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The smell of freshly baked cookies still warm from the oven greets lunch and dinner customers at Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint restaurants. On prominent display in a case by the register, the Love Cookies have been a best seller for the chain since they were first offered nearly seven years ago.
The cookies — often chocolate chip or sometimes oatmeal with white chocolate chips and cranberry raisins — cook up imperfectly, looking like the kind of cookies you would have baked with your grandmother as a child growing up.
But the cookies are not made from scratch at the create-your-own pizza concept. “We use the term 'made-to-order,'” says Jenelle Brown, vice president of operations for Atlanta-based Uncle Maddio’s. “They bake in a shape that looks homemade, and when a customer orders a cookie, we warm it up and serve it.”
Quick service, fast casual and bakery-café operators are enticing customers with cookies, doughnuts, cakes and other dessert items with that slow-baked, homemade feel. Working with suppliers to develop proprietary recipes for products that are created off-site but finished on-premises many operators are finding such treats are a great way to increase ticket prices and support brands that want to project a freshly made, artisanal profile.
“The home baked look of a cookie or cupcake conveys quality, and it’s a safe purchase for customers,” says Phyllis Ann Marshall, owner of FoodPower, a Costa Mesa, California, consultancy which helps operators design menus.
House-made or goods that look home baked are also perceived as healthier than many of the supersized cookies, cupcakes and huge cakes, Marshall says. “There’s a comfort and familiarity and a feeling of a fair price,” she says.
Uncle Maddio’s Love Cookies, for example, sell for $2.50 each, and the average customer usually buys two, Brown says.
Over the years Uncle Maddio’s has experimented with a variety of desserts before settling on the cookie, says Scott Goodrich, chief operating officer of the fast casual chain.
“When I arrived in 2013, none of the other desserts moved off the shelves anywhere close to the Love Cookie,” Goodrich says. “The Love Cookie outsold the next dessert by two times, so we narrowed the selection down.”
The pizza chain also acknowledges its Italian theme by offering a cannoli that is finished with piping applied on-premises.
Being able to offer ready-to-finish baked goods also has been a selling point for some bakery-café concepts. Paris Baguette, which has more than 3,800 units worldwide, mostly in Asia, is gaining momentum in the United States, opening both company and franchised stores.
Dough for some of the baked goods is made from scratch in central kitchens, then frozen and delivered to the outlets where desserts and pastries are baked and finished off in-store, says chief development officer Larry Sidoti.
Franchisees undergo a 14-week training period and by the end of it, they have learned to be very good bakers, Sidoti says.
“We bake everything in-store throughout the day and cakes are decorated in the stores, and all fillings and fruits are prepared on site,” he says.
Finishing products in-house ensures consistency and better use of time, product and ingredients, Sidoti adds.
Native Grill & Wings, a 31-unit chain based in Chandler, Arizona, also contracted with a supplier to create a proprietary recipe for its cookies and a New York cheesecake, both of which are baked off and finished in the restaurants. The cookies — chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia nut and oatmeal cranberry walnut — serve as a base for scoops of vanilla ice cream.
“The cookie is so popular that just last year we added a couple more flavors,” says Cynthia Velasco, marketing manager. “It’s a classic item for us. They come fresh out of the oven, smell great and it helps that the presentation looks homemade. When you bite into it, it’s still a little soft in the center, just like the way you’d want it at home.”
Some fast casual operators have found a way to offer made-from-scratch desserts quickly on site. Firenza, a four-unit make-your-own fast casual pizza chain based in Fairfax, Virginia, uses its own dough to bake cookies in its pizza ovens to get that homemade quality. The batter is prepared the day before so it is ready for baking the next day.
“The first thing we do every morning is bake cookies in the stone hearth ovens,” says co-founder Dave Baer.
Pizzas are baked in the ovens at 800 degrees Fahrenheit — too hot for cookie batter. But in the morning when the ovens are reheating, the temperature is right for cookies. The desserts at Firenza are baked only in the morning, and. if they sell out through the day, well, then, they sell out, Baer says.
“If we made 40 that morning and we run out by 7 p.m., the next day we’ll make 60 in the morning,” he says. “It kind of helps with the mystique of the cookies. Customers know they are made in-house, and if they don’t get there in time, they may not get a cookie.”