Kathy Klein started baking Mandel bread and marketing it as a cookie 19 years ago after she was laid off from an advertising agency.
That was the start of a dream come true.
First came the cookies, then the wholesale orders, the expanded menu of baked goods and the 800-square foot retail shop. On Wednesday, a ribbon-cutting marked the expansion into a 1,600-square-foot storefront in the Adam’s Supermarket Plaza at 1365 New Haven Ave. The business was previously in a low-profile location nearby, at 252 Melba St.
Kathy’s Famous Cookies — which now sells many varieties of cookies, biscotti, cookie cakes, cupcakes, scones, muffins and more — is sold in Klein’s shop and at fine coffee shops, restaurants and grocery stores in New Haven and Fairfield counties.
“I love it,” Klein said of the business, all these years later. “We never stop perfecting what we do.”
She said everything is made fresh daily from scratch and there are no preservatives. If a cookie or other baked product is a day old, it gets marked down. Klein has said no one knows her recipes, as, “It’s all in my head.”
The success of her business — and doubling of its size — was celebrated Wednesday at a ribbon-cutting attended by Mayor Ben Blake and Chamber of Commerce board member Gary Johnson, who is also president of United Way of Milford.
“I am politically, morally and philosophically pro-cookie,” Blake said. “We love when all businesses in Milford expand, but especially when they’re so delicious.”
Johnson said he stops at Kathy’s Famous Cookies frequently because the coffee is so good, and as scrumptious as the baked goods are, he’s waiting for a low-calorie line.
“It’s nice to see a business growing and thriving,” Johnson said.
While Klein and her team, including “cupcake manager” Sally Hehn, do not have a low-calorie offering — yet — they do have just about all else, including gluten-free products. The scones of maple walnut with a maple glaze, raspberry chocolate chip, banana blueberry and the biscotti of pistachio chocolate chip, almond joy, lemon white chocolate, have almost become as famous as the cookies.
Customer Kathy A. Powell of Stratford said she is so crazy for the magic bars of butterscotch, chocolate and coconut that she visits Kathy’s Famous Cookies once a week and portions out her goodies.
Powell, who felt compelled to show for the special occasion, was dramatic and passionate about the magic in those bars and Klein’s other products.
“I fell in love with her lemon bars at Café’ Atlantique,” she said. Desperate to find out who baked them, “I extracted info from the wait person like a dentist who wanted to extract a tooth.”
She spoke of bringing guests there and “needing a magic bar.”
The staff at the shop gets impromptu creative in the kitchen. Hehn — who brought her secret cupcake recipe to the business — said she’ll make any custom cookie cake and Wednesday took a shot at one made with peanut butter and toffee cookies, brownies, vanilla butter cream frosting and chocolate ganache. By ribbon-cutting time, she was trying to come up with a name for the new creation.
Klein sold her first dessert 19 years or so ago to Amity Meat Center in Woodbridge, but now supplies stores and markets statewide.
“Customers call us and say they never had a cupcake that tasted like ours, or ‘I never had a cookie like this,’” she has said. “It’s extremely gratifying that people take the time to call.”
As is the case with so many others, a pink slip was Klein’s gateway to entrepreneurial success, she said. When laid off, she had two young sons, 4 months and 2 years old. She decided to go with the bread her mother taught her to bake as a youngster, but she called it a cookie. The cookie menu has expanded greatly since then. While her husband remodeled her space, her boys are the ones who keep her working, she said.
“I inspire them and they inspire me,” Klein said of her sons, now 19 and 20. “It’s really for them.”