Queen of Cookies
The email subject line read Cookie Interview. The letter that followed was short: “Michelle, please interview Eileen.”
To the outsider, these instructions might seem lacking in detail, but for anyone living in central Nebraska, the email spoke volumes. I was given the fabulous assignment of interviewing Eileen Harman, founder and president of Eileen’s Colossal Cookies! To put this in perspective for you, Eileen is to cookies what Meryl Streep is to acting. She is simply the best at what she does.
Like all great American success stories, Eileen’s Cookies had humble beginnings. A mother of two young boys, Eileen worked first as a secretary, then in real estate. She had an understanding of business, but wanted to do something different, something FUN. In 1982, inspiration struck after a visit to an Omaha cookie shop. Returning home, she pulled out her family recipes and began a small baking operation out of her kitchen.
Then, marketing was simple. She advertised in the newspaper, and soon had a regular route delivering to local businesses. Remember the fun part? Eileen made her deliveries in a Cookie Monster costume. Word spread and her reputation grew. A year and half later, she took out a small loan and opened her first store in Hastings.
Fast forward 32 years: Eileen’s Colossal Cookies is a wildly successful franchise with 20 stores in eight states…and growing! It leaves one speechless.
Sitting down with Eileen, she was exactly as I imagined her: kind, down-to-earth, funny, bubbly. We met at her corporate headquarters in Hastings where she opened her first store all those years ago. That experience taught her the workings of business.
“I learned to pay attention to labor and expenses,” Eileen said. “I learned to run my business systematically. Systems make things work.”
As president of her business, Eileen handles paperwork, coordinates her managers and head decorator, and directs seasonal changes in display and design. Her son Tony oversees franchising while her son Gabe manages the Hastings stores and oversees the fundraising program and other financial aspects.
“We work as a team, traveling to our franchises together, assisting them in opening,” Eileen said.
All the cookies and frosting at Eileen’s Colossal Cookies are made in-house. Eileen said that being an entrepreneur starting a small business involves long hours but the payoff is worth it.
“You have to do whatever it takes to make it,” she said. “I just show up every day and keep working at it. It’s still fun!”
Our chat went on, straying off business to local pleasantries. I could have stayed there all afternoon. However, before leaving, I did share with Eileen my own dependency on her business. At Christmas, I buy tubs of Eileen’s frosting to give to our church’s cookie making drive. I also buy trays and trays of their special Christmas cookies because I don’t like to bake. For teacher and coach gifts, I buy customized Duster cookies. And whenever I have no idea what to give someone, I get them a giant Eileen’s cookie. It’s a gift everyone loves!
For more information…
Eileen’s Colossal Cookies
President Eileen Harman
315 N. Baltimore Ave.