Bergen Giordani is One Hot Cookie.
Lest you think I’m starting this week’s column by making some wildly inappropriate statement about my friend Bergen, let me explain.
Bergen and her daughter, Morgen, started the specialty cookie business, One Hot Cookie, in downtown Youngstown in 2013. Business is good. They’ve grown to three locations, including shops in Niles and Boardman, and they have plans for more.
Bergen does all this while serving as the development director at YSU’s Rich Center for Autism, where she leads a half-million-dollar-a-year campaign to support children affected by autism.
I sat down with Bergen to talk about the upcoming DOYO Live conference (Aug. 2-3 at YSU), how she uses social media to connect with cookie lovers, and about crazy cookie toppings.
Q. I have to be honest. One Hot Cookie is one of my guilty foodie pleasures. My wife and kids call me a cookie monster. And I love how engaged your business is on social media. So, what’s your recipe for driving social media users to buy cookies?
A. It’s really interesting to see what posts get the most engagement. Facebook and Instagram have algorithms that are constantly changing, so working around those is always challenging.
We try and post a ton of pictures and to be authentic. I think it helps if people can identify a brand as someone they know or want to know, so we try to and have a healthy mix of cookie sales propaganda, hilarious photos of our Cookie Dogs doing their thing, actual photos of customer orders, especially late night downtown. Those are the best customer cookie creations, without a doubt.
We’re starting to focus on Internet sales more and more, and we’re experimenting with “boosted” social media posts to target specific demographics and locations, to broaden our reach outside the Mahoning Valley but still targeting regions that have a connection back to this area.
Q. What’s the weirdest cookie topping you’ve ever tasted?
A. Crickets. Hands down, the crickets.
Q. What? That’s crazy!
A. Remember a few years ago when the cricket farmers were in Youngstown? We did a Cricket Cookie for Halloween.
But, funny story, while we’re really good at making cookies, we’re not so good at roasting crickets. We kept baking these frozen crickets, tossing them in salt, and trying to find out what the “best” tasting roasting time was for these frozen crickets. That was the most disturbing taste-testing we’ve ever had.
We also did pulled pork on a cookie for a fun twist a few summers ago, but that one was actually really good.
Q. What’s the single most important ingredient to creating a successful business in the Valley?
A. The connections that you make are the single most important ingredient. In the Mahoning Valley in particular there’s no such thing as six degrees of separation. It’s more like two degrees, which is both slightly creepy and awesome. You never know what a casual conversation or social media comment can result in.
True story: a passing comment in a restaurant resulted in One Hot Cookie being the first tenant at Erie Terminal. Truer story: it wasn’t a restaurant. It was a bar, and I was a waitress. So, the moral of the story: don’t underestimate or prejudge people or how you’re connected to them.
Q. You’re pretty active in the Youngstown community. How do you use social media to engage with the community?
A. I feel like in today’s world more people are “talking” on social media than in real life, for a variety of reasons, time being one of them, at least for me. It’s easy to engage on social media at your convenience whether that’s 5 a.m. or 11 p.m. —times when you wouldn’t or shouldn’t call or text people.
In that regard, social media allows you to be social on your time schedule.
Through social media I can stay informed about what’s going on in the community. I think that people can see who you’re connected with, through comments and likes, and networking becomes easier and more organic.
Once you realize you have common friends it’s easier to reach out and start a conversation, whether it’s about a community event or cause or something more business-related. In my opinion, social media sparks conversations and opens doors that would be nearly impossible or at least incredibly awkward to do in real life.
Q. I love your ice cream sandwiches. I saw a brownie-cookie ice cream sandwich on your Instagram feed the other day and my stomach growled. What’s your choice for the best ice cream sandwich cookie combo?
A. Aww, thank you.
I have a couple combos in my rotation: There’s the Cookies and Cream Brownie with Cookies and Cream ice cream and a double chocolate chip cookie on the bottom. That’s pretty intense. It’s like a meal.
Then there’s the classic, our traditional chocolate chip sandwich with vanilla bean ice cream. You can never go wrong with that combo. It’s like your Grandmother’s pearls, always on point.
One of our newest additions to the menu is the Smash Cup, which is a milkshake, cookie sundae hybrid. It’s incredible.
But, when it comes to Smash Cups I go for the Salted Caramel Pretzel every time, which is funny because as a stand alone cookie, the Pretzel is one of our best sellers, but it’s not one of my personal favorites. However, as a Smash Cup, it’s perfect, all day long.
Q. I saw some recent One Hot Cookie cross-promotion on Facebook with Niles Residence Inn and Martino Motorsports. How useful are social media platforms in helping to promote these relationships?
A. It’s funny, both of those relationships started very organically from—wait for it—actual human interaction. But, through promoting the Residence Inn event we booked two graduation parties and a wedding—just from that post alone. So, that was a great example of showcasing what we can do when we take the show on the road.
It’s one thing to say “yeah, so we do graduation party catering” and it’s another to see the set up with the warm chocolate chip cookies and trays of specialty baby bites.
Martino Motorsports have been huge fans and supporters of One Hot Cookie since practically day one. When I started to tell our team that we were doing this and that it was tied to Ryan Martino, they didn’t know his name. But when I said, “you know him, he’s the Banana Pecan, no Pecan guy,” our employees in both Youngstown and Boardman knew exactly who he was. (Ryan) will probably kill me for saying that, but it’s true and it’s hilarious.
From promoting The Martino we have been approached by other businesses for some co-branding and promotional opportunities. One in particular will launch in late June or early July. So, it’s been incredible to see how these two very organic relationships have multiplied tenfold simply from social media.
Q. DOYO Live is right around the corner. What will you be sharing in your talk?
A. I’m super excited to be part of DOYO Live this year. Dennis (Schiraldi, creator of DOYO Live) is great, and to go back to what we were talking about earlier about connections—I’ve got several connections to Dennis—and his positivity and perseverance have really driven this conference to a whole different level. It’s incredible.
In my breakout session I am going to focus on grassroots social media marketing. When my daughter and I first launched One Hot Cookie back in 2013, we were broke.
I feel like everyone has heard that part of the story before, but my favorite part of the story is when I called my dad and said, “I’m starting this cookie shop” his first response was not “that’s terrific, I’m so proud of you.” Nope. It was “you aren’t going to quit your job are you?” Which, I feel, was his roundabout way of saying “I’m not giving you any money so don’t even ask”
But, all that aside, starting a new business with a $0 advertising marketing promotional budget meant that we had to hit up social media hard, and in order to get organic, or free, growth on social media meant we had to be witty and clever and authentic.
So, my session will focus on our story of growth that is 100-percent directly tied to social media and the tactics we used that were wins, and of course what we’ve done that ended up being giant fails.
Q. You’re bringing cookies right? Cause that’s a session I’d go to.
A. Of course we’ll eat cookies during the breakout session because, well, why wouldn’t we?
Want to learn more about One Hot Cookie? Check them out online at theonehotcookie.com to view the menu, schedule a party, or place an order. Follow them on Instagram at @onehotcookie.
For more on DOYO Live, including tickets and schedule, go to doyolive.com.
Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Read his blog at adamearn.com and follow him on Twitter at @damearn.