When Gail Dosik turned 50, she decided to sweeten her life. After more than two decades in the fashion industry, she quit her job, enrolled in culinary school, worked with a few pastry chefs, and went on to found One Tough Cookie, a designer cookie company based in New York. Although she claims she can't even sketch (she's never taken an art class, but now offers cookie-decorating lessons), Dosik bakes and decorates whimsical cookies, and her cookie-covered birthday cakes have made her something of a celebrity on the Manhattan toddler scene.
For Dosik, who considers herself "THE Tough Cookie," the entrepreneurial life means getting to make up your own title, finding new friends on Twitter and dealing with the age-old baker's dilemma -- having too many volunteer tasters.
What makes you a tough cookie?
I'm One Tough Cookie because I started alone and I do cakes that are adorned with hand-decorated cookies. There's nothing that ever is without a cookie around here. I don't even send out naked cupcakes. My cupcakes always have cookies on top, which is why I bake them on the stick, so I can stick them right in the cupcake.
I like that philosophy! What did you do before you became One Tough Cookie?
I did fashion sales for a gazillion years -- sold from brands to stores, mostly boutiques. Did I love it? No. I did enjoy the sales aspect. But I wasn't a fashionista. I didn't live and die for it... but I always really loved baking.
When did you decide to take the leap?
I went to the French Culinary Institute, which was the happiest six months of my life. I was the oldest one in my class and I really didn't care. Then I started this thing a little before my 50th birthday. I used to have a big thing about my age and I still do. It's only recently I've been able to say f-f-f-fifty, and f-f-f-fifty is the new th-th-th-thirty! My family really didn't want me to do this -- they couldn't imagine what the heck was wrong with me. My father thought I was crazy to give up a really good-paying job in fashion. He was like, "You're gonna bake cookies? But you know what, if you're gonna become the next Mrs. Fields, I guess I can't complain!"
Cupcakes are trendy now. Are cookies are the next big thing?
I only wish! I have always been fascinated with a decorated cookie, probably because each cookie tells a story, whether it's a sailboat or a product cookie that I've done for advertising companies. Each cookie has to say something. And I just love the fact that it's artsy and delicious and whimsical all at the same time. It makes everybody smile. It's such a custom item, so what you need isn't always just sitting there in a bakery -- it has to be specially ordered. So yes, I think there will always be a call for a customized cookie.
Why is your cookie so special?
It's not a sugar cookie, it's a butter cookie with a lot of sugar in it, like a shortbread cookie. I may not be the greatest artist in the whole world -- and I'll fully admit that and recognize that -- but I tell you, this is one heck of a good cookie!
Who are your cookie tasters?
Ohmigod, there is never, ever a shortage of tasters. Trust me. People come out of the woodwork and say "I'll take your rejects!" And that really cracks me up because I would never go to a friend who's a banker and say, "Hey, got an extra half-pound of hundreds? I'll take 'em!" But people always think that you're giving out food.
You're quite an active Twitter user. Has it helped business?
Twitter is the best thing that has come along for the small-business entrepreneur, for craft people. It's an incredible way of getting social marketing. If you work alone, you have this virtual water cooler of people you can reach out to and immediately get feedback from peers and colleagues. That is an essential part of the day. It's a great way to promote yourself, you can put pictures, and they can get retweeted and on and on. The viral aspect is just incredible. I knew that blogs existed before, but when I got on Twitter, I saw that anybody who's anybody who has a food business has a blog, so I started a blog. Then there's my website - I'm so Google-able in the New York City area.
I'd imagine there's a lot of word of mouth, too.
People kind of know me and I've developed a reputation in the birthday-party set, especially among the one-year-olds. You know how the obstetrician has the photos in the office of all the babies they've brought into the world? I feel like that with a lot of my clients because I've done their kids' cake for the first five years of their lives. The kids start to know who I am -- "Gail the Cookie Lady" -- and they get on the phone and tell me what they want.
What was the most creative cookie set you've made?
A bunch of food bloggers who I know through Twitter were getting together for BlogHer, and they invited me. I decided to make a blog cookie for each one of them. There were about 10 of them, and I looked at each person's latest blog post and used pictures of their latest dish. It was a great party and they loved it, but they all said the same thing -- that the cookie was too pretty to eat. Eat the cookie! That's what this is all about.
Does fashion play into your cookie design?
Yes. Because my eye has been trained in terms of color and aesthetic and pattern and texture, I know what I'm really looking at and I spot trends quickly, so fashion has given me a little bit of an edge in my cookie design -- not necessarily in my artistic capabilities, because those are not as great as my creative capabilities, I would have to say!
The fashion business is always described as being cutthroat. Is this harder?
It is much, much harder, especially when you're a small business, because you're the advertising person, you're accounts receivable, you're accounts payable, you're creative, you're the dishwasher, in some cases, you're the delivery person. Until you grow and get those positions filled, your job is all-encompassing and it starts really early in the morning and doesn't really shut off. Most people who own their own business say it's never really "off," even in your downtime -- you see something that sparks an idea so you have to write it down or you have to look something up. I don't think it ever stops, so I definitely work way harder. But having my part-time assistant does help.
What's a typical day like?
I wake up, look at e-mails, return e-mails, look at Twitter -- gotta look at Twitter to see what's going on with my tweeps! -- then I get myself together at 8 or 8:30 and start to bake. I have a pattern throughout the course of the week. Monday is all the prep work, Tuesday we start to bake cakes and make dough. And then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday it's full-on decorating.
When did you realize this would work?
I took a lot of time developing my website and my logo. It's almost like I'm having a big party, and I've sent out invitations and I'm all dressed up in my party dress and the website goes live, and you wonder, is anyone going to click on it? Is anything going to happen? And it does, it happens. I was really lucky. I got a terrific break from Urban Baby about five years ago -- and that morning the phone calls and e-mails came flooding in like I have never seen before. I could not leave my computer until like 3 in the afternoon. So once you get your break, it's incredibly gratifying, and it all just starts to fall into place.
Why do you think your personality a good fit for entrepreneurship?
I'm fairly assertive and I feel like I'm somewhat of a go-getter. I'm not one to sit back and just let other things happen around me. I'm kind of a kitchen bitch in a way, and I try to muscle my way forward and do it my way. I had a clear vision for what I wanted this to be, and that's really what spurred me on to do it myself, more than anything.
Why should people indulge in cookies?
We have to nurture ourselves. Perhaps when things are really not going well, you have to find solace somewhere, so you might as well find it in food. And what is better than a delicious cookie that someone has made for you in a shape or design that speaks to you? It just doesn't get any better than that.
Name: Gail Dosik
Company: One Tough Cookie
Location: New York
Employees: 1 (part-time)
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 10/13/10.