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Comfort Cookies at your service
By LEON THOMPSON
“Do you talk by rule, then, when you’re dancing?” Mr. Darcy asks.
(Crack, crack, crack!)
“Yes, sometimes it is best,” Ms. Bennett replies. “Then we may enjoy the advantage of saying as little as possible.”
(Whirrr! Whirrr, whirr, whirrrrrr!)
“Do you consult your own feelings in this case, or seek to gratify mine?” he wonders.
“Both, I imagine,” she says. “We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room.”
(Clink, clink, clink! Clink, clink, clink!)
“This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I’m sure,” Mr. Darcy says dryly.
To some, the dialogue is certainly recognizable from A&E TV’s now-classic, five hour take on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” only it isn’t spoken by the lead actors, Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. It comes from Laura Walker and Scott Sewell.
You might not have heard of Walker, 52, or Sewell, 35, but if you’ve ever bought or nibbled Comfort Cookies, you’ve tasted their talent.
For nearly five years, Walker and Sewell have single – er, double – handedly baked, packaged, labeled, delivered and shipped 30 varieties of Comfort Cookies from home. They moved their operation to Bank Street in April, after a stint in North Ferrisburgh.
The husband and wife team live up to the shiny golden label on each cookie: “Food made naturally to soothe the soul.” During the baking process – and they bake every … single … day – they watch “Pride and Prejudice” on Sewell’s Hewlitt Packard laptop.
Reciting the dialogue to each other is as key to their cookies as flour, butter, and sugar. “Pride and Prejudice” helps them get in the moment and stay there.
“When Ms. Bennett gets together with Mr. Darcy, it’s just – ahhh,” Walker said this week, during a tour of Comfort Cookies’ in-home operation. “It’s the emotions that you’re feeling at that moment that go into what you’re cooking.”
The birth of Comfort Cookies happened in Orange County, N.Y. Walker was working as a licensed educator, but she always held a part-time job – from bank teller to English proficiency tester for immigrants – to supplement her work at private schools.
Sewell was a self-employed computer technician when he and Walker became curious about selling and marketing her baked goods, especially her cookies.
Sewell had promised himself he would not work in the food industry again, after spending his first career in it while living in Florida.
“Apparently, I forgot about it,” he joked this week.
The couple obtained their home manufacturer’s license in New York and set their sights on Asheville, N.C., after a visit there left them astounded. On the second trip? They changed their mind.
“It wasn’t what we thought it was going to be,” Walker recalled. “And we had a lot of friends telling us we would fit in Vermont, that we would love it here. So we listened to them, and they were right.”
During their 18 months in Vermont, Comfort Cookies has garnered space on the shelves of 25 stores, north to south, including five in St. Albans City and Town. Ninety percent of their sales are in Vermont. Walker and Sewell moved to St. Albans after Northeast Kingdom merchants convinced them that northwestern Vermont was the hub of state commerce.
“And so we saw the name – ‘St. Albans,’” Walker said. “And we knew just by the name that it was a place we could live and do business.”
Their Bank Street kitchen – and an adjoining room – is a bakery. Huge plastic storage bags filled with chocolate chips, walnuts and other cookie accessories rest on their counters. Mixing cups, beaters, bowls and utensils mingle with large silver cookie trays. They have two ovens, two refrigerators, and a work environment marked by an odor that smells like Christmas year-round.
They use another room, off the dining area, for all their boxes, labels, packaging and shipping supplies.
Twice already this year, a state health inspector has visited their home, to be sure they are complying with their at-home manufacturing license.
“They need to make sure the dry ingredients are stored the right way, that the eggs are kept at the right temperature, things like that,” Sewell explained. “It’s all part of the process.”
On average, Walker and Sewell bake 1,400 cookies weekly, at a retail cost of $2 each, although that total surged to 3,000 weekly during the holiday season. (Yes, they take orders off their Web site (www.comfortcookiesinc.com.)
Comfort Cookies have no preservatives and loyally contain Vermont-based products: Cabot Butter, King Arthur Flour, Shadow Farm Eggs, and Barry Callebaut chocolate – manufactured in the St. Albans Town Industrial Park, off Route 7 South.
On average, Walker and Sewell utilize about 100 pounds of flour, 36 pounds of butter, and 15 dozen eggs in a week. Sugar varies, depending on the cookie.
Last week, Walker put about 700 miles on her car, delivering Comfort Cookies to stores between her parttime work as a transportation monitor for Chittenden County schools.
Walker’s grown son, Trevor, 24, helps with bagging and labeling – a sign that perhaps it’s time to mull an employee or two. Not yet, Walker said. She and Sewell are not looking to mass-produce boxed cookies with a shelf life that is longer than a U.S. presidential term.
One cookie distributor told Walker he would not carry a cookie that has a shelf life of less than three months.
“I don’t want to make that kind of cookie,” Walker replied. “I think that you can really relate to people through food,” she said this week. “It’s such a basic need. A lot of barriers are broken down through food. Dessert or a cookie should be just as good as the meat and potatoes you’re eating.” Comfort Cookies have a shelf life of 10 to 14 days, and they are soft, but if anyone craves a dipping cookie, a Comfort Cookie could stay on the shelf longer and harden nicely, Sewell said.
“I think being local actually helps us,” he said. “The homemade aspect definitely helps.” “If you can’t give back to other people, then there’s no sense being in business,” Walker added.
Asked about their business goal, Walker said she desires a storefront in downtown St. Albans, but she and Sewell said they must boost their Web business for that to happen. “And our sons would have to get out of college,” she said with a laugh. She said she and her husband have taken a relaxed approach to their business.
“If this is the path we’re supposed to follow, then it will all fall into place for us,” she said. And while they wait, they get unlimited cookies.
“Scott can eat 10 to my one,” Walker said.
|Photos courtesy Emerson Lynn, St. Albans Messenger
Laura Walker and Scott Sewell, of Comfort Cookie, offer baked samples
Laura Walker and Scott Sewell, of Comfort Cookies, in their Bank Street home and kitchen.
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