Baking and business savvy meet at student-run Insomnia Cookies.
By Jared Barnett
The recipe has traveled all the way from an Italian beach—Tremezzo, to be precise. That is where the Insomnia Cookies story begins. Call it an epiphany. It was night. Seth Berkowitz C’04 sat staring out at the ocean pondering life, when his glance strayed from the water and focused on the moon. Some people stare at the moon and see a man’s face. Some see green cheese. Seth saw something else. His thought progression was as follows: “The moon looks kind of like a giant cookie with a bite taken out of it. I wish I had a cookie right now. I wish I had a large, hot, fresh cookie right now, and I wish that someone could bring it to me so I don’t have to move.” An accomplished baker under the tutelage of his grandmother, Seth spent the next week working out recipes for large, hot, fresh cookies that he could deliver to his classmates upon his return to Penn.
Seth implemented his plan in the fall of 2002, and he was met with open … well, mouths. Lots of them. Back then, Seth delivered six varieties of cookies and six varieties of brownies from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. four nights a week. He prepared the batter ahead of time, and as the orders came in, he popped them into the oven of his beige-block house. Twenty minutes later, he biked them to his hungry clients. Less than two minutes from oven to doorstep. Business increased steadily, and both Seth and his clients were satiated. That is, until Seth decided to travel abroad to London in the spring. His housemates said he went to study the fine art of cookie-making. Instead, he studied finance and economics, the knowledge of which has proven equally important in making the business a success.
Impressed with the prospect of Insomnia Cookies’ expansion and concerned over its hiatus in the spring, I approached Seth with my vision of Insomnia Cookies’ future this past June. We lived across from each other in Butcher Hall in the Quad freshman year. Seth had intended to reopen the business upon his return, but he had in fact realized that in order to expand, he needed a partner. The timing was right, and Seth liked my initiative and creativity.
Since then, we have been partners. The rest of the summer was spent getting ready for the new school year. Insomnia Cookies signed a deal to distribute cookies nationwide with a consulting firm in New York, developed 13 new varieties of cookies and brownies, added beverages to the menu (what’s a cookie without a glass of milk?), met with lawyers and accountants, and mapped out its expansion to Drexel and Temple Universities, and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
That was the last time either of us slept. Since Insomnia Cookies reopened in September, Seth and I have spent our days making batter, folding boxes, printing flyers, advertising, developing our business plan, making contacts, and, oh yeah, going to class. But at night is when the real action takes place. Insomnia Cookies is now open six nights a week, from 8:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. Using a car instead of a bike, we rotate shifts of delivering and baking. Orders are now received either by phone or through the Internet via Campusfood.com, the brainchild of alumnus Mike Saunders C’98.
“Six chocolate chip cookies, four peanut butter brownies and a skim milk to Lower Quad.” “12 marble walnut cookies, six mint blondies and three hot chocolates to High Rise North.” The turnover rate is so quick that the oven is never turned off. Cookies wait on trays to be shoved in. Business from Penn’s hospital has recently picked up, as nurses and residents have found a new way to satisfy their late-night munchies. In addition, Insomnia Cookies has turned out to be a top choice for RAs organizing hall meetings for dorm residents, with some ordering up to 80 cookies, 60 brownies, and 10 milks in the middle of the night. It wasn’t long before dorm security guards gave in to the delicious smell of cookies emanating from those little white boxes. Insomnia Cookies, now a limited liability company (LLC), boasts a loyal and expanding customer base at three schools. For the first year in a row, Insomnia Cookies won “Best Late Night Cookie Delivery” in 34th Street Magazine and this fall sponsored a charity concert with Pepsi at ZBT fraternity.
Plans for the future include graduation and expansion. The business will continue to operate even after we graduate from Penn in the spring. By the beginning of 2004, we will be moving to a storefront, giving Insomnia Cookies greater baking capacity and a physical presence near campus. Concurrently, the company is planning to open branches in new campuses throughout the country.
Who knows, soon the company could deliver to both current students and alumni. Until then, gift accounts can be purchased for students at (917) 414-0489. Nationwide distribution and corporate accounts are also available. For complete information and menu, see www.Insomniacookies.com.
Jared Barnett C’04, a College senior from Atlanta, is vice president of Insomnia Cookies, LLC.