Baking is a courting ritual. For years, boyfriends and girlfriends have crafted homemade cookies, Betty Crocker cakes, and candy confections in the hopes of wooing the object of their desire. In fact, it is this very gesture that lead to the creation of Tiff’s Treats, a Dallas and Austin cookie-delivery business.
It all started in 1999 when Tiffany Taylor delivered her boyfriend, Leon Chen, a batch of her cookies – a recipe from her mother – which Leon quickly devoured despite the fact he didn’t care much for sweets. A converted Leon then came up with an idea: he and Tiffany could open a cookie business in his tiny kitchen apartment and sell to fellow students. Tiffany naturally obliged. The UT sophomores took to sheet pans, chocolate chips, and vanilla extract and never looked back. Fast forward 13 years and eight locations, and the couple – who married in 2010 – are now opening their first store in Houston.
At the grand opening this Saturday, the couple will be celebrating the journey to Houston by selling cookies for $3 a dozen and handing out prizes all day. All proceeds from the grand opening will go towards granting a wish at the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Here, Tiffany and Leon talk about starting their business, their favorite Tiff’s Treats, and why it took so long to get to Houston.
Take me through the genesis of Tiff’s Treats.
Tiffany: It started when we were sophomores at UT. Leon came up with the idea of delivering cookies because I had sent him some cookies that I made for him, and he said to me, “What if we delivered these cookies hot, just like pizza?” We both thought about it, went to the grocery store to look at pricing, and two weeks later we started out of Leon’s college apartment kitchen. We started making them at night and only serving students because we went to school during the day. After about a year, we got busy enough where we really needed another space, so we ended up looking on the Drag and found a company that was willing to rent us their back kitchen space. They eventually went out of business, so we took over the front half of their space. A year after that, we found our first real location at Nueces [Street], which we still currently have. In 2001, we graduated, opened full time, and started delivering to businesses as well, which now takes up the majority of our business.
When you first started, were you buying cookie dough from the store or were these solely your recipes?
Tiffany: We’ve always made it ourselves. When I delivered cookies over to Leon, before we ever started a business, it was a recipe my mother and I had made forever. Leon decided that the cookies were so good that we had to do something extraordinary with them. Leon doesn’t even like sweets, but he told me, “These are really good!” We started with that recipe and really haven’t changed it at all over the years.
Leon: I remember we took the top drawer in my apartment [kitchen] and made it our “chip” drawer with bags of chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, peanut butter chips – whatever chips we were using at the time. It’s funny because I was actually sharing the apartment with two other guys at the time. [Laughs].
Was the chocolate chip cookie the first one you started with?
Tiffany: We started with a handful. Chocolate chip is the one I always made on a personal basis, but we started right out of the gate with five different flavors that are still on the menu. I don’t think we’ve ever taken any off. At this point, we’re still adding flavors. We added our tenth flavor in 2009.
When did you know you had something great?
Tiffany: When we started, it was painfully slow. But I guess we didn’t know any different, so every next order we got it seemed busier and busier. There was one turning point right at the beginning in the summer of 1999. We got a big catering job for the UT Orientation Parent’s Program. They would come down and we would serve all of the parents that came to the orientation, and that was when things really started turning around. Of course, when I look back on it, it was a ridiculously small volume, but for the two of us it seemed like a lot. It just continued to pick up and pick up, so when it came time for us to graduate [college] it just seemed silly to just put it aside. It wasn’t that we made some big decision like, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ It’s just that there was no reason to stop. It was scary, but we had to do it.
Leon: Yeah, there was no “aha” moment. We had so much support from the local community, the UT community, and Austin businesses and residents, so it was just one of those things we knew we had to move forward with. We didn’t want to look back and say, “Well, we should have done something with that.” We weren’t making anywhere near enough money to even support ourselves, to be honest, but we made a decision to keep going. I guess you could say it was a leap of faith.
It took some time for you guys to get to Houston. You started in Austin, went on to Dallas, and now Houston. I thought Houston would have been one of the first locations.
Leon: We have been wanting to be in Houston for a long time and we’re excited to finally be there. We’re both from Dallas. We were comfortable with Dallas and felt like we knew Dallas a little bit more, so it was easier to go there. In 2006 when it was time to expand, we opened one up in Dallas. It just felt natural. We probably had an equal number of clients wanting us to be in Dallas or Houston, but Dallas seemed right. We always knew we would go to Houston, but honestly we underestimated how much we were going to grow. We came back and did two more stores in Austin because the Austin market demanded it, and then we had this store that was all by itself in Downtown Dallas trying to serve the whole DFW market, which is literally impossible, so we had to go back to Dallas and fill in the rest of North Dallas with four more stores. We wanted to make sure we could saturate the market in most of the business districts in Dallas and Austin before we concentrated on Houston. We learned a pretty important lesson by going to Dallas first and having to come back to Austin, and that’s that we want to concentrate on an entire market at once. We’d like to open five Houston locations, ideally, once we find the real estate for the rest of them. We want to take deliveries to most of the business districts in Houston.
Will each of you tell me what your favorite Tiff’s Treats is?
Tiffany: Oh, yeah! Easy. Mine’s oatmeal chocolate chip.
Leon: Mine’s snickerdoodle!
What can we expect from you guys in the future?
Tiffany: We’re focusing on new stores at this point. Like Leon said, we’ll be doing more in Houston. We’ll be opening four more in 2012-2013. After that, we don’t have anything written, but there are definitely more Texas markets. We could always expand more in the markets we’re already in and then make a decision from there, but we’re definitely in the mode of opening more stores.
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