On a recent rainy Wednesday, across the street from Salt Lake City’s Temple Square, Mirella Cardoso faced a not totally inconsequential choice: what kind of cookies to eat at the new Crumbl store inside City Creek’s Deseret Book.
Growing up in Brazil, cookies weren’t part of her life, Cardoso said, but she’s bought into the cookie craze spreading across the state.
On a break from her high-finance office job at nearby Goldman Sachs, she spoke in Portuguese with two of her coworkers as they came to a decision: chocolate chip, frosted sugar, peanut butter and Oreo.
Crumbl sells 6-ounce cookies — the staples are milk chocolate chip and frosted sugar — with other rotating flavors each week. Giant cookies like these are becoming something of a habit in Utah.
This new Crumbl store is the latest addition to a statewide cookie boom that has hit Salt Lake in force. From here at City Creek, it’s an eight-minute drive to two more shops also selling giant cookies, and only 15 minutes from another Crumbl store.
All three of these companies operate bakery storefronts and offer late night, home delivery. Over the last three years, this has become a lucrative business in Utah, with 23 cookie stores and counting from Logan to St. George. And this uniquely Utah concept is poised to spread across the country, a decadent treat that also serves as a potential sign of the times. Or at least the flavor of the moment.
How did this happen?
It all started back in 2016, with Sean Wilson trying to cater to his wife Sarah.
“She was pregnant and was having these late night cravings,” Wilson said.
One of those cravings was for chocolate chip cookies. Crispy on the outside, warm and gooey in the middle. They didn’t know where they could get one, let alone have one delivered to their house.
Wilson, who’s a business consultant by day, started thinking up a business plan, and the two of them got to work on a recipe.
“We liked the idea of having one product that was really simple,” he said. “And then with that product, we wanted to make it the best product we possibly could.”
They landed on a milk chocolate chip cookie weighing in at a decadent 6 ounces. (Levain Bakery in New York popularized that size of cookie.)
Next, the Wilsons needed a location. They were living in Los Angeles but both had attended Brigham Young University. Provo seemed like the right place to test this idea.
They wanted to cater to a late-night college crowd. It didn’t hurt that BYU’s student population isn’t the kind to hang out at bars on the weekend and are often on the lookout something new to do.
In November 2016, Chip launched out of a rented kitchen in south Provo. The delivery orders started pouring in for cookies in boxes of four. People even started showing up at the kitchen.
“All we had was essentially a doctor’s office waiting-room kind of environment that surprisingly people were willing to endure until we could get a real location that was a little bit better,” Wilson said.
A few months later, in April 2017, the Wilsons opened Chip’s first brick-and-mortar store near BYU campus. Soon, they expanded to Salt Lake City with another rented kitchen.
By then, Chip was not alone.
‘An Amazing Concept’
Goodly, another cookie delivery shop, opened near Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park in July 2017. They operated out of an existing bakery during the typically-closed evening hours.
Brandon Plewe, one of the co-founders, said he was inspired by gourmet cookie shops around the country and was working on a business plan when Chip took off in Utah County.
“If you have a warm cookie brought to your door, there’s not much to complain about,” Plewe said.
A cancer survivor who works for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Plewe also saw this as an opportunity to support cancer research.
“A big thing we focus on here is that we give a portion of every cookie sold to Huntsman Cancer,” he said.
Eventually Goodly moved into its own shop near 400 S in Salt Lake.
And, finally, there’s Crumbl.
The cookie hype from Chip’s success reached Logan, Utah, where Sawyer Hemsley was an undergrad at Utah State University. Hemsley says one of his business professors suggested he look into it.
“[He said], ‘You know what, this is an amazing concept, and we don’t have one in this valley. You should totally do it,’” Hemsley said.
Hemsley teamed up with his cousin, Jason McGowan, to launch Crumbl in August 2017. They’ve since expanded from Logan, first to Utah County and now they have 28 stores in six states. By comparison, Goodly has one store while Chip has four.
The reason Crumbl is growing so fast is because it’s using a franchise model. McGowan says they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
“Our original goal was to have 100 stores by the end of the year, and we’ll have no problem hitting that goal,” McGowan said.
Comfort Food In Stressful Times
But why now? What is responsible for the cookie boom?
Julie Metos, a dietician and professor in the University of Utah’s College of Health, has a theory. She thinks it might have something to do with the politically divisive time we’re living in.
“In times of stress, people gravitate toward alcohol and sweets,” she said.
And for Utah’s largely Latter-day Saint population, that draw is especially sweets. But Metos also has another, simpler explanation.
“We get bored really quickly with our food choices,” Metos said. “We’re kind of programmed to like variety.”
And in Utah, giant cookies are the new kid on the block.
Metos said there isn’t harm in the occasional cookie, but she’s worried that for many, it’s more than occasional.
These new cookie companies encourage customers to treat themselves — sometimes leaning heavily into the idea of a guilty pleasure.
A recent Crumbl Instagram post read, “There’s want and there’s need. Like ‘I want to lose 5lbs’ but ‘I NEED a butterfinger cookie from Crumbl.’”
Goodly’s packaging comes with this kind of encouragement too, “Go ahead, you deserve this. ;)”
Metos said it's easy for this to become a habit and to feel like you deserve that kind of treat everyday.
“And they’re just so big,” Metos said.
According to the nutrition facts on Chip’s website, a single cookie is in the 750 calorie range with about 50 grams of sugar.
As to whether this is a fad, Metos thinks it probably is. But Crumbl co-founder Jason McGowan is betting that it isn’t. And he’s betting that it’s not just a “Utah thing.”
In fact McGowan sees any kind of skepticism as a challenge.
“Everyday we’re proving that one, maybe it’s not a fad and two, maybe it’s for the whole United States,” McGowan said.
Which is why Crumbl stores are steadily dotting the map and why all of these companies are encouraging you to give in a little, because you deserve it, right?