Who's That Gal: Heather Yunger of Top Shelf Cookies
Name: Heather Yunger
Occupation: Owner, Doughologist
Age: Over 40, but not WAY over 40 :)
Currently Reading: My email, that’s all I get to read these days!
Favorite Spring Activity in Boston: Patriot’s Day. Early morning beers and breakfast with friends, Sox Game, Marathon watching and if we’re lucky Bruins Playoffs at night!
Favorite Cookie Flavor: Black & Gold (it’s my sentimental favorite)
How did you get into the baking business?
Not the normal way. I’m a longtime, superstitious Boston Bruins season ticket holder. I started baking the Black & Gold cookie (dark chocolate with peanut butter chips) as a superstition and brought it to The Fours for every pregame…the Bruins won the Stanley Cup that year and I thought maybe it was time to make a career change. So, I started Top Shelf Cookies!
What were some challenges you faced starting out?
Well, I didn’t have the industry experience. I came from a cubical, not culinary school. I had to learn how to produce cookies instead of bake them. Sounds funny, but making a couple dozen cookies at home is WAY different than making a couple thousand cookies. Once we got past that challenge, it was really about identifing our customer and branding and marketing to those folks. Also, I started with very little capital, I took $2500 and I “bet” myself that the cookies were loved by my loved ones and not a wider audience, I lost the bet – people loved them, so I had to scramble – but I’m glad I lost that bet!
What does the day-to-day look like for you?
I work pretty much 24-7. No day is like the day before. I usually start around 530AM, clear my emails, make a to do list for the day. I could be at my desk all day with my favorite coworker Brady (my senior beagle) or I could be out making deliveries, making cookies, making sales calls etc. I like that I don’t just show up to a desk everyday and punch a clock, but sometimes it’s exhausting.
Your menu is drool-worthy. What are the ingredients you can’t live without?
Can’t live without most of them - we just really try to make really good cookies and that starts with really good ingredients.
Black Cocoa, this is what makes oreos the color they are and we blend it into all of our chocolate based cookies
Sam Adams Beer – they have been so amazing to my little cookie company since our launch. We have made 17 different cookies with their beers, my favorite is called “Left On Boylston” it’s a lemon coriander cookie and it’s made with Sam Adam’s 26.2 Brew.
You also collaborate with a lot of local business to create your unique recipes. How do you initiate those partnerships and what benefits have the collaborations brought to your business?
Well, most notable is Sam Adams, we are in their “Brewing The American Dream” program and the brewery manager is a long time Bruins Season Ticket Holder and she really encouraged me to get Top Shelf Cookies started.
We also work in a shared kitchen (CommonWealth Kitchen) so I always see what we can do with our neighbor’s stuff. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. We love Alex and his team from Alex’s Ugly Sauce so it was a thrill to make a spicy chocolate cookie with his sauce.
We also just really enjoy Boston’s small food business community, so it’s easy to get excited about everyone’s products and I love coming up with fun stuff with them. Selfishly, it gives me the chance to hang out with more and more awesome people.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to start a food business?
Don’t do it! I kid, but it’s a lot of work and it’s an industry that has a high failure rate. There’s so much noise out there. It’s hard to stand out. It’s a pretty physical job, most days in the kitchen I curse myself for waiting too long to follow my dreams. However, if NONE of that scares you, my best piece of advice is to get educated and find good partners. I’ve been lucky to work at CommonWealth Kitchen and have access to a great community and mentors, the same can be said for the amazing assistance Sam Adams has given us through Brewing The American Dream.
Be open-minded, listen to people that have done things before. Benefit from their experience.
What’s next for Top Shelf?
We are working hard to get into more stores. Currently we’re in a handful, but we need to add more so people don’t have to wait for online orders to ship (though we turn those around pretty fast) We’ll be spending the summer doing a lot of markets and pop ups. We are rolling out a couple new flavors in the spring, I’m hoping to add some more stuff into the mix – I really enjoy creating, it’s why I chose this line of work!