December 3, 2015

Small Batches, Big Ambitions: Undergraduate Food Entrepreneurs Cook Up Companies

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Cornell is a place bursting with opportunity, new ideas, and incredibly inventive individuals. The food world is no different. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with a few food entrepreneurs on campus; Cate Hillin ’17 and Evelyn Quispe ’17 of About that Dough, an edible cookie dough company, and Alex Strauch ’18 of Cayuga Crunch, a granola company. Each has its own inspiration, views and plans for future expansion and exposure to the Cornell community.

Cate and Evelyn are foodie best friends who took a product-development class that required them to create a recipe they could  sell. Their hypothetical recipe became reality when they developed an edible cookie dough that was just right — and got an amazing response from taste-testers.

They recently started selling to customers through an online ordering system. Evelyn said the Cornell community has been immensely supportive.

The pair is currently selling chocolate chip, Reese’s peanut butter cup, M&M, salted caramel and sugar cookie dough. They are also looking to sell a vegan variety.

“It’s all about keeping it simple right now and making the base product the best it can be,” Evelyn said.

After trying all five flavors, I was impressed. The sugar cookie flavor was my favorite, but I honestly loved every flavor. Cate and Evelyn have found the perfect culmination of unbaked cookie freshness in a tasty bite of dough. Swoon. Not only was it delicious, but also extremely creative and unique.

In discussing future plans for their company, Cate said they want to start off by catering, before moving to a cookie-dough bar and finally into retail. Both Cate and Evelyn have worked with start-ups and hope to bring their experiences to About that Dough.

Alex started baking granola last year in his dorm on North Campus as a way of coping with homesickness. Laughing, he said that everyone would flock to the kitchen and devour it before even he could snag a bite. Upon realizing that he could make a business out of his coping mechanism, he developed Cayuga Crunch.

“It’s a new part of myself and a way that I found a home here at Cornell,” he said. Though he’s moved from his dorm to mass production, he still tries to incorporate his personal touch into every granola bag he produces.  Together with a team of seven undergraduate students, he continues to be involved in every step of the process, from designing the packaging to baking the granola. Above all, he strives for granola that is fresh-tasting, healthy and accessible. “I want to revolutionize the snacking world,”he said.

The product is currently sold at Temple of Zeus, Terrace restaurant, Mac’s Cafe,  Manndible Cafe, Fork and Gavel Cafe and Collegetown Bagels, in three flavors: Aztec Energy, Monkey Business and Crumble Rumble.

In the future, Alex hopes to bring Cayuga Crunch into dining halls on campus and eateries beyond the Cornell bubble, developing a  wider range of flavors and possibly other features, like caffeinated granola.

In the process of developing his company, Alex has learned more than just how to sell granola. “I’ve learned that working as a collective is immensely important. Since we’re selling the product everyday, we have to be invested in what we are doing and empowered to keep going,” he said. That’s just what he has with his Cayuga Crunch team: a hardworking group that strives to keep moving forward in this evolving food world.

While thriving as a food entrepreneur is no easy feat, these individuals have shown that the pursuit of a passion and an unwavering work ethic can go a long way in our constantly evolving Cornell community.