Considering the way Patty Howard’s fortunes have gone down and up over the last year, it’s fitting that the most important part of her business is a yo-yo.
“Our core revenue was certainly off-site catering, and corporate drop off. That made up 75 per cent of what we did,” the owner of Kitchen Door Catering said of the days before COVID.
In 2018, Howard moved her business from Bedford to Dartmouth Crossing and into a custom-built facility, which, at 11,000 square feet, was twice as big as her previous spot and included space for 5-10 years of growth. She needed the building to generate revenue.
“We had cooking classes. We had a beautiful retail space here and we also did events, and people came in for lunch every day,” Howard said. “This is all pre-pandemic. We had a spot down at the Zatzman Sportsplex where we did a popup every day. So, we were all basically off-site, group gatherings, social catering, all the things that are not happening now.”
As she adjusted, the number of Howard’s staff fell from 30 staff to four, with her sales team and all of her coordinators and managers laid off.
That’s when she got a call from Wade Little, one of her suppliers, a chef headquartered in Murray Harbour, P.E.I. Little, a native New Zealander, had been making and selling cookies like the ones he’d grown up eating. They’re called Yo-Yo cookies.
“In New Zealand those cookies are fairly common: butter cream, two cookies sandwiched around some sort of filling,” said Howard. “But he took it to a whole other level, this is all butter shortbread, all authentic, no soya, no margarine, nothing, it is a crème de la crème product.”
Little had run into production capacity issues on the island, and thought Howard was the partner that could help him grow.
“So, we made the shift from food service, which is what we’ve done for the last 12 years, to food manufacturing, which is a whole different kettle of chips,” said Howard, who had to shift from dealing with provincial inspection to federal inspection. “You have to be thinking of batching, controlling traceability, all those things you don’t to do in food service. It wasn’t that it was hard, but it was all new.”
Howard now has seven full-time employees devoted to making, packaging and distributing Yo-Yo cookies throughout Atlantic Canada. They’re in more than 100 Sobey’s stores, and 169 other retailers.
Kitchen Door delivers the cookies to individual stores instead of to a warehouse.
“You build a relationship with managers, your product doesn’t get lost with a million other products that go into the warehouse,” Howard said, adding that distribution has gone so smoothly that she’s looking to take on other products. “There seems to be in this market, from the people I’ve talked to, a real need for good, solid distribution for small players. There doesn’t seem to be anybody doing that.”
Howard’s company is also busy with virtual cooking classes, with well-known chef Andrew Farrell at the helm, but the Yo-Yo deal is now fully half of her business.
That business could grow even more, as Little has expansion plans he doesn’t want to talk about, other than to say he wants production at the Dartmouth facility to increase.
He said you can find Yo-Yo cookies at most cafes and coffee shops in Australia and New Zealand.
“And everyone has their Yo-Yo game on. It’s like, battle of the Yo-Yos,” Little said. “We use a 50-year-old recipe that we have tweaked, adjusted and manipulated over the last 20 years.”
Little says he introduced the cookies to Canada, and has the trademark here. He’s not certain where the name came from, but he thinks the German immigrants who introduced them to Australia likened them to the shape of toy yo-yos.
Little’s cookies come in five flavours: vanilla, lemon, chocolate, butterscotch and salted caramel and espresso pumpkin spice.
“I’ve been making them in commercial environments for 18 or 19 years, and the consumer kind of tells you, they’re pretty blunt about it,” he said of the flavours. “In the South Pacific we would have passion fruit, which isn’t really a thing here in North America so I wouldn’t put a passion fruit one into the market here. It’s not in the flavour profile that’s accepted.”