The Cookie Corner in Lakewood
The Cookie Corner in Lakewood
Peter Ackerman, Asbury Park Press
When Miriam Lopiansky was pregnant with her first child, she decided to quit her job at a catering company to spend more time with her new baby. So she started her own business from home selling decorated cookies on Instagram and Etsy.
Today, seven years later, her online cookie store has turned into a busy, 6,200-square-foot pastry shop in Lakewood with some 25 employees, and she is among the 300,000 women who operate small businesses in New Jersey.
“It tastes homemade. I wanted pastries that don’t taste commercial,” Lopiansky said as she explained that freshness and a sense of home are most important to her.
At The Cookie Corner, every pastry is made from scratch and sold the same day it is baked. Items that don’t sell are not recycled for the next day.
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“Everything is fresh and made by hand. No shortcuts, nothing frozen, nothing premade, no mixes,” Lopiansky said.
For instance, for the mango white chocolate tartlet, the mango puree and mousse are made straight from whole mangoes, since Lopiansky resists using processed foods. So much so that one time, when she was looking for kosher strawberries, which are hard to find, her vendor offered strawberry-flavored icing, cream and additives as an alternative, but Lopiansky declined. Instead, she removed strawberry-based items from the menu until she could find fresh, kosher strawberries.
After two years selling cookies online to customers across the country, the demand increased enough that her home kitchen could no longer keep up. Lopiansky started looking for a location where she could prepare her sweet treats, but she couldn’t find one. The only thing she found was a small retail space, with no storefront window, and no room for tables.
She only had three employees and her sales were slow.
“There were no tables. There was just a counter with a register. We didn’t have anybody to help with the front (of the store). If a customer came, one of the people in the kitchen would come out and serve the customer. That’s how quiet it was,” she said.
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Teaching herself how to run a business
For the first two years, Lopiansky was losing money and growing her debt, but she kept going. After investing a great amount of money, much of which she had borrowed, she felt like she couldn’t quit. Instead, she stepped back multiple times to rethink her business. “I had to put a lot of thought into this,” she said.
With no previous experience nor education on how to run a food business, Lopiansky taught herself, did market research and consulted with industry experts.
A Maryland pastry chef, who is a friend of hers, helped her with questions about equipment use, how to run a commercial space and large-scale food maintenance. Her older sister, who had owned a bakery in Israel, helped her with pricing and ideas for her sweets.
At some point, Lopiansky did her own market research by sending out over 300 sample boxes to families in Lakewood that would later provide their feedback.
Thanks to the advice she received and the effort she put in, the business kept growing and hit its stride.
“Once we found that balance between aesthetics and flavor, that’s when the business grew,” Lopianski said.
After two years of losing money, The Cookie Corner started profiting. She settled debts, gained confidence and expanded her offerings by adding non-sweet meals and opening a bigger store at 101 Stonewall Court, where she operates today.
After six months constructing her pastry restaurant, Lopiansky was very excited that she could finally have table seating. But unfortunately, once she opened, she couldn’t seat anyone. The COVID-19 pandemic had just set foot in the US and indoor seating was banned.
For many days, Lopiansky just cried.
“The construction had just ended. All of the vendors wanted to get paid and nobody knew at that time how long it was going to last,” she said.
Through delivery, curb side pickups, and catering for Passover meals, The Cookie Corner made it through the onset of the pandemic. Once restrictions were eased, Lopiansky’s business became busier than ever.
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‘It tastes homemade’
With a high ceiling and muted colors, the venue is warm and homey, yet vibrant with geometric patterns and chic décor. With enough space to seat 40 diners, The Cookie Corner serves as a lounge where guests can get coffee, frappé drinks, breakfast, lunch, and desserts.
The glazed cinnamon bun, the butter pecan tart and the avocado sourdough toast are popular favorites.
Making everything from scratch is what brings out the homemade flavor of her menu. On one occasion, while she was making a carrot cake, a vendor sold her peeled, shredded carrots. After she tried them, she didn’t like how they tasted and purchased a new set of fresh carrots. It took her staff a whole day to peel and shred all the carrots for that specific cake order.
“I offer homemade pastries that don’t taste commercial. It tastes homemade,” she said.
The Cookie Corner is one of the more than 300,000 woman-owned small businesses with 500 employees or fewer in New Jersey, accounting for 40% of all small businesses in the state, according to a 2021 report published by the US Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy.
But in the restaurant industry, women are significantly outnumbered by men. According to the national organization Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, only three out of 10 restaurant owners are women and Lopiansky found this a challenge.
“When I opened up the store, I realized, that there aren’t that many women in the field that I’m in. Most of the people who service bakeries or food establishments, and vendors are all men. All of the businesses that you would get help from or share your experience with are mostly men (owned),” Lopiansky said.
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On those occasions when she didn’t feel comfortable with certain negotiations, she would turn to her husband, Nachum Lopiansky, for help. She also took advice from her older sister, who owns a day care business in New York City, and joined a female bakers WhatsApp group chat for support.
The majority of Lopiansky’s staff are women. Among them is Cándida Arévalo, who started working as a part-time dishwasher in the old location before being promoted to head of the pastry section.
As a dishwasher, Arévalo would sporadically help with small pastry tasks, until she ended up training new staff on how to make the pastries.
“When I started working with the desserts. she (Lopiansky) would delegate small chores to me and all of a sudden I found myself mixing batter and dealing with recipes,” Arévalo said.
“I never imagined that I would be working as a baker. I’m very happy and grateful with life and with my bosses.”
The staff starts making the pastries at 3 am so that everything they sell is made the same day. At the end of the shift, leftovers are given to the staff and to homeless people.
Today, Lopiansky hopes to continue growing her business so that she can open more locations outside Lakewood.
Juan Carlos Castillo is a reporter covering everything Lakewood. He delves into politics, social issues and human interest stories. Reach out to him at JcCastillo@gannett.com