Cookies make everything better. Craig’s Cookies though? Those treat-stuffed morsels are a stamped, pink box of downright joy. It’s not just that they’re crammed with nostalgic childhood treats like peanut butter cups, shortbread or Snickers. It’s that each cookie is crafted with feel-good principles: love, inclusivity and the power of putting yourself out there. It’s no surprise that people are eating it up.
Craig Pike, the founder and namesake behind the famous Toronto cookie empire, epitomizes those traits. This sweet journey wasn’t his original life plan, but it grew organically — first from wanting to pay his phone bill and then from the unexpected joy it brought him.
“I saw how happy people got when their cookies were delivered to the door,” he says. “I’m a queer man who owns a business. My ethics and my morals and what I stand for are mirrored in the business. So while I was building the company and the brand, it was a no-brainer to try my best to make sure that it is a representation of who I am.”
The Early Days
The base of that business started five or six years ago when the actor and musician was out of work. To foot the bills he asked if anyone on Facebook wanted some of his potluck-famous cookies delivered. He fired up his Parkdale oven, busted out a top-secret version of his mom’s cookie recipe and hopped on his bike.
“One day I was at FreshCo in Parkdale buying butter for cookies and Pop Tarts were on sale. I thought that might be fun to put in a cookie. So I bought some Pop Tarts, put them in a cookie and it worked out,” he says. “So then I thought, well maybe if that works then anything would work. So we started with the Mars Bar and the peanut butter cup and the brownie — and now the sky’s the limit.”
Before Pike knew it, he was pumping out a dozen cookies every 12 minutes, selling his goods at local markets and eventually, at a six-month pop-up partnership with William Sonoma at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. “From there I had enough confidence to take a risk and open my first brick and mortar in 2018,” Pike says. “At that time, there were two employees: myself and one other person. The goal was a two-year lease and just go sell some cookies.”
Pike’s shop in Parkdale is a space inspired by his grandmother’s home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a place where he grew up. Pike chose simple blue tiling to represent the Atlantic Ocean (customers have since pointed out it’s also the perfect Cookie Monster blue) and he hand-picked all of the art on the walls. “It feels like you’re going your grandmother’s or your grandfather’s or your loved ones’ home,” he says. “And you get to have a cookie, you get to meet somebody who’s going to give you the cookie, have a little chat with them. The only difference is that you pay for it.”
For the Love of Cookies
Not even three weeks after launch, a local news outlet shared a video featuring Craig’s Cookies that exploded with 1.4 million views in a single week. Suddenly Pike went from selling $360 worth of cookies a day to more than $1,000 a day. He eventually opened up a location in The Village, followed by locations in Leaside and Leslieville during the pandemic. Now, Pike says he has 86 employees, he ships goods to all corners of the country and he is on track to sell $10 to $12 million worth of cookies in the next four years.
Today, there are more than 100 types of cookies to sample at Craig’s Cookies, all made from that same base recipe he learned in his mom’s kitchen. Pike unabashedly uses familiar products that are fun and delicious to stuff those cookies with, rather than coming up with recipes for fillings. Even the shortbread-stuffed cookies are made with chocolate shortbread cookies from Cookie it Up, which Pike first fell in love with on a flight at Billy Bishop Airport.
Pike also regularly hosts creativity sessions where employees can come into the kitchen and just experiment with whatever they want. It was during one such session that they may have finally cracked a birthday cake cookie, something he says customers have been asking for. Sour Cherry Blasters, Mini Eggs, Nutella, apple pie and a slew of other options can also be found on the rotating menu and of course there is a Pride cookie, which is available year-round and is a featured item during Pride Toronto.
“There’s maybe one trained baker in our entire company,” Pike says of his employees and overall philosophy. “It’s a group of amazing, incredible people — a lot of them work in the arts — who love home baking, who just want to be part of a community that is inclusive and who just celebrate the joy and happiness of what a cookie can bring to somebody.”
An Artful Future
Looking back, Pike isn’t sure he would have grown Craig’s Cookies the way he did had the pandemic not forced him to. It wasn’t just that he had to find ways to pivot, it was also that his first loves, theatre and music, were also shut down. So he doubled down with cookies and looked into how far he could push the business while exploring wholesale opportunities, a frozen cookie dough and other potential ventures.
Pike says there’s a lot of room for growth, but he’s also at the point where he wants to ensure he has a grasp on the business and not the other way around. He’s an entrepreneur with no formal business training (one of his project managers recently insisted he learn about profit margins, for example) and he feels the company is at a point where he needs someone else to help him explore future potential. Until then, he’s not in a rush.
Instead, he finally feels as though he’s in a place where he can fund other passion projects and give back to the community while exploring some of the other things he loves. That includes kicking off an arts organization in the fall and producing a play, expanding the Toronto choir he conducts and creating a youth program where underprivileged kids in the city can express themselves through theatre and music.
“Five years ago, when I was baking by myself in my apartment in Parkdale, exhausted, baking like a dozen cookies every 12 minutes for nine hours, to try to get some cookies to sell on the sidewalk, I was like, ‘There has to be a means to an end here,’” he recalls. “Because I’m an artist. I’m an actor. I’m a musician. Now the pandemic is kind of shifting and we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel. But these initiatives are all possible because of Craig’s Cookies. All the hard work is coming to fruition in a really great way.”
Photos courtesy of Craig’s Cookies