Tiffany & Leon Want to Bake You Some Cookies
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, Austin’s own warm-cookie delivery company, Tiff’s Treats, celebrates its 15th anniversary. Presumably, owners Leon and Tiffany Chen will be partying like it's 1999. During the birthday week, Jan. 13-19, Tiff’s is offering a special deal: two dozen cookies for $15, online only, enter code 15YEARS.
With its most recent store having opened in October, Tiff’s Treats now has five outlets and a corporate headquarters here, covering the metro area from Round Rock down to South Austin with fresh, warm cookies. The company has a total of 13 locations, including five in Dallas and three in Houston. They have over 250 employees and have served over 35 million cookies. The owners also have a pretty sweet story.
Success did not happen over night; founders and owners Tiffany Taylor Chen and Leon Chen have had quite an interesting journey. Tiffany and Leon began dating while sophomores at the University of Texas at Austin. After Tiffany stood Leon up on a date, she apologized by baking cookies and delivering them to him while they were fresh and still warm from the oven. Up until that point, baking had only been a hobby for Tiffany, but Leon loved the idea of having warm cookies delivered to his door so much that he convinced Tiffany to try to make a business out of it.
Soon after, in 1999, Tiffany and Leon had a business – although ‘business’ might be a stretch for the operation in its early days. They started with $20 worth of ingredients and a cell phone, working out of the kitchen of Leon's college apartment, and only delivered to students at night. “One of us would take the orders and bake, and then the other one would go on the deliveries and we would switch off. There were times where we both had to go on a delivery and I would carry my cellphone with me in the car and then when a call came up, I’d pull over to the side of the road to take the order, then make the delivery, then come back and bake the cookies. For about a year, it was literally just Tiff and [me],” Leon recalled.
Despite putting in extremely long hours, the duo loved their early experience. “Some of our best memories in life were those early years,” Leon said. “It was really a fun time period in our life, when we were just making and taking cookies.” The pair’s passion is especially noticeable when they discussed their first customer, who they still remember vividly.
After putting flyers up around the area, they were officially open for a few days before receiving their very first call – a $5 order from a random girl, or, as they refer to her, “Amy at the University Towers.” Amy even included a $5 tip. (It's doubtful they could’ve guessed that 15 years down the road, Tiff’s Treats would donate – let alone make - over $55,000 a year and counting to non-profits.)
Tiffany and Leon began taking the business more seriously after graduation. In 2000, they finally moved the baking out of their apartment and into the back of a Spudnick baked potato restaurant at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe, on the Drag. In 2001, a UT advertising student named Matt came up with a logo design. The company, which still uses that logo today, paid Matt in the sweetest possible way - with cookies. In 2003, after the potato shop went out of business and the Scientology building owners wanted to expand, Tiff’s Treats moved to its current home, a converted cottage on MLK and Nueces St, still convenient for their campus clientele.
After dating in college, the pair took a few years off from their dating relationship, but continued to run the company together. As one might expect, at times, “It got a little beyond awkward,” Leon said. But not only did their business spring from their relationship, the business kept them together as well. “It’s funny, the company was kind of like our shared-custody baby. No matter what happened, we still had to take care of ‘the baby.’ It’s kind of a weird analogy, but it still felt like that,” Leon said. “I think our love for the company kept us together long enough for us to come back together, in a weird way.” In 2010, Tiffany and Leon got married.
In the early days, many of their employees were just the younger siblings of their college friends who needed jobs, but many of those same people still work for Tiff’s Treats today. For example, their original three delivery drivers have risen with the company; Scott Dowling is the Dallas District manager, Ryan Calhoun manages the store in Richardson, and Kull Kifer is the Chief Financial Officer. The company continues to thrive and grow. They’ve been doing a lot of hiring, especially on the corporate side of the business. Tiffany and Leon hope to open at least three more stores in Texas over the next year – and possibly more, depending on factors such as available locations. All of their locations are company-owned, as Tiff and Leon think the idea might not work as well if they started franchising, especially since it’s such a still relatively new and unique business.
At the time of they began their endeavor, few, if any, companies offered warm-cookie delivery, so the duo share the satisfaction of truly being pioneers of an industry. Although many people do call ahead and come to pick up their cookies, the business model is in many ways comparable to pizza delivery. For example, they get most of their business from deliveries and plenty of it at night. Unlike pizza, however, the owners of Tiff’s Treats have recognized and embraced the fact that, in addition to being great snacks or desserts, cookies make great gifts. Originally, the duo never intended to market their services as a gift idea. But after getting a lot of input from their customers, they now offer gift packaging for special events and holidays, like birthdays or Valentine’s Day. A lot of their sales, they said, are sent to others as gifts. Recognizing that it was an untested concept, Tiff noted, “It was an experiment, for sure.”
They originally offered six or seven flavors, and now feature ten, with additional flavors popping into the lineup on occasion, such as the mint chocolate flavor available every December. There’s no specific process regarding which flavors are or aren’t added to the menu. For example, Tiffany said that she had never even heard of Snickerdoodle cookies, let alone baked and sold them, until her customers kept asking about them. Now that’s one of their most popular flavors. Their most recent addition to the menu, peanut butter chocolate chip, was added in honor of the company anniversary in 2009.
While the daily sales vary a lot from store to store, each store is equipped to cook 40 dozen cookies every 15 minutes – which isn’t uncommon during peak times like December. For further proof of how far they’ve come, their first big order was for 75 dozen cookies, and it took Tiffany and Leon over twelve hours to bake them all in that apartment kitchen. Now that number of cookies is in and out of the oven in less than a half hour. Still, the orders vary greatly in size. Early on, their business depended on orders from UT students at night and larger orders from Downtown companies during the day. And although many UT students still make small orders for snacks, Tiffany and Leon said that, for example, big orders these days are when one company ordered 1,100 sets of 2 dozen cookies for their clients.
While December is their busiest month, Valentine’s Day is their single busiest day – which is only fitting for the married cookie-loving entrepreneurs. Reflecting back on their 15 years in business, Tiffany and Leon seemed more humble and grateful than proud. “Tiff and I just want to thank Austin for these 15 years,” Leon said. “We get emotional when we talk about our city because of the support and the love that we’ve been shown all these years.”