To me, success is creating a business people really love coming to, employees look forward to working at, and that gives back to our community. If we can have fun doing it, and make a profit along the way, that’s an added plus!
I had the pleasure to interview Perry Peterson. Perry is the owner behind Unbaked Edible Cookie Dough. He grew up in Minnesota and moved to Arizona in 1986. Three years later, Perry started a mortgage company and has been running his own company ever since. In 2017, he was looking for a new venture when his daughter told him about a new dessert trend — cookie dough. He realized nothing like that existed in Arizona and Unbaked Edible Cookie Dough was born. Working with his wife and brother-in-law, Perry opened the dessert shop in Old Town Scottsdale, a location right in the neighborhood he and his wife have raised their kids. They plan, eventually to expand to other locations.
Thank you so much for joining us. What inspired you to open a restaurant?
I worked in the same industry (real estate and mortgage) for the past 35 years and decided I wanted a complete change — something more fun and upbeat that would bring an immediate smile to faces. The idea of opening Unbaked Edible Cookie Dough also appealed to me because I wanted something more relatable to the younger generation that could capitalize on social media.
What has your journey been like since first stepping foot in a kitchen?
Well my journey has only been about 18 months long, from concept development to the present. Getting into this business, coming from the financial industry, is a big swing. It’s a huge change. There has been a big learning curve, and I’m still learning. From design, construction and buying equipment, to buying ingredients and developing edible cookie dough and ice cream recipes. And then there’s the whole marketing/social media component. It’s all so different from the mortgage business, but I’m loving every minute of it. I really enjoy having a dessert shop where people love to come and hang out and I’m discovering I’m more creative than I ever thought.
Do you have a specialty? If so, what drew you to that type of food?
House-made cookie dough and ice cream and cones are our specialty. As I said, I was looking for something completely different than the real estate and mortgage industry, and I saw that the cookie dough trend seemed to explode across the country. My wife has always loved cookie dough, so I figured I’d invest in something that could really give back. Happy wife, happy life ;).
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you opened your shop or became a chef?
Originally, when we decided to open Unbaked, we were only going to offer vanilla and chocolate ice cream that we would outsource from a vendor, as a side item to our cookie dough and for ice cream sandwiches. But while we were developing our cookie dough recipes, one of our developers brought over some homemade ice cream she had made in a bowl with no ice cream maker! It tasted so good we decided to offer cookie dough AND 8–9 flavors of house-made ice cream. However — we didn’t plan for 9 flavors in our store design, just two. So, we have no freezer display to show people our many delicious ice creams, and people like to see what they are going to order. Instead, we have a small freezer built into the counter behind our dough-tenders. When we open store #2, we will have an amazing ice cream display unit for customers to lay their eyes on! Our joke is “Store #2 — that’s where we’ll fix all our lessons from store #1. Store #2 will be amazing!”
What is your definition of success?
Perry: To me, success is creating a business people really love coming to, employees look forward to working at, and that gives back to our community. If we can have fun doing it, and make a profit along the way, that’s an added plus!
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
Perry: We have learned the hard way how creating cookie dough is so much more than mixing a bunch of ingredients in a bowl. Right before an event in which we were supposed to serve 3-thousand samples of cookie dough, we learned the heat-treated flour we got from our distributor had actually been overheated. The result was clumps of flour in our many, many scoops of dough. We had to do some major last minute, re-mixing. It was exhausting. Think of a group of people frantically mixing cookie dough in tiny serving cups with chopsticks. That happened. Making cookie dough really is chemistry. There are no minor ingredients or shortcuts (Our chef reminds us daily.) Even the butter! Once we didn’t soften the butter enough before mixing up a dough and we ended up with chunks of it in the finished product. Those incidents have helped make us very conscientious about establishing checks for quality and consistency .
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Perry: We are working on opening store #2 (remember… the amazing store #2?). Opening a new location is a lot of work, but we’re very excited. We think we have found a great space in an awesome area. Plus, we can’t wait to put our whole wish list from store # 1 into store # 2. Did I mention store # 2 will be amazing? We are also beginning to cater events and we are exploring creating some new products specifically for that.
What advice do you have for aspiring restauranteurs or chefs?
Serge — Be true to yourself. No M-F 8–5 job would work for me.
My advice for aspiring restauranteurs would be to research your niche very well, have a great support system around you, and be ready to work really hard. I mean, really hard. Some would disagree with this, but it worked for us: get your family involved. The time commitment is so much more than I imagined and getting my family involved gave them an understanding of that from the beginning. It also made them feel as though they have a stake in the success of Unbaked Edible Cookie Dough.
What is the key to creating the perfect dish?
Be open to trying different things. Be creative and have lots of people taste things in the testing stage so you receive as much feedback as possible. You can’t make everyone happy, but you want to make as many people happy and satisfied as you can. Our chef, Serge would also say that you have to understand the dish you are preparing. When we first developed our ice cream, Serge had not come on board yet. The ice cream was mind-blowingly delicious, but it was too soft. We could not put it in ice cream sandwiches. But Serge figured out that the ice cream just needed to be mixed longer. He literally listens for the ice cream to make a “fum, fum, fum” sound as it is being mixed — then he knows it’s ready. It transformed our ice cream. Serge really understands how the ingredients must come together to create the perfect version of whatever you’re making, whether it’s ice cream, cookie dough or anything else.
It is said that food is a common ground that brings people together. As someone who makes food for a living, what does this saying mean to you?
Perry: If we can create an environment that makes you feel good; if we can offer desserts that make your soul sing and if people leave wanting to come back for more and more — then we have accomplished our goal. Serge, our chef is believer in living, laughing and loving and he considers food the vital ingredient in all of that.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became a restauranteur/chef” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1) I wish someone had asked me how much kitchen space I thought I needed and then when I answered, they had told me to double it. It’s probably a common complaint in this business, but we need more kitchen space than we thought.
2) I would love to have known ahead of time how long build outs actually take. You always hear construction will take twice as long as you thought it would. But building out our dessert shop just seemed to run into one roadblock after another. Either the city of Scottsdale was behind on inspections, or a wall color was painted wrong, a counter top didn’t arrive or the contractor himself didn’t show up. It was one thing after another. We opened several months later than we originally planned. Construction is typically rough, especially during your first experience building out a commercial space from scratch. Add to the fact it’s your first restaurant and the problems multiply exponentially.
3) I was not prepared for how critical people can be. Starting your own local, family owned business is tough in today’s chain-oriented world. You think people will be encouraging and supportive of your efforts and risk-taking. Most people have been, but I was shocked at the number of people who only want to criticize. We have learned to not overreact and to listen and learn from it. You just have to focus on the positive, have confidence in your product and your business and keep striving to do your best.
4) Make sure you display your food items in a dessert shop — People eat with their eyes first, so listing menu items is a lot different than also showing them what the food looks like, in a beautiful display unit.
5) Start planning very early — There are many aspects to opening a new restaurant. From concept development, to logos, to web site design, to product development, to company culture, to hiring and training, to catering, to loyalty programs, to delivery services, to social media, to marketing and public relations. There is a lot going on, and the more time you give yourself to plan ahead, the more likely you can hit the ground running.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Our chef Serge would love for kids to be eating better food at school. He believes in starting to teach kids early how to eat healthy. As for me? We had an incident where a woman was in front of our dessert shop — possibly homeless. It was very hot outside and one of our dough-tenders took her some cookie dough and water. The woman began teeing off on not just our employee but everyone around her. It became obvious this woman was mentally ill. The idea that this woman and so many just like her, sleep outside and wander our cities is so sad. If I could inspire a movement, I guess it would be to find a way to take care of these people.
Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to cook for and why?
Serge and I agree on this one- Serena Williams. She is an amazing athlete, role model, mother and all-around bad ass. I think she could probably use a little cookie dough in her life. Since my wife is typing this for me, she is insisting I add Roger Federer to the list. Shocker, but remember that “happy wife, happy life” thing? It’s like that.