During the pandemic, Chef Dave Dreyfus wanted to make people feel better, so he started making cookies. His friend Mo Sahoo saw an opportunity for a business, and together they built Best Damn Cookies, a bakery in New York City, where every cookie has a unique story to tell. In this episode, Dave and Mo talk about building a business from scratch, hiring the right people, and learning how to say yes to collaboration and no to the right opportunity at the wrong time. They’re joined by consumer and Yelp’s Brooklyn Community Manager, Morlene C.
On the Yelp Blog: Branding helps you stand out from the competition and woo customers. Discover Best Damn Cookies’ three best branding tips to help your business flourish.
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Behind the Review features conversations with business owners and customers who wrote one of their Yelp reviews. In our discussions, we talk about lessons they’ve learned that can be used by other small businesses to improve their own reviews…and their bottom line.
Occasionally, I also talk to industry experts who have additional insights into things like customer experience, small business technology, or general advice for running a successful small business. Today, we’re featuring a conversation I had in-person back in April with both business owners and a consumer together in the studio. Mo and Dave, the co-owners of Best Damn Cookies, were joined by a colleague of mine and Yelp Brooklyn Community Director Morlene C. Let’s give our conversation a listen.
I just have to say I’m super excited to be in the same room as business owners and reviewers. Normally, I’m doing this on Zoom and this is really exciting just sitting here and seeing you.
DAVE: Thanks for having us.
EMILY: Morlene, since you brought us together, why don’t you start?
MORLENE: Sounds good.
I’m Morlene Chin. I’m the community director in Brooklyn for Yelp, and I’ve been at the company for just under nine years. Wow. And I have about 900 reviews. Woo. Got gotta mention that.
EMILY: 900. And you’ve been on the show before in a virtual component, and when I decided to come to New York, I asked you and some of the other community managers for recommendations. Best Damn Cookies, was right at the top of the list and you said Yes, which really warmed my heart. So tell us who you are and who is Best Damn Cookies.
DAVE: First and foremost, thank you so much for having us and thanks for the review. My name’s David Dreyfus. I’m one of the co-owners and chef of Best Damn Cookies
MO: And then I’m Mo Sahoo, also one of the co-founders. I eat those cookies.
EMILY: I love it. Someone’s gotta be the tester, right?
That’s right, that’s right. Okay, Morlene, you can kick us off. Tell me how you first came to know this business and I know it was before your review. You’ve known about these guys for a while.
MORLENE: I’ve known them for a couple of years. Part of my job is to run the Yelp NYC social media pages on Instagram. So I’m always featuring business owners. And Mo actually reached out to me and he was persistent. I get so many DMs and I was like, yeah, I’d love to get back to you. Love to explore and then let it fall by the wayside. And he’s like, I need to be on your radar. Let’s connect.
This was the height of the pandemic still. Actually where we were just getting vaccinated. I remember spring of 2021. So I had not been vaccinated yet, so I was like, okay, I’ll meet up with you to try these cookies, but we have to do this outdoors. It was really cold.
We were in our winter coats and they drove their cookies to my place and we met in a parking lot and. I took home the cookies, tried them, was like “These are fabulous.” Got vaccinated the next week and then met them indoors at a popup. They were like cooking out of a kitchen, their friend’s kitchen at a restaurant. They were some of the first people I met indoors after I got vaccinated after being home. Loved for a year. And I remember that was kind of like a magical experience and we became really fast friends. First of all, the cookies were fantastic, trying them. I remember we were slowly eating them together, indoors, and it was just surreal being inside with new people after so long. I remember that. So just like heightened emotions and the buzzy excitement of meeting people for the first time. So picture that, put yourself in that place. So that’s kind of how our friendship was forged. We’re all around the same age and we have a lot of overlapping interests.
We’re all pretty extroverted or at least like meeting new people. We started hanging out and I really have seen the behind the scenes, nascent start of their business to where it is today, the highs and the lows of which there were so many. I heard a lot about them and have supported a lot of their collaborations.
A lot of my friends have tried their cookies now and know about their business. Our worlds merged very quickly.
EMILY: I mean, hey, you make a great cookie. It’s pretty easy to get people to like you, right? You’re the popular crowd. So tell me how this cookie business got started. How do you all know each other and how did you decide on cookies?
DAVE: Most of my entire career was made cooking and doing savory food. When you give someone a cookie, It’s pretty easy to start a conversation or make people feel good.
And so that’s one of the reasons it was during the pandemic that the process began. But to begin again, I was working as a private chef and we went on a tubing trip. And we were going down the Delaware River and the people we were with did not enjoy it. And I met Mo and we just had a good time drinking a couple of beers and sitting in these tubes going down the river.
And we became friends and he used to throw picnics or barbecues at his house and we would play chess online. And then during the pandemic, I lost my job as a private chef and I started baking cookies and I made an Instagram post. And I had never done anything like that before, asking if anybody wanted to purchase any cookies.
And I thought I would sell five and I ended up selling a couple hundred and Mo bought a dozen of ’em and he immediately said we should start a business together. And that’s how it all began.
EMILY: Wow. The thing that’s wild to me about this is starting by just thinking, ah, maybe a couple people will eat these and I mean, hundreds of orders. Was there panic at first?
DAVE: It was just total shock. As Morlene was explaining the meeting that we had inside the restaurant and those feelings of talking to one another. I didn’t forget, but I kind of forgot the feeling that it was to be around new people and how exciting that was, especially during the pandemic and any way of getting some form of connection.
I’ve been cooking for 17 years. And so to shut off that opportunity because of Covid made me really crave the ability to connect with one another, and so I started baking cookies just as a way of giving me something to do, to get outta the house. I was biking around a lot, and also to make people feel good and freshly baked goods.
Freshly baked cookies are an easy way of making people feel good, especially during those dark times. So yeah, that was part of it.
EMILY: That’s awesome. Mo, Fill in the blanks for me of how you swindled this chef into letting you start a business with him.
MO: That’s literally what happened. So I was starting an art collective to start a clothing company. And so I was working with a lot of artists in Bushwick. So I bought his cookies and I got them. I was like, I ate 11 of them. First of all, I didn’t know how many calories are in cookies until, no, no, no, hold on. Until three weeks ago when I went to Momon, which, no, don’t look at me, Morlene, hold on.
So I went to Mamon and they have sold enough cookies that they have to put their calories in, which is how I learned theirs has 500. And I think I per cookie. Per cookie. And I panicked cuz and ours doesn’t have that many, but oh my God, I don’t know. Yeah, my, I I don’t think it’s 500, but I ate 11 of those, which is good and bad simultaneously.
So then I just asked him, I was like, so how are you doing this? And he’s like this, I’m. This is what I’m doing. I was like, what is this? I just DMed you.
DAVE: There was no plan. Nobody, I didn’t know what was going on in the world. It was covid like April, 2020. Yeah. Literally hail mary.
MO: Everything is closed. Everyone’s doing whatever. And so I was like, yeah, I met this guy who makes cookies.
I’m gonna try starting a business with him. So I drew him a logo, made a Google form, and started taking orders without telling him. And I was like, I don’t wanna waste this time and. Like he said, people were ordering and honestly I didn’t realize how much, like I didn’t know that much about food.
So like French Laundry obviously is like a big thing. And so as soon as I put French Laundry and then his cute face, everyone’s like cookies and you know what I mean? It was a really funny experience cuz I drew this really cartoony cookie first and it was not French Laundry. And Dave was like, what is.
DAVE: It was like a really cutesy, cartoony, and regardless of where I had worked, I wouldn’t say, I’m like, yeah, a cutesy, cartoony person necessarily. Like as your logo. It’s like, yeah, not, not that. I love all those kinds of things and I’m like super nerdy and I love all that stuff, but I wouldn’t say like a cutesy, cartoony cookies, necessarily what I would want to describe my professional life. Yeah.
EMILY: Well, and it doesn’t really match the name, right? Like no best damn cookies. I mean, that’s,
DAVE: It’s like a little assertive.
EMILY: Yeah. A little wait till you hear Morlene’s review.
MO: That’s true. And the name came actually from my friend, uh, those 11 cookies. So he’s told me 12.
First of all, they were $5 cookies, which is absurd. For me, at least at the time. And so I didn’t know what that meant. And I had not come from the fine dining world. And so I ate all 11 in that sitting and I gave one to my neighbor and her reaction was, damn. And I was like, I need a name. All right, let’s do Best Damn Cookies.
That’s perfect. Initially I don’t think our goal was to make a business. It was just we’re doing random stuff in the pandemic and it just kind of grew and grew and grew and grew. And people are always asking us Did you intend for this to happen? And the answer’s definitely not.
We had no idea what we were doing. He knew how to make cookies. I knew how to market stuff. After that, it was like, ooh, learning lessons!
EMILY: I love it. We’ll get into some of those lessons, but Morlene, why don’t we have you read your review? Because I think it sets the stage good also. I love that you two haven’t read this yet. Yeah, look that it’s, it’s incredible. Okay. I’m so excited.
DAVE: Fingers crossed.
EMILY: No, trust me, I read it.
MORLENE: Naming your business Best Damn Cookies is an aggressive claim and a tall order to live up to. It almost dares you to take them up on trying them and unless you wanna miss out on the flavor explosions they’ve got going on here, you should absolutely pay them a visit. I was introduced to this business when they were a nascent pop-up operating out of Sobre Masa’s original Kitchen in Williamsburg.
And the co-owners, Mo and Dave, had a contagious excitement to share their wares with the world. They’ve had so many new flavors, limited edition ones, and ones made in collaboration with numerous other local businesses. But the original flavors will always be the ones that I associate with BDC. The OG will become your favorite chocolate chip cookie.
A classic meant to be savored whether you’re having a good or bad day. The Pinola is a corn-based cookie for gluten-free cookie lovers. Kelp is the one I crave the most. I would not have matched nori with white chocolate, but this white chocolate hater finds this flavor extremely palatable. Krei is like an elevated pina colada with an excellent backstory, and the cardamom really shines through in the Kerala.
The espresso, tahini and sesame in the lavante will give you a little more pep in your step. Don’t have this one too soon before bed. Mo warned me of this espresso cookie when I first had it. Also the excellent pumpkin seed shortbread cookie that is the holiday and the holy smokes, which is made with homemade marshmallow, are not always available at the store, but worth picking up when you catch them carrying them.
These cookies make for excellent gifts, and I’ve surprised many friends and colleagues with a box of fresh best damn cookies. BDC is not just a bakery or cookie business. They really aim to tell a story through their menu. I’ve witnessed the business owners pour their souls into ensuring the happiness of their customers often at the risk of their own.
I definitely believe that food tastes better when you know the story behind the creation. So if you can spare some time, stop by the bakery at the market line below Essex Market and ask Mo and Dave how they conceptualize each item. When Best Damn Cookies is a household name. You’ll be glad you tried them when you did. Five stars.
MO: Thank you. Hey, thank you. That was pretty cute. Give you a hug.
EMILY: I know it was nice, right?
MO: Yeah. You did make me cry. Wow. Come on.
EMILY: Oh, thank you. That’s awesome. So there’s so many things we could dig into here. But I think the biggest is just everything you were doing from the start. I mean, unique flavors, pairing things together, getting yourself out into the community. This suddenly became more than just baking cookies for fun.
Talk to me about that. Diversifying flavors, really deciding to lean into this and not just make a chocolate chip cookie.
DAVE: So two things. My formal training, I’m a native New Yorker and I’m very proud of that, but when I was 19, I moved to the Bay Area and so I always thought of myself as like a Bay area. Chef. Really influenced by nature and like the surrounding products around me. And when I moved back to New York, Quite frankly, the food is not as local. The inherent ingredients were not as incredible. So the next thing you get inspired by are the people. And if you’re not inspired by the amazing, beautiful, diverse tapestry that is New York City, in my opinion, you’re missing the boat of this incredible opportunity.
It’s really easy for me to feel the incredible inspiration from all these different communities and different people. And that kind of a big part of the story of Best Damn Cookies. It’s about a conversation. It’s about making people feel comfortable versus something that’s very, very accessible, but also I don’t know if you ever learned about the Hemingway theory, the iceberg theory, that you just see a little tip of the iceberg, but really there’s a lot of depth below it.
It can be just like a sweet treat to enjoy. But if you want that opportunity, if you want to have that dialogue, which we love to have. There’s so much to talk about. And a good vehicle of doing that is through a cookie.
EMILY: Mo from the marketing side of things, I imagine there’s some education that goes on to let people know about these flavors and to really bake the story into how you brand the business. Can you talk a little bit about that? How has that maybe evolved over time?
MO: I’m new to the food industry, so I think it’s been interesting watching it evolve cuz I think we’ve learned as we went along. I think early on I realized very quickly, the name is working, but I don’t think it’s the product necessarily in the sense of people know it’s really, really good, but it’s really the stories and Dave that people really cared a lot about, and especially Dave using people’s stories to make food. Kind of in the same way Dave talked about it, I think a major learning lesson for us was when we’re making, for example, the corn cookie that Morlene talked about, saying gluten free, saying heirloom corn, all of that’s important. But really the important part was the person who let us make this cookie literally let us use his taco shop. A high end fine dining taco shop, Taqueria Sobre Masa for free in the pandemic.
We would not exist if he personally had not sacrificed to let us be there. That cookie is made with love for him and his culture. And I think that when we talk about it, it’s important for us to talk about that specifically. Every cookie we made, every story we told, we talked to the person first.
We asked them, Hey, what do you want to say? What is important about your culture? And then we really tried to do something towards that. And that’s, I think, where we first started. I do think over the last two years it’s been kind of trying to figure out the balance between marketing and selling and telling those stories.
And the biggest thing I’ve learned is to stay true to that. I think our later cookies, more recently even, started to become more pretty and Hey, I want you to take a picture of this. And Instagram and social media, and it just made our company into a social media company essentially.
And now we’re really going back to stories and the marketing kind of tells itself if you meet someone who’s Puerto Rican, Indian, Chinese, or Burmese, et cetera, you can say, Hey, I wanna talk about pickled tea leaves. I want to talk about heirloom corn. I don’t wanna talk about corn cookie. I really want to talk about that context. And Dave especially is so good at contextualizing that into food. That I kind of just end up marketing him, to be honest.
EMILY: It sounds like collaborations and partnering with others has driven the menu in many ways, and also the business. Talk to me about your approach to collaboration. Sometimes I think business owners, they see others as competition, not a partner, and it feels like you guys are quite the opposite. Where does that come from?
DAVE: I think the short answer is you’ll succeed more when you work together, when you collaborate, and when you ask for help. Especially during the origin stories of our company. And it just seems more exciting. It seems more exciting when you get to sit down and discuss things, then if I sat in a room alone doing this conversation, and it’s the same kind of idea, at least that’s from my perspective of that the journey and the conversation just deepens and people feel that.
MO: I think you collaborate by not being afraid. For example, I just went to Culture before this, which makes a chocolate chip cookie.
I brought them, talk to their owners. They’re like, let’s catch up, you know, whatever. And they always are on the best chocolate chip cookies list and I’m definitely gonna shout them out. And I think if you’re not afraid of competition, if you’re not afraid of telling other people’s stories and including them in part of your own, it’s kind of hard not to collaborate.
And really if you don’t have any expectations, especially if you’re just like, you’re awesome, I’m awesome, let’s be awesome together, it’s usually pretty good to go.
MORLENE: I definitely agree with you both that it’s not really beneficial for anyone involved if you’re just competing and trying to push each other down.
When you pull, hold each other up, you can learn from each other. Especially as business owners, there’s so much struggle involved there, and that people outside of the industry don’t know about and you really learn so much like inside trading from talking to people and being really, really honest and being vulnerable.
That’s what I learned from them too. I’ve seen so much vulnerability from them that they’ve shared. They haven’t been afraid to let you know when they’re really struggling or when they have an issue. And then that’s when other people step into help. And that’s another thing I’ve learned from them.
It’s okay to ask for help and actually people really want to help you, and that’s how you actually forge closer friendships and closer connections, but especially in the business owner industry.
EMILY: Let’s talk about that a little bit more. I think being authentic and really being real about what’s going on in your business to some business owners feels like it might be a detriment, like they’re not as together or trustworthy.
I think it really attracts more than it repels. Have you always been like that as people or did you have to push yourself to be that open?
DAVE: You know what’s interesting, coming from a chef, working in a bunch of fine dining restaurants and working as a chef or a cook, People are not really asking my opinion. No. There’s a lot of, the roll your eyes, but like yes, chef kind of mentality of do what I say and do it because I said to do it and don’t question it ‘cause this is how we do it. And then you become a business owner and you start getting interviewed and people want to know your opinion and they’re like, oh shit.
Why do I think that way? It’s always been within you, but people are asking you how do you feel? And while you think about it, and you have to take a moment to really be introspective and articulate and explain your feelings. And in terms of setbacks and challenges, we had a huge opportunity.
Joe & the Juice asked us when we were working out of, in a basement and I had like a closet to, to sell out of. We had very little space and very little budget. And virtually no employees and they wanted us to sell internationally. And Mo and I were like, yeah, sounds great. Yeah.
MO: They DM’d us.
DAVE: They DM’d us and I saw, I like biked over to their headquarters in like a makeshift bag.
And we were totally not qualified to supply internationally. The headquarters is in Denmark. We didn’t even know how to ship to Denmark. And so we dropped off a bag and of course it didn’t work out because we were not ready at the time. And there’s been so many lessons like that. not every good opportunity is the right opportunity. And this is no disrespect to Joe & the Juice.
EMILY: No. But That’s a great learning. Just because it seems great doesn’t mean it’s a great fit for you or for the business
DAVE: Exactly. Or at the right moment. Correct. And learning to say no. We talk about the beauty of collaboration, and it’s wonderful, but making sure you’re doing it at the opportune moment and that benefits both parties has been a big learning lesson to us.
Intention is amazing, but you have to execute that attention. And also to give us a bit of grace, you know, we’re learning to do this and it’s a learning process for sure.
EMILY: Morlene, I’m gonna bring it to you. I know these guys started cooking out of like restaurant kitchens that people were allowing them to have. But describe the place for me now, what is it like on the outside, on the inside?
MORLENE: If you pay attention to food in any metropolitan area, especially in New York, high-end food halls are a dime a dozen. There are so many. The Essex market is different in that it has so much history.
And I know of it because my family moved to that area in the seventies. So the original Essex market is across the street full of vendors, local vendors, the new Essex Market that currently houses Best Damn Cookies is like very ultra-modern and sleek. Your eyes are drawn upward because there are huge Windows, multiple stories.
But if you go down to what is called the market line, that’s the secret below this upscale food hall, full of really, really fun vendors. If you’re a food obsessed person like myself, it’s a playground. It’s a wonderland. And so your eyes are darting left and right. You’re like, which one should I like run to Ample hills?
Should I get dim sum? Should I get Boba? And then, If you follow the maze and this path and the smell of cookies, you will arrive at best damn cookies. And I don’t know where your mind goes when you think of a bakery or when you think of a cookie shop. It might be playful like Chip City.
But this is a little bit different. Their brand is very quaffed, I would say, purple is their color, their brand color, like the cap that Mo’s donning right now. And so you see elements of purple. They have other complimentary colors. I’d say the aesthetic is really strong. And then they have a lot of the ingredients that are spotlighted and showcased in the cookies present within the showcase, whether it’s like the heirloom corn or arbol chili that’s in one of the cookies, for example. So you’ll see that. So it’ll make you think of the ingredients that are going into the cookies, and then the actual cookies are showcased.
And then usually there’s a smiling face behind the counter. I’ve met some of the employees there. Everyone’s having a good time. There’s music playing in the background. Sometimes they offer samples, and then the only question you’re left to wonder is which one do I Try first. My answer would be to try them all.
MO: I love it. I like that answer.
EMILY: I also love this description of the display you’re giving me. It’s not just the cookies, it’s really, again, that education of what’s going into these, the uniqueness of what you’re bringing with your flavors. How’d you guys decide to display it like that? That’s a personal choice. Obviously.
DAVE: It’s something we are constantly evolving, constantly trying to figure out. Mo said he spent a lot of time marketing and he knows how to be persistent and convince people to try our product. And he’s really good at communicating and outreaching and talking to people.
And I’m really, I think I’m a pretty damn good cook. But figuring out how to articulate visually how we want people to see us is a dialogue that we will have every day for the rest of this company’s existence.
MO: We made a new phrase, aesthetically challenged.
DAVE: We’re constantly trying to figure out, how do we articulate what we’re trying to showcase.
And so I think it, a lot of the time can be quite bare bones just because the things that I like tend to be pretty minimalist. And Moe is also just trying to figure out what I’m trying to feel. I think we want to showcase and talk about the people that are inspiring towards us and it’s an ever going dialogue on what is the best way of doing that.
MO: Yeah, if I can give context, I think it’s funny ‘cause we’ve had people who come from other cities, countries, who’ve known us for a while and so we have so many people who come to the store, but they’ve been there since like, Hey, I got them. So you were asking when we started, he was biking out of his house, like it was eight cookies out of the oven.
Like we cried the first time we had a real oven in a working kitchen. Yeah. It’s amazing because eight at a time in a hundred degrees. And then biking them after means like you’re basically baking six hours and then you’re biking in that same heat another six hours. I think originally I was very concerned about the aesthetic, and I think we realized very quickly that aesthetic meant it looked a certain way, but it didn’t necessarily match what it was.
Sometimes it got in our way, which is, you’re so worried about taking the picture that you don’t try the cookie while it’s warm. And that’s actually what makes a good cookie all the way up to, for example, with him, with the Joe & the Juice story. We spent a lot of money taking really nice photos. We still use those photos, like that one chocolate chip cookie photo.
It literally sells all of our chocolate chip cookies. Large part of our budget at the time. Also made us look like we were a real cookie company. And so everyone treated us like that, which would be things like, well, I just ordered cookies for 30 people and you didn’t ship them yesterday. And then we’re like, oh.
And they’re like, where’s your customer service team? And that’s us, us two. That’s us. And I think very quickly people thought we had 30 people for an entire year. And it wasn’t just me and him, and I would not say that I would…
MORELENE: Because of how sleek your branding looked.
MO: Yeah. Yeah. And I was like, oh yeah, this is great. And I was treating it like tech. I thought it was an MVP, like a minimum viable product. So I was literally like, this is the minimal viable product time to make it look sexy. And then I forgot like the minimal viable product was Dave, which meant that you had to make more cookies and that wasn’t a viable product.
DAVE: To put into context also about what she was saying about the Lower East Side. When my family immigrated to America on my mom’s side, they lived in that area. They lived in the Lower East Side a hundred years ago, it’s kind of hard to wrap my head around that.
My great grandpa Jack lived like three blocks away from where I’m currently baking. It feels very much of a coming home. There’s a lot of pride that I have in being able to be in the neighborhood that my family is from. So that’s kind of, sort of the feeling I wanna come across when you come to our bakery.
Yeah. Is a bit of pride, and a bit of just simple pleasure.
EMILY: I need to know about the transition to a physical space and the growing of a team. You two are sitting with me here on a Tuesday, which means someone’s at best damn cookies. Mm-hmm. How did you know when you were ready to start hiring people? How did you take the jump to actually have a space. That sounds stressful.
DAVE: Oh, it is. It’s really stressful, and finding staff and finding people is incredibly challenging and really hard. It’s something that we still are working on to this day. I’d love to say that it was like, again, very calculated and I knew that, oh, we’re gonna do this and then this is gonna happen.
But really someone DM’d us and said, Hey, we have an opportunity to have a storefront at the market line in Essex market. And we look at each other and we’re like, sick. Literally. And that was it. And then we started and we hired cashiers and people. We were baking out of the commissary kitchen at the time.
And then we realized to simplify, and be advantageous if we fused the two together. And so then we downsized our team because we were gonna be able—instead of me having to transport product back and forth, and Mo having to like film content and ideas at our bakery and back and forth—we kind of downsized everything and made it much, much more simple.
And we moved stalls from, it was just a stand to now baking all on premise, which has changed our lives drastically.
MO: And New York City real estate’s a major part of it ‘cause it’s so expensive. Yeah. Totally about what that looks like is difficult. Yeah.
EMILY: Before we get into reviews, I do wanna talk a little bit about the staff, because Morlene mentioned how she’s always greeted with a happy and friendly face.
I feel like the passion that you two have for your business, mm-hmm. I mean, it just seeps out of you. So I can see how your employees would have that too, but, I know it’s a little more complicated than that. So how do you get your employees to exude that same energy that you do? Is it hiring, is it training? What is it, do you think?
DAVE: You know, I just finished reading Wil Jedera’s book and talking about it, and Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. There’s a bit of something that’s just instinctually you have.
The people who wanna open the door for someone else. The people who see someone leave their wallet on the floor and want to run after them, to give it to them. That I think we inherently seek people like that. The people who just inherently wanna make people feel good. And then it’s kind of living and working by example, embody genuine hospitality, a certain work ethic.
And to admit your faults openly. And my God, have we made a ton of mistakes? Yeah. That’s kind of my thought process about training and hiring and teaching. You try to find good people and then work by example.
MO: And it’s constantly learning. I mean, I think for me it was being open towards basically being kind and knowing that other people are going to be different.
Not trying to be like, you have to be kind just like me. Let me teach you exactly my boundaries. But instead being like, Hey. Okay, so I noticed that you’re really good at this thing and that thing. Let me nurture that and put that more there. For example, with all of our staff, the way they introduce themselves is very different.
Some are more introverted, but they’re very warm once they start talking about something they know others are openly just like, I’m gonna smile, I’m gonna come and greet you. But learning lesson wise, I think a major thing that I learned is literally just making sure that you actually have the role outlined.
I think we grew so quickly because of press and PR and stuff like that. A major learning lesson was just because you can grow more or you can take more orders or you can hire someone, does not mean that you should. You should really take the time as you’re putting another human in, that is going to be the number one thing you’re putting time into.
You really have to know, this is what I want you to do. This is how I’m gonna teach you. You have it all written down. I think personally, at least for me, I was running and gunning for a little bit of it. And so there were so many times we’d hire someone and I would just be like, I’m too busy. I don’t know what to do.
I trust you, have fun. And there’s that is not good. That to me, that felt good cuz I came from corporate where I wanted trust. It does not feel good in a startup when someone is literally just like, good luck! And that’s how it initially started. But the kindness, as Dave said, just comes from be a good human being and people tend to match you.
EMILY: We’ve been talking about this a little bit throughout, but Mo, any advice you have for people about running their social? I mean, I can’t even count how many times we’ve said it started with a DM, but I think a lot of business owners don’t realize that so much can happen for you literally in your online social profiles.
How do you keep up with responding? What’s your strategy for posting content if there is one?
MO: Oh man. If you go to our Instagram, you can literally see our strategy evolve. Cuz you can see at the beginning when it’s literally just like pretty illustrations. After that it becomes trying to be fine dining.
And then after that it’s like I had a friend do it. Then I had a couple of staff people do it, then a creative director, and then it got really, really good. Now I took it back over. Here’s my thing about social media. Treat it like you treat your personal social media, the algorithm, the machine, the whatever you want to call it.
It’s just trying to replicate how you talk to people. I would talk to Morlene if I ran into her in person and then I would, if she didn’t talk to me, follow up with her and be like, hi, you worked at Yelp. Come talk to me. I would do that in person. So in social media, I do the same thing. The further I got away from what I’m like, which is like I do not even post photos on my personal Instagram.
So the more aesthetic our photos became, the less I talked about things we cared about. The less I talked to people, I stopped DMing, and then our rates went down and I would sit there and go, what is going on? And I realized, yeah, I’m not social. I’m just media. And so I think the most important thing is do the social media.
If you’re not talking to someone, if you’re not using it to talk to people, if you’re just posting chocolate chip cookie, no one cares. If you’re talking to someone they care.
DAVE: It blows me away. Because Mo is so good at connecting with people. It still kind of boggles my mind. If you look at our website and you see any of our accolades that we did as a business and we spoke with this person or that person, then you want to know how did that happen?
Most of them was Mo saying, Hey, you should look at us and talk to us. And every time I would ask him, how did this happen? How did he’d be like, oh, I just talked to them. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my life and from Mo. Don’t be afraid to just ask someone for an opportunity.
EMILY: I love that. Yeah. All right, Morlene, we’re gonna bring it to you for reviews. So before I let these two dig into, if they read them, what they do with them, all of that, I want you to set the stage for what motivates you to write a review. I mean, 900. You’re reviewing everywhere you go. Are you only reviewing the places you love? Give me some of that context.
MORLENE: I don’t know that I’m the typical reviewer, but I’m very verbose when it comes to talking about food specifically. I would say a majority of my reviews are for restaurants and for eateries, probably dine out several times a week.
I’m the sort of person, and I think all of us have the friend and their friend group, or are that person themselves. Try something new, wanna try everything, and then wanna tell all your friends about it. So this is just me in the virtual world and on Yelp. I’m just like, all right. This was dope. This was so good and this was what was so good about it.
I tried this and this and this. Or this was a less than stellar experience. I know there’s a lot of hype around this. I wanna speak to my own experience at this business and share with you what went well, what didn’t go well? I really wanna get into all the details. Ask any of my friends.
I really light up when I talk about food and when I talk about a dining experience. So that’s just me, crystallize into my review experience. So I typically review any eatery specifically, whether it’s like a bakery or a savor experience. So what goes into every review? I just sit down and I think about how I would tell my friend about this experience.
I don’t think about how I’m writing an essay, but when I’m talking to my friends, I wanna share the backstory. If I know a little bit about the culture, I’m gonna share what I know. I might even wikipedia it to learn a little bit more. Like recently I reviewed a Cuban Chinese restaurant and I was like, I know about the Chinese diaspora in so many parts of Latin America, but not Cuba specifically.
So I Googled it before I got into writing my review. So that informed what I knew about the cuisine and the culture. So I was sharing those details in my review. I tend to do that.
When experiences are not as good, I have so much empathy for business owners, so I really don’t wanna bash a business unless they’ve really crossed me, which only happened once out of my 900 reviews, I’ve written one, one star review. So, you know, that was bad.
MO: Everyone’s gonna go look for that one review.
DAVE: We gotta know where there’s, see what it was for.
MORLENE: Yeah. One out of 900. I tend to round up. Or I tend to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Yeah. Or I might not, if I feel like mine was an anomaly experience, I don’t know that it’s worth it to share that with other people if I don’t think that experience will be replicated. When I’m writing a review. I want it to be informative. It’s not a diary entry.
EMILY: Any hacks you have for consumers. How do you keep track of where you want to go back and review? Are you checking in? What are some of your consumer hacks?
MORLENE: I take photos. I take so many photos of the space and the food and whatever it is that’s useful for other people uploaded immediately.
And then I just go back to my photos cuz that’ll remind me of the experience too. Sometimes I’m writing a review a few months after that experience, so I’ll go back to the photo and remember what I ate. And menus change so often so you can’t count on. Going back to the website of a business to read their menu again.
So I’ll usually look at the photos and you know how people have selective memory about things. I may forget a lot about my day. I won’t remember what I did a week ago, but if you take me back to a restaurant experience, I’ll remember every detail and what every dish felt like on my tongue.
MO: Yeah, she’s an encyclopedia. Literally, the day we met her, she was like, oh, people consider me kind of like a food encyclopedia. And then she is. Anytime someone comes in the city. I don’t use Yelp. I don’t ask any of my chef friends. I literally text Morlene. I’m like, so they wanted a Tibetan something with like a this thing into that thing.
And she’s like, perfect. There’s only three in New York City. They’re here, here, and here. I recommend this one, this one. Maybe not that one. If it’s warm, this one. And you’re just like, and she took us like the first time we went out to eat, there’s four things I’d never even heard of.
DAVE: I mean, how many restaurants do you have starred or mapped in your phone?
MORLENE: So right now I have 630 bookmarks to go to.
EMILY: To go to.
MO: That’s exactly the food resource in New York City. If you don’t know her, you’re missing out, which is what?
EMILY: Morlene C. Go to the Best Damn Cookies Yelp page and then look for Morlene C’s review and then follow Morlene C.
MO: And that’s, find that one, one star and send it to me because I wanna know, to know he wants which one it is?
EMILY: All right, you two now. Reviews. Do you read them? Do you use them? Do you hate them?
MO: I’m not gonna lie, as a person who actually like, has to reply, et cetera, I read them, obviously. I look at them, I just understand the context of it. For me, two that jump out immediately. We had a bunch when we went viral on Buzzfeed, where the back end of it was basically, Oh, I didn’t put controls. So we have so many cookie orders we cannot make them, which means that basically people are like, yeah, I just ordered $60 of cookies for my husband and they’re trash.
Why is that? And it was like, oh, I know why. It’s, it’s cuz too many orders. That’s why they’re trash. Or I still haven’t got my cookie cuz it got sent to the same place in Missouri three times instead of Kansas City. But it’s the same name city because my guy doing it has 600 and has no idea what he’s doing.
Or very recently, I did not put something on our store, on our Instagram. I mean a couple of days ago, basically being like, Hey, we’re closed. And in my head I was like, it’ll be the one time, and I mean 10 minutes after somebody left a review being like, I love their cookies. They’re so amazing. But I came so far outta my way in they’re closed and I had no idea.
I know you got it. Cause I texted you instantly being like, oh my God, I feel so bad. You know what I mean? You get stuff like that where it’s just like, yeah, there’s a human being and they had a feeling and I can’t discount your feeling. And we just have the other side of it. I’m not gonna fight you on your feelings, I’m just gonna take what I have. I’m gonna try and treat you with kindness. Try and understand, hey, you have a feeling. A lot of our Instagram reviews back in the day when I DM, people would just kind of be like, Hey, you had a bad experience. How can I make this better? From a human element, not from a, I’m gonna make the cookie better because good luck, you know?
We definitely read them. I don’t think it affects us as much anymore. It used to really affect me. I literally would get a bad review and I would call Dave.
DAVE: We have to change everything.
MO: Yeah. Dave’s everything is like, everything has to change, everything. Everything is wrong, and that’s like, yeah, this is too, oh my God, Dave, we have to do everything wrong.
Everything’s different, all of it. Somebody like crispy cookies delete all of her cookies.
DAVE: Yeah. I would say for me, a really good memory of that is that someone left a bad review saying that our shortbread cookie was a buttery gingery explosion in your mouth, and I hate it. And I was like, that’s exactly what I wanted it to be. I wanted to be like a buttery ginger explosion in your mouth and you understand what we’re doing and you just don’t like it. And that’s, that’s fine. You know?
EMILY: That is such a crucial learning for business owners. [Yeah.] Because I have so many business owners that are so obsessed with the number of stars or the criticism. They just want it down. Yeah. When it’s like actually, this person is saying exactly who we are and for the people who find us as the right fit, this criticism is a benefit. It’s a positive.
MO: The first year and a half I was like, oh my God, someone left us a bad review. It means we’re the worst damn cookie. What are we doing? And then I think sometime in the last three months I was like, I should chill out.
DAVE: There was someone who left us a review in the same day. Two people. One was like, why is there so much chocolate in this cookie? Gross! And then another person was like, There’s not enough chocolate in this cookie. Gross! And I just wanted to connect them and like they could cut each cookie in half and they could share.
EMILY: But what a great prime example of how you have to emotionally separate yourself from a review because it is so subjective.
DAVE: Of course. It’s such a personal thing and food is such a perspective.
MO: As a non foodie person, you don’t know anything. I give people some of our cookies, like the pineapple cookie all the time, and I’m like, what’s in it? And no one ever answers. It’s always such a wide variety. And as someone who doesn’t know food, like I know these two can name everything.
I’m the same. I’ll have something with chicken in it and I’ll just be like, oh yeah, um, Cardamom? And they’re just like, that’s salt and pepper. Mo you just ate it with salt and pepper. You just dunno how to cook chicken.
EMILY: Is there anything else that you wanted to share in the context of consumer experiences, making things memorable, connecting with customers, your online presence?
DAVE: I think for me, this journey has really made me look inward and see things that I’m really excited to explore from my own culture of this eastern European culture and cuisine. And for my whole life I was unsure of how to, is it was that worthy of exploring, did people want to know about it?
For the longest time I thought, not really. What am I gonna make, matzo ball soup? As time keeps going, I am more and more interested in kind of articulating and showcasing my culture as well. I think the thing I’m trying to say is that everybody’s perspective is inherently interesting and we all deserve an opportunity to kind of showcase where you’re from and who you are.