TechLounge: Central Ohio Technology | Entrepreneurs | Innovation
After Craig Lee was injured while on duty as a Columbus Police Sergeant during Red, White and Boom in 2005, he started to think it was time to start a new life chapter. A hip replacement surgery that rendered him 72 percent disabled sealed the decision and he found himself looking for pathways outside of law enforcement.
According to his wife Lisa, Craig always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He also had a lifelong passion for baking. When life circumstances changed, the two of them jumped at the opportunity to turn a hobby into a business. Although, Lisa admits she never imagined the two of them being in business together.
"Craig's law enforcement career and my background in communications never seemed a likely pairing, but it turns out we work great together," she quips.
The idea for what eventually came to be known as the Cookie Cop was spawned out of an abundance of media coverage on obesity. The sharp spike in diabetes cases and the childhood obesity epidemic in particular made them realize there was an opportunity for someone that could create and effectively market healthy snack alternatives that did not skimp on taste.
The seed for the idea, however, came years earlier. Craig baked Lisa’s favorite cookie, chocolate chip, for a family Thanksgiving celebration in 1993. He started with an existing recipe and made a few adjustments including swapping eggs, sugar and butter for healthier, natural ingredients. To Lisa’s delight, the original recipe had transformed into something very special.
"When it comes to chocolate chip cookies, there are few harsher critics," says Lisa. "The fact that he was able to produce a vegan cookie that was better than the original amazed me, and I knew that Craig was really onto something."
They started by sharing the cookies, which were tested by a local physician and labeled "sugar stable," with friends and colleagues. From there the word quickly spread about "the cop that makes amazing cookies." Craig’s habit of baking while dressed in police garb prompted Lisa to jokingly refer to him as "The Cookie Cop." The rest as they say is history.
To date, the business has been largely a family operation, but their success has led to talks with major food manufacturers about expanding. Making these initial contacts, however, proved to be one of their biggest challenges.
"The proverbial Catch 22 exists when it comes to large scale food production. Companies will not talk to you without credibility, and gaining credibility in their eyes is very difficult."
After numerous unsuccessful attempts, the breakthrough came one day in the unlikeliest of places - United Dairy Farmers. Craig picked up an individually wrapped cookie and flipped over the wrapper while waiting in the checkout line. Therein laid the key to the next step in the cooking-making adventure.
"Right there on the label was the manufacturer. I figured I had nothing to lose so I picked up the phone and called the headquarters of Busken Bakery in Cincinnati, Ohio," says Craig.
The ensuing relationship with Busken resulted in the first mass production of cookies. Other promising relationships are now emerging, making the cop and the communicator poised for even grander achievements.
Out of their experience comes a wealth of knowledge and experience. When asked what advice the pair has to offer other entrepreneurs, they don’t hesitate.
"Whatever your idea or aspiration, hold onto to the belief in your abilities as well as your dreams. There are so many outside forces that will try and knock you down. Your faith is what will sustain you through what can be a turbulent process."
"Success is not an overnight thing. You need to reach out to people that have been there and can guide you through the pitfalls of the business. Trust your instincts. Do your research and learn your market."
You can learn more about Craig and Lisa Tyus-Lee and The Cookie Cop online at http://www.thecookiecop.com/.
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