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New Cookie Love owner finds life is sweet

NEW COOKIE LOVE owner Matt Bonoma displays one of his products at the to-go window of his Route 7 business in Ferrisburgh. Bonoma said it has been a steep learning curve since taking over in mid-July, but still describes running the shop as his dream job. Independent photo/Steve James

We do ship gift boxes nationally. I think there’s a lot of scope there to make that a bigger piece of the business. Who doesn’t love getting a box of cookies in the mail?
— Matt Bonoma

FERRISBURGH — When Charlotte resident Matt Bonoma learned earlier this summer that Cookie Love was for sale, he wasted little time getting in touch with Paul Seyler, co-founder and owner of the Ferrisburgh company.

Bonoma, a Concord, Mass., native, and wife Maggie had moved to Charlotte from Colorado two years before, and Bonoma said he had been waiting for the right opportunity since.

And Cookie Love, a successful venture on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh’s northern reaches already beloved by their three children, ages 8, 6 and 4, fit the bill.

Within “a couple hours” of seeing the listing, Bonoma, 42, who has extensive experience consulting with food startups, reached out to Seyler’s representatives.

“It was pretty much instantaneous. I had been looking at starting a food business or buying a food business for the last couple years, at times more seriously than others, but this was already one of our favorite spots in all of Vermont,” he said.

On July 15 the deal closed, and Bonoma has no regrets about deciding to sell cookies and takeout ice cream to happy customers out of a 1,500-square-foot building that also includes Cookie’s Love wholesale and production operations.

“It’s a dream come true for me in a lot of ways,” said Bonoma. “To have your job every day being about putting smiles on people’s faces, I don’t know how much more you could ask for. How cool is that?”

It’s not that it has always been easy to take over the popular 14-year-old company that Seyler co-founded with Suzanna Miller.

“It’s definitely been a wild ride. Definitely with this business, summer is the busiest part of the year, so it feels a little bit like I’ve jumped onto a moving train going 80 miles per hour,” Bonoma said. “But that’s fine. It’s been great so far.”

BACKGROUND

The experience Bonoma gained in Colorado probably is helping, at least on the management end. The couple went west for graduate school, Matt Bonoma to earn an MBA at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Maggie to obtain a law degree at the University of Denver.

They stayed in the Rocky Mountain State for a number of years, and Bonoma signed on as a consultant with a venture capital firm, Red Idea Partners, that often worked with the state’s burgeoning food sector.

“We really just over time developed a deep expertise in food and beverage businesses, especially. Really, Boulder is one of the hot spots in the country for organic startups, so it as a very natural thing and a craft we honed over time,” Bonoma said. “I’m hoping that translates well to Cookie Love.”

Ultimately, Bonoma decided it was time for a career change, and Maggie, a Norwich native, said it was time to move the family to her home state.

“She had been working on me for probably the entire time we were in Colorado, at least, to move back to Vermont,” he said.

They settled on Charlotte because of its proximity to the Chittenden County job market; what they saw as the quality of the school system, the availability of riding opportunities for Maggie, an avid equestrian; and a home blessed with an ample lot.

“This is always where she has wanted to raise our kids, and it’s a great place for them. We have a lot more land, and we can have free-range children here,” Bonoma said.

Now that Bonoma has made his career move, he said Maggie might help with Cookie Love’s social media and marketing and “plug in” if needed elsewhere. But they have ruled out a fulltime partnership.

“I think we’re trying to keep those worlds separate a little bit for everybody’s sanity,” he said.

Their children would love to help out at Cookie Love, but Bonoma joked, “The state of Vermont might want us to wait a couple years” before putting them to work.

Regardless, Bonoma said at least for a while his standing has risen in the family.

“This is obviously a very exciting thing that has happened in all of their lives, but especially theirs, when your dad owns a cookie and ice cream business. That’s pretty darn cool when you’re their age,” he said.

LOOKING AHEAD

Bonoma said he inherited a successful operation from Seyler, 52, whom he also credits with being a big help during the transition. As well as sales from its Route 7 site and online, Cookie Love also markets frozen tubs of cookie dough at a number of stores in Addison and Chittenden counties.

“It’s a healthy business where it’s at right now. So step one for me is to get through the end of the high summer season for us and make sure that we’re able to deliver on everybody’s expectations, and they can still get their cookies and creemees,” he said.

But, he added, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for growth, both in wholesale (now about 25% of the company gross) and retail.

One target is expanding the gift-box end of the business, both for individual consumers and corporate patrons, including by exploring subscription services for regular deliveries.

“We do ship gift boxes nationally. I think there’s a lot of scope there to make that a bigger piece of the business,” Bonoma said. “Who doesn’t love getting a box of cookies in the mail?”

On the retail end adding a few new cookie flavors could be on the menu, as well as winter hours featuring seasonal cookies and other goodies, such as holiday specialty cookies, muffins and hot chocolate, “cookies of the month,” and more.

And why not more outlets?

“Cookie Love’s got such a great name around here, I think it would be natural to go open another retail location or two over time,” Bonoma said.

Of course, that last goal might be a challenge given the tight labor market — Bonoma said “he wouldn’t be mad” if an article mentioned he was hiring.

But he is also optimistic he can find help in the long run.

“We’re trying to create really attractive, fantastic jobs for people. That was one of my goals when I bought the business,” he said. “It’s obviously hard work, but we try to have fun.”

Bonoma said his own work as a new business owner has been difficult, but still enjoyable.

“It’s probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and the most rewarding,” he said. “As long as the good days outweigh challenging ones, you’ve got to consider yourself lucky, and that’s definitely been the case here.”

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