After Sainsbury’s pulled her favourite cookie from the shelves during lockdown, Amanda Charles got to work in building her own baking empire.
We’ve all had those moments when we search the shelves for our favourite items and realise they have disappeared.
While most of us just accept this fate, 28-year-old Amanda Charles from Aberdeen wasn’t going to commit to a lockdown without Sainsbury’s white chocolate and raspberry cookie.
Instead, she got to work in her kitchen in her third storey flat and worked on making her own.
Inspired by New York City-based baking firm Levian Bakery to make huge, chunky cookies, Amanda now bakes more than 600 cookies a week from her new commercial kitchen premises in the city centre.
Having been made redundant from her role in oil and gas recruitment, she knew there were no jobs and decided to make a go of her idea and launched Cookie Cult in December last year.
She said: “I launched the business mid-December 2020. During the pandemic I had been on furlough at one point for around five months, then they brought us back until the end of October last year and then I was made redundant.
“I worked for a recruitment agency for oil and gas and I didn’t know what I was going to do. Having worked for a recruitment agency I knew there were no jobs.
“When I was on furlough I was trying to perfect cookies – Sainsbury’s make this delicious white chocolate and raspberry cookie, and when coronavirus happened, they stopped selling it. I wanted to try and make it and then I just started making cookies all the time.
“I was handing them out to friends and then they were asking to purchase cookies for their friends, and then random people started messaging me about it. When I was made redundant I just thought to myself ‘let’s make some cookies!’.
NYC style cookies
Specialising in New York inspired thick, chunky cookies, Amanda has not only brought a new must-try product to the Aberdeen market, but has launched a range of different flavours has added vegan products to her offering, too.
She added: “It has taken off so much. I was looking on Instagram for inspiration and it was Levain Bakery whose cookies I had seen – that’s where I was inspired by the idea for big, chunky cookies. I attempted to try to make them and it has just adapted from that.
“I’ve changed the recipe now to make them even chunkier! I’ve focused on my favourite flavours and now people message me flavours they’d like to see, too.
“I’ve taken real inspiration from my customers. I’ve just launched five new seasonal ones for summer including s’mores, cookies and cream, Kinder, strawberries and cream and a vegan version of Biscoff.
“There’s seven in the core Cult Classics range and then I’ll have seasonal specials, too, which means I can experiment more with flavours. I have done Easter and Christmas ones, and I’m doing Father’s Day ones, too.
“The Nutella and Biscoff flavours are the most popular, and birthday cake is big. Some are more popular than others some weeks.
“My boyfriend’s family are all vegan and I thought ‘I can’t make cookies and not be able to give them to them’. They are more popular than I ever thought they would be.”
Moving into a commercial kitchen
Launching in her flat, the back-breaking task of hauling huge bags of flour up three flights of stairs is now no more for the entrepreneur as she has now moved into her first commercial kitchen.
Situated on Charles Street, the premises originally belonged to Amanda’s dad who runs MTC Windows and Doors next door, but is now the home of Cookie Cult.
Amanda said: “I live in a top floor flat and I used to have to hike these huge bags of flour up three floors of stairs every single day. It was a lot!”
“My home kitchen is half of the size of my new commercial one now. My fridge and freezer space wasn’t enough. I knew I had to do something but with Covid-19 I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the risk and rent somewhere.
“Luckily my dad owns MTC Windows and Doors next door and they had a spare room to the side of the building they weren’t using so we have turned it into a commercial kitchen.
“I could fit 20 cookies in my home oven which is nothing when you’re making hundreds of cookies a day. I was up to 3am some days as I’d be making up to 600 cookies in a flat. I can now bake 80 at a time – my life has changed! They are between 140 grams and 190 grams – they are big, so they take up a lot of room.
So what is Amanda’s secret to making the chunkiest cookies in Aberdeen? Freezing them, baking them, and packing them full of goodies.
She added: “You have to freeze them to get their chunkiness and they need minimum two hours, then they need baked – I only had a certain amount of room so I was making them non-stop. The new set-up is much better.”
“I make 600 a week standard now, but for Valentine’s Day I made more than 1,000 in one week.”
Looking to expand the business in her new digs, Amanda already supplies two cafes with her goods and is on the hunt for more commercial opportunities.
Her boxes online are priced from £12 for a box of four, with each cookie priced at £3 a piece. Boxes come with four, six, or 12 cookies.
“Now I have a commercial kitchen I have plans to go into other venues which is really exciting. I’d love to get into a cafe in Bridge of Don as I have so many deliveries out there and I think that would be great.
“I have teamed up with a local company called DF Distributions who are amazing. They deliver local school meals for people and my driver, Dana, is excellent. They collect from my premises Wednesday to Friday and deliver across the city. I ship UK-wide and I am actually busier with shipped orders. I am thinking of offering collection soon, too.”
With her hopes set on one day owning her own shop and employing a team, customers can expect to see more from Amanda as she progresses her business.
She said: “I hope one day I will get a shop. I need to observe what is happening with the pandemic, but I’d love one in the city centre.
“I’d also like to employ some staff, too. My mum helps me out just now, but my sister is pregnant and she (mum) will soon be a grandma and will have her hands full with helping my sister. I’m probably going to hire a few people to help me out. As it gets busier there’s only so many cookies I can make.”