If we had to rank the most fun-sounding food businesses to own, an edible cookie dough cart would be top of the list. That’s why we had to sit down with Katie Pollock, co-founder of Cleveland-based Dough Street, to find out what life is really like when you sling dough for a living. Katie and her husband, sports agent Andy Simms, started the business in August of 2018 out of Central Kitchen. Now, they’ve already moved to packaged products and storefront space, and they have no plans to slow down. And with no previous food business experience, every day is an adventure. Here’s their story!
Where is Dough Street made?
We started out of Central Kitchen, but recently we ended up doing a collaboration for Fat Tuesday with a local doughnut company called Goldie’s. We had to work out of their kitchen to do it together, and they came to us then and said ‘we know you share a kitchen, and our doughnut makers come at 9pm to 6am, when are you usually working?’ And we work 10-5ish, so they asked if we were interested in sharing their kitchen instead.
They have a storefront, so now we can actually sell our products there. And Central Kitchen only had 1 mixer, and this one has 2, so now we can make twice as much at once. Andy and I thought it was a no-brainer. A month ago we moved to Goldie’s kitchen, and they’re going to sell our prepackaged jars and our cookie dough treats like our Doughsicles.
Andy has started his own business before, and you already co-owned a gym. Did that make the leap into owning a new cookie dough business easier?
The gym is a franchise and my partner had other locations, so we had a groundwork laid with that. Yes, I was in charge of the buildout and opening and those things, but there was a framework in place. Dough Street is totally different! This had no framework.
We were on vacation last year when we decided to do it. We made a website, got incorporated and all that, and Andy had done that already when he started his sports agency. But neither of us knew anything about food or restaurants. So the biggest thing has been learning how to start a food industry business.
The guys at the Launch Kitchen were amazing. We put out feelers to try to connect to others in a similar position to us and most people have been so great and welcoming. You don’t realize how many things there are to do. The guy who runs the kitchen knew a person for everything: the jars, the nutrition facts, the labeling. Then we had to figure out where we’d get our supplies, and how to set up a corporate account. Every time we thought we had it, there would be 5 more things.
How quickly did you hire?
Within the first month, we had a few part-time employees. Almost everybody I hired, I know from fitness. It’s actually super helpful, because it’s hard to scoop the cookie dough. With the big bowls, you gotta be in shape!
What’s the Cleveland food scene like? Is that different from the fitness and sports industries?
The food business is so collaborative. I mean, we have some competitors in the area now because there will always be competition. But overall, everyone is really open-minded and welcoming. Our launching point was the Cleveland Flea, which is a big outdoor market that has launched a lot of local businesses, and it’s unbelievable. We had the first Spring Flea a couple weeks ago and at the end of the flea, all the dessert vendors are friends. I left with cookies from Floressa Cafe and cake pops from Daisy Cake Pops, and we have pictures together and we post on each other’s social media, so it’s super supportive. That’s nice to see.
Where do you go to get answers about how to run the business?
Zach from Central Kitchen has so much knowledge and has been so helpful. He always directs us. And I know some other people in the food industry, from being in fitness. I know people that own a restaurant because we have a partnership with them at the gym. He gave me a book about flavor pairings. So it’s a lot of community support.
Did the recipe change at all when you moved to packaged products?
Nope. It’s all-natural ingredients. Shelf life in the airtight jars is about a month. They have the drop-down seal and everything. We’re not in actual grocery stores yet, so the date may change, but that’s a whole other thing. We’ve been talking to some bigger retailers, and that’s the next step. We hand pack all of our jars. But you can’t hand pack everything if you’re doing orders for big grocery stores, even if they’re local in Cleveland. We’ll need to come up with a more economical solution.
What’s the long-term goal?
We ask ourselves that all the time! We like to participate in large community events and have a focus on event catering and specialty items. We also sell at a few restaurants, a hotel, at the airport and now we’ll be selling at Goldie’s. We are excited to see how that goes. We came up with the idea of doing a cart so we didn’t have the expense of a store, but the route it’s been going, maybe we will have a scoop shop like DO in NYC one day. So that, and a bigger retail presence as well.
Are your daughters interested in Dough Street?
They are. They ask good questions, they’re involved, and they come with us to some of the bigger events. Andy and I both have our other businesses, but this is something we can all do as a family.
What are your and Andy’s strengths and weaknesses?
We’re perfectly complimentary. He’s way more chill, and I’m more fast-paced. He’s the numbers guy, 100%. He starts rattling off numbers and math to me, and I’m like, stop. He’s totally the numbers guy, he does the billing and invoices, and the business end. I’m the creative side. I used to work in broadcast journalism, so I like writing and social media and content and organization. I also handle the employees and the events.
What’s your day-to-day schedule like?
I am not a morning person. So I would rather sleep a little later and I stay up really late, until 1 or 2 in the morning. When Andy and the kids go to bed, that’s when I get so much done. I’ll answer emails at 1am. That’s my quiet time.
What motivates you to keep going when you have days that aren’t so good?
There’s days that are super overwhelming. I had one last week where I felt like I couldn’t catch up, organizationally. But then you have somebody who sends an email that says ‘I saw the baseball doughsicles on your Instagram, I want to order 20 for my son’s birthday party because he loves them so much!’ That’s what makes it all worth it. That’s what it’s all about. It’s so fulfilling.
We wake up at 6am for a Cleveland Flea day to get everything setup and then you have someone that comes at 2pm, you’re exhausted, and they’re like “I came just for you today!” And we’re like, oh, this is why we do it. Even when it’s exhausting, when it comes down to it, it’s fun.
Are there any tools you use to run the business?
We use a great shared calendar called Cozi. It was a free app and I upgraded to the paid version, and it’s great. I’m super organized and particular about calendar stuff, and I set the production schedule and put events in there. Then all I have to do is invite the staff and they can see it.