Laurie Suriff began the Whimsy Cookie Company out of her Memphis, Tennessee, kitchen in 2007, armed with her mother’s secret sugar-cookie recipe and a desire for a personal creative outlet.
“As a wife and stay-at-home mom of two kids, I thought this would be something I could do for myself,” Suriff says. “I just started diving in, learning all that I could about making and decorating cookies.”
The cookie at the foundation of Whimsy—a sugar cookie made in the soft, cakelike, Southern tradition, based on Suriff’s signature family recipe—is what brought the business into existence. Suriff’s husband, then a financial advisor, was searching for a gift for his clients. Suriff whipped up a batch of the cookies and decorated them with his company logo.
“The clients loved them. And after I made those first cookies, I realized I had so much fun doing it,” Suriff says. “So I started making them for my kids’ school events, teachers, and what have you.”
As word of her cookies spread, Suriff realized she needed a business to support demand. She started Whimsy as a blog in 2007 and began shipping her sugary handhelds out for birthdays, weddings, corporate events, and more, growing her business until it could no longer fit in her kitchen.
After moving out of her home and into a space she shared with a local cupcake operation, Suriff still felt the need for a store that accommodated her brand alone. In 2011, while she was searching for another space to hold her business, she received what would become a pivotal order in Whimsy history: Leigh Anne Tuohy (whose story was captured in the hit 2009 film “The Blind Side”) ordered Baltimore Ravens cookies for a tailgate event for her son, NFL player Michael Oher.
The Whimsy Cookie Company
FOUNDER: Laurie Suriff
HEADQUARTERS: Memphis, Tennessee
YEAR STARTED: 2007
TOTAL UNITS: 9
FRANCHISED UNITS: 8
“Long story short, the family began ordering cookies from me, and Leigh Anne’s daughter, Collins Tuohy, and I hit it off really well,” Suriff says. “She joined my business, we became equal partners, and we moved the business out of that shared location.”
The duo’s first location as joint owners of Whimsy, known as the Whimsy House, is a 100-year-old, pink house in downtown Memphis. The flagship store for the brand, the Whimsy House sports sparkly accents, rosy-hued walls, and a full menu of cookies that has greatly expanded since Suriff started the brand 13 years ago.
Now, in addition to sugar cookies, the company offers Whimsy Cookie Bites (sold 12 to a bag in buttercream or chocolate chip); Whimsy Gooey Butter Cookies; chocolate-dipped Oreos; chocolate chip cookie cake; and, of course, custom-decorated treats.
All items are baked in-house and made to order, and, in recent years, the desserts have garnered celebrity attention from the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Tim McGraw, Emma Thompson, and Miranda Lambert. The chain’s latest menu innovations are Quarantine Cookies, which are sugar cookies decorated to look like smiling toilet paper rolls and stay-well wishes.
“We and our franchise owners are very committed to providing relief and release during this time,” says John Kutac, Whimsy’s president of franchising. “We’re focused on fun efforts to distract people, particularly kids, from the stress.”
Accompanying the widening cookie menu over the last near-decade since Tuohy joined the team is a widening network of Whimsy locations. While the chain continues to garner significant sales through nationwide delivery, since 2018 it has also built eight franchised stores in Southeastern markets ranging from Atlanta to the smaller environs of Clemson, South Carolina.
Whimsy’s markets may vary, but more consistent are the brand’s franchisees. Kutac, who joined Whimsy in January to oversee its growing franchising efforts, says the perfect partner is someone who doesn’t just have good business sense at their core, but also a love of Whimsy’s playful, indulgent brand culture.
“This is a happy brand and we love that,” he says. “Are we looking for someone who wants to open 20 of our stores purely for sales? Probably not. We want people who love how the consumer responds to our spaces and our products, and who embrace that.”
And the brand has been busy amassing these passionate franchise partners. While COVID-19 has largely overhauled the way restaurants do business, Whimsy has been able to retain customers; some locations offer delivery through third-party services, and Suriff obtained FDA approval for her cookies to ship to any location in the U.S.
This portability has given the team confidence for the future in spite of shaky circumstances meeting the industry. In April, the brand unveiled a national expansion plan with a goal of reaching 50 open units within the next three years. The company has already signed agreements for 12 additional units, with the intention of doubling its location count by the end of 2020. Kutac says Whimsy plans to infiltrate additional markets in the Southwest and Southeast first, then progress beyond.
“The product and our brand will play everywhere, there are just different real estate considerations, minimum wage laws, and other circumstances,” he says. “We don’t know what the result will look like at the end of all this, but here’s what I can tell you now: We will find ways to bring Whimsy to people.”