked with my mom, and I was the one who always brought cookies to school or an event or work,” Beier says. After a friend encouraged her to sell her cookies, Beier decided to give it a try.
For the first year, she spent her days as a paraeducator for Waterloo Community Schools and evenings and weekends baking batch after batch of cookies and finding eager customers.
“I’m a 24-7 person. I just jumped in feet first. I had no business background, although I’d worked as a restaurant manager for 10 years before going into the schools for 10 years.”
Beier researched the home-baking business and used the resources available at the UNI Small Business Development Center in Cedar Falls. She learned about taxes, insurance, licensing, pricing and other important considerations for a small business owner.
Within a year, Beier was making enough profit in cookie sales to nearly equal her full-time job. “I thought if I could devote myself 100 percent to my cookie business, I could do really well.” She took a leave of absence for a year from her job, “and I never went back.”
Instead, she and her husband, Dave, remodeled the basement of their home to fit a commercial kitchen for her burgeoning business, including upgrading electrical wiring and meeting city codes. The business has grown mostly through word of mouth.
Now she makes at least 15 different cookie varieties, including the best-selling monster cookies, chocolate chip, chocolate chip oatmeal, snicker doodle, peanut butter and white chocolate macadamia, as well as seasonal offerings such as apple crisp, pumpkin pecan and red velvet. She generally bakes four batches of monster cookies five or six mornings a week, and each batch of her secret recipe uses an entire jar of peanut butter.
“It outsells the other varieties ten-fold because it is the perfect cookie — peanut butter, oatmeal, chocolate chips, M&Ms. It has everything. Chocolate chip is probably second on the list,” Beier says. She also makes gluten-free and peanut-free cookies and a vegan variety.
“I’ve been making my monster cookies since high school. I read cookbooks and mess around with recipes to alter them or improve on them.” She also jots down people’s cookie suggestions on Post-it notes and tacks them to a bulletin board.
In December, she plans to introduce a new holiday cookie, cranberry delight made with oatmeal, cranberries, almonds and white chocolate.
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Prices range from $6 to $12 per dozen; gluten-free is $13 and up. Beier is careful to avoid cross-contamination by keeping her gluten-free supplies completely separate from regular ingredients and “sanitizing everything all the time,” she explains.
Her day usually begins at 9 a.m., after dropping kids off at school and a trip to the gym — “I love cookies and that’s why I can eat them,” she asserts, smiling. About once a month, she makes and sells protein balls and protein bars at her gym.
It’s not unusual for a busy baking day to stretch into night, wrapping up around 8 p.m. She also makes her own deliveries.
On an average day, she’ll go through 10 to 20 dozen eggs per week. Each week, she uses 25 to 36 pounds of butter and 25 to 50 pounds each of flour, sugar and brown sugar. She uses Madacascar Bourbon vanilla and bakes on baking stones.
She has occasional help in the kitchen, including her daughter, Kristi, who will soon be a culinary program graduate from Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids, and several nieces, as well as her dad, Louis Reiss. Her mom, Virginia, makes aprons for the bakers to wear. (Helpers get to eat what Beier calls her fuddy-duddy cookies — ones that come out of the oven misshapen or not up to her standards.)
Beier won’t say never, but doesn’t plan to move her home business into a retail space.
She has regular customers — cookie lovers who can be counted on to place frequent orders — along with individuals and businesses who place orders for gatherings, conferences and special events, such as birthdays, weddings and retirements, and for gift-giving.
She also started a cookie-of-the-month club with subscribers receiving 1 dozen cookies each month for three, six or 12 months. Her cookie fundraisers are proving popular with school, civic and community groups.
“That’s evolving and really growing, too. Fundraising participants sell the cookies (ready to eat, not cookie dough) to supporters and receive $3 per dozen sold back to their organization,” Beier explains.
Some groups have raised $100 to $900 or more selling Beier’s cookies.
In addition, cookies can be purchased at Cork’s Grocery, Jim Lind Service, Laughing Tree Café at the Waterloo Center for the Arts, Hansen’s Dairy in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Hy-Vee Gas in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, and Martin Brothers and Annie Alterations, both in Cedar Falls.