You might expect a story of a gluten-free bakery started by a mom to be inspired by a personal story about a struggle with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance. But Goodie Girl Cookies founder Shira Berk isn’t your traditional baker. Neither is she gluten-free. She simply loves food.
The NYC native has always loved the idea of ending the day with something sweet, and says she’s proud to still have a childlike spirit. She still “dresses like a 12-year old,” she confessed.
So cookies? They were an easy choice.
“I really wanted to combine my love of design with my absolute passion for food,” Berk said.
Berk was no newbie when it came to marketing – she was involved with both the magazine and music industries, so she knew how to sell something by its cover. And when her kids started preschool, she saw her chance. She opened up a tiny restaurant in Tribeca in 2010 near the school and started with the classic: Chocolate chip cookies. And they were a hit, with lines going down the street.
And then just by chance, one day someone asked if Berk could make gluten-free cookies. No one in her family was gluten-free, and Berk didn’t have any experience with gluten-free baking. But that didn’t stop her, and she began testing.
She loved the science of figuring out how to make a well-known and classic cookie gluten-free and a little better for you – they’re still tweaking to this day. Her favorite is the Midnight Brownie – which to her is similar to an already classic cookie.
“It’s like an Oreo without the cream,” she said.
She learned a lot about gluten-free baking from bloggers and cookbooks, Berk said, and she’s never finished with learning how to make her products better.
“I just loved the challenge and the idea of having to mix our own flour blend…it took probably a year, a year and a half,” Berk said. “It was an incredible education.”
Her goal was never to make a diet cookie – Berk just wanted to make a better-for-you cookie. She made them for herself as much as for her children, she said, and keeping nutrition in mind was just as important as the taste. The first gluten-free cookie she sold was the Mint Slims, which still remains the bestseller.
Berk sold her gluten-free cookies just as she’d sold her first cookies, and they were an even bigger hit. She first realized that her product was special when it was featured in a little publication called the New York Post.
The company has grown fast since then – just over a year ago Berk was still baking the cookies herself. Goodie Girl Cookies partnered with Toufayan Bakery in May of last year, which has opened up so many opportunities to grow and be more efficient, Berk said.
“I’m always completely in awe when I see the cookies coming out and see all the people pack them on the line,” Berk said. “I still can’t believe it.”
Some people get turned off by the fact that Goodie Girl Cookies have a very long ingredient list, but Berk said that it doesn’t mean they’re unnecessary ingredients – in fact, combining many ingredients is what you have to do to make a gluten-free cookie that tastes like the real thing.
“It’s the ones who are gluten-free that have missed it the most, and our challenge now is how to position ourselves as a cookie for everyone without alienating our biggest fans,” Berk said.
The most surprising thing to Berk looking back on the last few years is the fact that her cookies are now available all over the country – she never envisioned the company growing that much.
“We were baking our stuff by hand with a couple people rolling cookies a year and a half ago, and today we’ve got 12 people packing cookies on a line and mixing a thousand pounds of dough,” Berk said. “I mean, I had no idea even what a pallet was two years ago.”
And just because her time in the Goodie Girl Cookie kitchen is over doesn’t mean she doesn’t still do her own testing out new gluten-free snack cookies, Berk said.
“Every weekend I’m making another classic recipe – going down the list of the top-selling cookies in the world and making them gluten free, and that’s really fun,” Berk said.
The most important thing she did over the past few years was listen to other people, Berk said, and not get defensive about seeking help in areas she wasn’t familiar with. But she’s had trouble in the past with trusting her own instincts, she said, and she’d advise people to stick with their gut about their ideas.
“You’re in this because you think you know something and have something people want. Don’t get tied up with the negatives,” Berk said. “It doesn’t mean your stuff’s not good. It takes time.”
We’re excited to feature Goodie Girl Cookies’ Midnight Brownie in our December box and in our Love With Food shop if (lol, when) you want to buy more!