The first thing you notice when you enter this building on Queen Street is the sweet smell of freshly baked cookies.
“I just love that I get to bake,” said Victoria Bennett, an employee at the new-opened Craig’s Cookies store.
She recalled how good it felt to bring home some of the cookies she made to her family, and how excited she was to hand out free cookies to people on Queen Street last Thursday.
“I got to give a box to someone and I was like, so excited, being like, which ones do you want to try?” said Bennett.
Niagara-on-the-Lake residents Catherine McGregor and Danni Wood opened the doors to the new Craig’s Cookies location last Saturday. They’ve been living in town for 25 and 10 years, respectively.
Both McGregor and Wood have never owned or run a franchise before, but they love what company founder Craig Pike has built at Craig’s Cookies and wanted to bring that to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“It’s a happy place to be, and Craig has really created a really incredible environment that’s inclusive and diverse and supportive,” said McGregor.
“That’s where we want to shine as well,” she added.
McGregor and Pike both worked together at the Shaw Festival in the early 2000s and have known each other for more than 12 years.
She remembers him baking cookies for opening nights and house parties here in NOTL over a decade ago.
“It felt like this lovely, full circle thing that they would ultimately end up back here,” she said.
She’s been on Pike’s journey since day one, she said. She remembers when he called her at 7 a.m. one day to ask if he should open his own shop in Toronto in Parkdale.
That location later became his first storefront in 2018.
He now has five locations in Toronto, one in St. John’s, N.L., and now his first-ever franchised store, here in NOTL.
McGregor also remembers putting letters into the menu board the day before Pike’s Church Street location opened.
Early this year, when Pike started tossing around the idea of franchising Craig’s Cookies, MacGregor said it was the same time as when she and Wood were having several chats over wine about wanting to start a new project together.
Also around the same time, a little storefront to rent on Queen and Victoria opened up — possibly the perfect place for a new Craig’s Cookies location.
It seemed like a good thing to do together, said McGregor.
“There’s something about a couple of sassy middle-aged ladies trying to make a go of something new,” she said.
To prepare, McGregor and Wood were sent to what they called “cookie university” for two weeks at a Craig’s Cookies location in Toronto on Church Street.
“It is by far the busiest location, they send out hundreds of orders (a day),” said Wood.
Wood said she worked the evening shift on June 1, the first day of Pride Month. It was extremely busy, she said, but a quality learning experience.
“It was great because again, we’ve never done this. It was a really good introduction,” said Wood.
The cookies are made fresh every day and never the day before, which means employees are mixing the ingredients and making the cookies on-site every day, said McGregor.
“You just keep going and going and going and providing those fresh, amazing, incredible cookies for everybody,” said McGregor.
It’s hard to pick a favourite, McGregor said, but the gluten-friendly peanut butter cup is her’s.
At the moment, Wood’s favourite is the Skor cookie, but “that could change tomorrow,” she said.
“Some of them were you think there’s no way that’s gonna work, like a sour candy blaster … it works,” said Wood.
McGregor said it’s been great watching her team bake cookies and be proud of what they’ve created.
All of the employees share responsibilities whether it’s baking, cleaning or front-of-house duties. This gives them a chance to take a step back and work behind the scenes or work with the public, depending on how they’re feeling.
“It’s a really supportive environment,” said McGregor.
Craig’s Cookies is now open in NOTL at 106 Queen St., Unit E, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.