It’s 3:00 P.M. and I’m at work when mid-afternoon hangriness (it is too a word!) strikes, threatening to ruin the productive streak I’ve been on all day long. Nothing gets me back on track faster than some chocolate. Even better is when it’s in the form of a warm chocolate chip cookie that’s just been delivered to our office with 11 of its friends. This was me last week when one of my co-workers received a delivery from Cookie Cab and was kind enough to share the baked goodness with the rest of us.
One of the geniuses who saved my afternoon is Cookie Cab co-founder Lauren Pepping. I met Lauren because our husbands worked together, back when she was commuting between San Antonio and Austin several times a week for her job in finance—way before this cookie thing was even a half-baked idea.
Ten years later she and her husband Matt have a full house with Maya (6 ½), Lena (4), Nico (17 months), and dog Chip (9 years old and no relation to chocolate chip).
How does a woman go from a corporate finance gig to baking up San Antonio’s hometown cookie delivery service? I sat down with Lauren to find out the answer to this question and more about being a mom who delivers joy through cookies to San Antonio on a daily basis.
Q: Why San Antonio?
A: I grew up overseas in Saudi Arabia, and Matt is from New Mexico. We both came here to go to Trinity, which is where we met. He went to Notre Dame Law School and I moved to Chicago, and we got engaged while we were up there. When he was looking for a job the company I was working for up there opened an office in Austin, and there was a job for him in San Antonio. We liked San Antonio and decided to move down here. For a few years I commuted to Austin a few days and then I had Maya. That’s when I transitioned from a full-time corporate finance person to a stay-at-home mom.
Q: What was the transition to becoming a stay-at-home mom like?
A: I love being a stay-at-home mom. There were hard parts at first, like how to meet people. All of our Trinity friends had pretty much moved away and all of our other friends were Matt’s co-workers and most didn’t have kids. So when I had Maya it was hard at first, and then as soon as she started school the whole world opened up and I met a lot of friends. But by the time Maya was 1½ and going to school three days a week I was thinking I probably should get back into something, and that was when Cookie Cab came to life. It was a perfect transition. It’s been hard trying to juggle it all with each child. In some ways it would have been nice, in hindsight, to wait to start the business until I had all my kids and the little one was two. But we might not have been as successful if we hadn’t started when we did. The market was right for us then. It was perfect; I don’t regret anything, and I wouldn’t change anything.
Q: How did Cookie Cab come to be? What’s it look like now from where you started?
A: It basically started when my oldest, Maya, was about a year-and-a-half. I never wanted to go back to the corporate world unless I had to, and running a business was always something I had in the back of my mind. I had a friend, Molly, with twins the same age as Maya, and we were just hanging out having dinner at her house one night. Molly, an accountant, was talking about how she didn’t want to go back to the corporate world either, and she had this idea of a cookie delivery company. There are other companies around the U.S. that do it, but there wasn’t anything in San Antonio. She never wanted to do it on her own; she always wanted a partner. So I said, “I’m in. Let’s do it.” Literally the very next day, we started meeting regularly: business planning, doing everything from scratch, designing our own website, taste-testing cookie recipes.
There’s so much that goes into starting a business, and it seemed overwhelming at first, but little by little it came together. We finally opened January of 2014. In our business, 99.9% of the time happiness comes from it. No one is upset when they receive cookies. It’s fun. We get to have a lot of laughs and smiles. Thanksgiving through the end of the year is really busy. And Valentine’s is also pretty busy. Some businesses might order 80 dozen in a day. For the holidays, businesses start ordering in early November. A lot of people think of us for individual thank yous, birthdays, and congratulations. People might forget we have the corporate side to order to client gifts and business meetings. We try to make it as easy as possible, and cookies really do bring people a lot of joy.
Q: How long was the planning process?
A: I don’t know compared to what other businesses go through, but it was probably a year-and-a-half for us. In the meantime, I got pregnant with Lena and Molly got pregnant with her third. Lena was about six or eight months old when we opened the doors. The twins and Maya were in a daycare. And Lena and her third nanny-shared. At first we were only open three days a week, for a couple of reasons. First, we only had our older ones in school three days a week, and also, we didn’t know how it was all going to shake out. It all seemed to work well, and that following August we went to five days a week.
Q: How many cookie recipes did you taste before getting to the perfect chocolate chip?
A: Oh my gosh. I don’t know the exact number, but at least 20. There are so many different things you can do. And once we finally got the right recipe, then we had to test temperatures and how long to bake them.
Q: It’s a science?
A: Yes, baking is a science. We wanted the perfect cookie. We wanted it to be a little crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle and a nice thickness. We have five regular flavors on our menu and rotate a seasonal cookie. Actually we have six now, because we added a gluten-friendly double chocolate cookie.
Q: Do you feel like your financial background was helpful?
A: For sure. One hundred percent. And my business partner at the time was a CPA, so it really worked. She moved about a year-and-a-half ago to Vermont, and I convinced my twin sister to partner up. Now Lynn is my co-owner and business partner. It’s a lot of fun having a true, family-owned business.
Q: What’s it like working with your sister?
A: I love it, we’re so close. We finish each other’s sentences. It’s awesome. We get each other and have the same personalities. She’s also a physician assistant, so when she’s not at the ER then she’s at Cookie Cab. She’s very busy.
Q: How much downtime do you have? When you have downtime what do you do?
A: Downtime is a very valued treasure. There’s not much downtime. My downtime is with the kids too. In the summer it’s a little easier. When they’re not in camps we have more time and can do fun stuff. We were at the Witte today; we can do things like that. It’s during the school year when we’re so scheduled and they’re so scheduled, and [there is] picking up and dropping off, all of their after-school activities, the sports, the arts classes, and this and that. So during the school year we don’t have a lot of downtime. When we do have downtime we swim or go to the Pearl splash pad or the San Antonio Botanical Garden—a lot of fun kid stuff.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with the kids in town?
A: We like to have people over and swim. That’s something we do a lot: grill and swim. Otherwise we’ll go to playgrounds and meet friends at places. Easy stuff: go out for bike rides, walk around the neighborhood.
Q: What do you love about San Antonio?
A: I love that it’s a big city, but it feels small. I guess that’s what a lot of people say they love about San Antonio, but really it’s true. It’s so nice! We have everything the seventh-largest city would have: the zoo, all the museums, all the fun restaurants, nice hotels and resorts, stuff we can take advantage of with the cultural activities, the theatre and all the shows, etc. At the same time, all the communities in San Antonio just feel so nice and small-town, and everyone knows everyone. It’s a great family city.
Q: Do you think San Antonio’s small-town feel has contributed to Cookie Cab’s success?
A: Definitely. Living in this community specifically (Alamo Heights/Terrell Hills)—and my original business partner lived in this area too—all of our friends, their friends, and friends and family of friends…everyone just spread the word about us. It’s all been word-of-mouth and community-driven. That small-town feel of “this is what our neighbor’s doing.”
Q: What’s been the greatest joy/most rewarding part of motherhood?
A: All of it! I can’t pinpoint one thing specifically. I just love having my people. It’s all rewarding. It’s fun to see these little beings grow up and watch their personalities bloom.
Q: Did you learn anything from your mom that you want to instill in your children?
A: My mom was a stay-at-home mom my entire childhood. All of my memories are with her at home, which is different than what I have. Running a business is flexible, outside of the beginning and last year, as there were a lot of ups and downs—between the tornado and we were burglarized and we had to move locations. So there were periods where I have to work a lot, but in general I have a lot of flexibility. It’s part-time stay-at-home mom, part-time working, which in some ways might be harder, because then I feel like I have to be full force to do it all. But my mom was a hard worker who always put family first. I’m a hard worker and I do everything I can to be a good mom, wife, business owner, sister, and daughter. So hard work is one thing, but family does come first. That’s something she instilled in us. If there are ever moments where I’m feeling crazy like I’m being torn in 18 directions and I notice that my kids are being affected by it, then I come back and center myself. I focus on my family, kids, and husband, and everything falls into place.
Q: How do you center yourself?
A: I start saying no, just stop and really think about what’s going on. What can I take out from the schedule, how can I get help. Asking for help from other people whether it be family or friends it really does take a village to help raise kids.
Q: When you have to ask for help, is it easy to ask for help?
A: I think it sometimes takes a lot for me to get there. I’m getting better at it, I’m learning it’s better to ask for help sooner than later before the volcano erupts. In talking to other mother business owners, or moms that stay at home and do a lot of volunteering, or have a full time job and kids, I’m learning everyone at one point or another goes through the same thing. Knowing that it’s common, it’s ok and normal to need to ask for help. So when other people ask me for help I’m 100% always willing to do it whenever it’s in my power to do so and I’m learning to ask for help as well.
Q: Greatest challenge of motherhood?
A: Scheduling. As I’ve added children, scheduling has become harder. They’re in different schools and different activities, and I have meetings and things going on for my business. Or if Matt, my husband, is traveling or working late, it’s harder. I have my calendar, and people make fun of me because I literally put everything in my calendar.
Q: Paper or electronic?
A: In my heart I want to be paper, but I’m moving so much and sometimes my purse stays here, and that diapers bag goes there, or I don’t have a bag and I just have to have my calendar with me at all times. A few years ago I turned to digital and I wish I sometimes I could write and make notes. And now Matt and I sync up our calendars too. It works for me.
Q: What have you learned from motherhood that helps your business?
A: Patience. With kids you have to be very patient. And the same with a business. Patience with employees. Patience with my business partner. Patience with customers. Patience with the business itself.
Q: Do you have a typical weekday?
A: Not really. But, if I had to describe a typical weekday during the school year: Get up, get myself dressed, get the kids dressed and off to school, and go to work—I usually spend the mornings there to get the day going. Then in the afternoon, pick up the kids from school, and Maya gets home on the bus from school. Then we’re off to ballet or gymnastics or art or t-ball or tennis. Sometimes things are happening at the same time. When that’s the case I usually end up making a round of drop-offs and then come back around to pick up. I come home, cook, clean the kitchen, get the kids to bed, and usually go to bed EARLY. I’m someone who values sleep, so when I can, I’m usually in bed by 9:30 P.M. or 10:00 P.M.
Q: Do you have tricks for cooking for a family of five?
A: I have a few go-tos. If I’m not able to get the 45 minutes to an hour I sometimes need to cook something, I always have spaghetti sauce and spaghetti. If all else fails, we always have peanut butter and jelly. I’m a foodie, and I value food and try to feed healthy meals to our kids. I try to meal-plan for the week before I go grocery shopping. I’ll look online for healthy, quick meals—whatever looks good. I really try to keep my recipes to 30 minutes from start to finish. I’ve also gotten good at short cuts, like chopping onions really fast. I’m not as precise in my cooking at home as I used to be, and if it says a tablespoon of chopped parsley it might end up two tablespoons, but it still tastes good.
Q: Do you eat dinner as a family?
A: We do. It was really important growing up and something my parents valued and I cherished. So we try to have family dinners as often as possible. It’s pretty much daily unless Matt has to work late.
Q: Favorite family dessert?
A: Everyone would probably say cookies. But my kids love ice cream. We have ice cream in the freezer at all times. I usually have just dark chocolate covered almonds, personally. It’s funny—everyone thinks we constantly have cookies at the house, but we don’t because Cookie Cab bakes to order. We don’t have leftovers because all of our cookies are fresh. I also try not to bring cookies home too often, because then we would constantly be eating them. So dessert on a weeknight is probably ice cream.
Q: What are four words that best describe you?
A: Caring, thoughtful, hard-working, diverse/multicultural/global. Diversity is something that is very important to me.
Q: There’s only one cookie left in the box. With whom are you splitting it?
A: Can I do thirds? My first answer would be my husband, Matt. But a very close second is my twin sister.
Q: What’s your favorite cookie?
A: I have two favorites: Cookie Cab’s peanut butter cookie and the oatmeal raisin. Chocolate chip is statistically the one everyone loves. I love ours too, but I really love our peanut butter and oatmeal raisin cookies.
Q: What beverage do you pair with your cookies?
A: The obvious answer is probably milk, but I have coffee a lot of the time with my cookies. If you had asked me two years ago coffee would not have been my answer. Until my third kid I didn’t drink coffee very regularly, but now it’s a daily thing for me. Number three did it!
Q: Ever get the chance to relax?
A: Yes I do! Matt is a phenomenal husband and father. Without my asking he will take all three kids to the grocery store, and whether it’s washing dishes or something else, I get to do what I want to do. Every once in awhile I go get my nails done, and he’s good about buying me massages and facials and things like that. He’s good about making sure I get “me” time. I don’t get a lot of it, but I have Matt to thank for it, because he’s the one that makes sure I get it.