Shira Berk knew she could bake a winning gluten-free cookie. Her loyal customers flocking to Goodie Girl, her small café at the Jewish Community Project in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, were proof of that. But she wanted her little business, founded in 2010, to be so much more. She wanted to sell lots of cookies, in lots of places.
Berk was relentless, if not terribly focused, as she plunged headlong into the food world. A self-professed foodie who used to do publicity for punk rock bands, she had played around with making gourmet popcorn at the same time she was experimenting with gluten-free cookie recipes. (She isn’t gluten-free herself but developed her first gluten-free cookie at a customer’s request.)
Pretty early on, Berk realized that what she really needed was a partner, someone with capital and deep expertise in the food business. Finding the right one wasn’t easy, though. She got close to signing on the dotted line with a couple of people. “But there was something in my gut that felt wrong,” she tells me.
She networked like crazy with other entrepreneurs and found some food-industry mentors that helped her focus on what she did best. And, in her third year in business, she joined a food incubator program in Queens to make Goodie Girl Cookies a real thing. She even won a free booth at the Fancy Food Show in a competition sponsored by the New York Economic Development Corporation and the Specialty Food Association.
“This was a total game changer,” Berk says.
At the trade show her mentor, Jerry Bello, then the CEO of Brownie Brittle, introduced her to Greg Toufayan, one of the owners of the nearly century-old family business Toufayan Bakeries. The company got its start making pita bread in the 1920s and has since expanded into bagels and other baked goods and has a thriving private-label business.
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