Life is pretty sweet for smart and sassy Goodie Girl Cookies Founder Shira Berk. The former New York City-based music marketing exec traded a corner office and high heels for spatula and quinoa flour in pursuit of the perfect gluten-free cookie … on a whim and dare.
“I didn’t set out to make cookies,” says Berk, 47-year-old mom of three. “I’ve always been drawn to the road less traveled, the unbeaten path so, in some ways, this makes as much sense as my current penchant for glittery high-tops. I also always knew I wanted to run a business. I just had no money and no idea how to even start. The success of Goodie Girl Cookies has allowed me to meld seemingly disparate lifelong passions for design, baking, nutrition and culinary trends into something I can proudly share with others.”
In 2010, Berk, who was known by friends as a talented, but untrained baker, was running the café inside her children’s preschool when a fellow parent challenged her to create a gluten-free cookie modeled after the ones baked at the café.
Game on. 17 months, endless attempts and countless bags of sugar, amaranth, sorghum and a host of other identifiable flours, Berk developed a delicious gluten-free quinoa chocolate chip cookie that started to outsell traditional cookies at the café. She knew she was on to something.
Inspired by trendsetting pioneers ranging from Milk Bar's Christina Tossi to architect Frank Gehry, restaurateur Danny Meyer and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Berk looked at the numerous challenges she faced in the kitchen as blank canvas of opportunity. She cooked up a plan for a complete line of cookies that would break the (often dry and flavorless) gluten-free cookie mold. Berk’s Goodie Girl Cookies received a full-page write-up in the New York Post. She left the café, set up production at a culinary incubator in Queens, and grew the line to include varieties such as Toffee Chaos, Midnight Brownie and Oatmeal Raisin, selling them in specialty stores in the New York metro area.
Her big break came after winning a coveted booth at the Fancy Food Trade show when/how where she met Greg Toufayan of Toufayan Bakeries. Toufayan and his family run one of the largest family-owned baked breads companies in the US and he and his team quickly decided to take Goodie Girl under their wings to help Berk scale production and distribution. A delicious partnership was born.
“Just like in baking, building a business is about finding that perfect blend of ingredients, taking the right steps, in the right order, to create something amazing,” added Berk. “I am grateful for all of the opportunities and inspiring mentors along the way.”
Berk, who lost 80lbs nearly 10 years ago, (and maintained an ideal weight every since) says her favorite flavor to this day is the original gluten-free Quinoa Chocolate Chunk. It is important to her that even small indulgences are “worth it” when it comes to great ingredients and incredible flavors. Her commitment to taste is matched by her dedication to maintaining a vibrant and fun brand character, evident in playful packing and inventive flavorings. She personally makes sure the brand stands out in a now active food category.
So what’s next for Goodie Girl? Long-term plans for the business include line extensions, partnerships and more cookies. Just launched: New Chocolate Slims and Vanilla Slims, a riff off the best-selling Mint variety.
“You can’t deny it,” says Berk. “There’s nothing like a good cookie to put a smile on someone’s face.”
Follow Shira on Instagram and Facebook @goodiegirlcookies and on Twitter @GoodieGirlNYC