By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Ashley Brown, owner of Ashley’s Famous Cookies in Pelham, knew she had a winning product when her family and friends tasted her homemade cookies and wouldn’t try anyone else’s.
It began innocently. Brown’s friends and her family had a habit of buying cookies from a fast food restaurant, and one day she decided she wanted to make her own from scratch.
“My mom kept telling me for the last couple of years, ‘You really need to sell these. They’re so good.’ She would be like, ‘I don’t want anything but Ashley’s Famous Cookies,’” said Brown, whose friends said the same thing.
In March of this year, Ashley’s Famous Cookies was born.
“I would look at other recipes, see how people did theirs, and tweak the recipe or freestyle based off my own ideas,” said Brown.
She uploaded a post on Instagram about the cookies, and the business took off quicker than she imagined: “It’s just crazy because you look back, and I even try to scroll, and I’m like, ‘How did this even happen?’ It’s still kind of weird.”
“It really was probably word of mouth,” Brown said. “The whole family-and-friends avenue is what got it here, but I still don’t know. It happened so quickly.”
Her first customers were friends, family, and people from a previous job. Then friends of friends and strangers started ordering cookies from ashleysfamouscookies.com, which went live around May of this year.
Brown has had to make some adjustments, such as having to explain her business over the phone, something she was not used to: “But at the same time, it made me realize that … people are receptive to these cookies.”
Brown knew the business was growing when she was getting at least one order a day.
“That was a huge turning point because I was like, ‘OK, this isn’t just a hobby.’ [In the beginning], somebody would want cookies today and somebody else would want cookies another day. [Then things changed, and] every day at least one person wanted cookies,” she said.
Brown said she now receives about 15 or 20 orders a week and averages approximately three orders a day. Her goal is to get up to 10 orders a day, which may not be as far off as it seems.
Brown believes the turning point for her company was in August, when she was interviewed by Jet Miller on the Smash Bros Radio show. Miller is plugged in with many listeners, so “the interview was a blessing because I think it really kind of verified me, … it made everything seem more official after that.”
Not long after that, Brown received a boost from Birmingham native and renowned comedian Rickey Smiley, when she and her mom went to the StarDome comedy club to get him to sample a batch of her cookies.
“He didn’t look. He just grabbed a random cookie, bit it, and started running. He took off around the entire StarDome, then he took the pan on stage and told the audience how good they were for about 15 minutes,” Brown recalled, adding that comedian Funnymaine tasted the cookies, too. “It was such a genuine moment.”
During the show, Brown received several text messages about her cookies and how Smiley was talking about them.
“Him saying something really pushed it,” she said
Brown, 23, who was born in the Auburn-Opelika area and raised in Birmingham, not only has a cookie business but also a 2-year-old son and a rap career, so balance is something she is constantly learning.
“It’s hard because I feel like I don’t give [my son] enough attention,” she said. “He wants to play, and I’m like, ‘Hold on, let me just finish these cookies.’ That’s another thing: I’m trying to [create] a schedule.”
The ideal schedule would allow her to deliver cookies early in the day, so she can handle other aspects of the business and spend time with her son, Ashton, who also is a fan of the cookies. He loves to eat chocolate chips, Brown said, but isn’t too picky about which cookie he gets to eat: “I would say his favorite ones would be Unicorn, Strawberry, and [Ultimate] Oatmeal.”
Brown has been in love with music and poetry since she was 3 years old and started writing music when she was 11.
“At 11 years old, I dropped my first song, ‘Learn Those Parts of Speech’ on YouTube,” said Brown, whose stage name is Asher Cole.
For now, she has put music aside to focus on her business and her son. Brown’s dad told her, “If you make one thing great, everything else will follow.” For her, it’s the cookie business.
“I love baking and cooking,” Brown said. “I can bake anything. I was cooking every night before the cookies started popping off.”
Brown’s cookies are soft batch and come in a variety of flavors, including Red Velvet (with cream cheese filling), Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip, Brookie (brownie cookie), Ultimate Oatmeal, Unicorn (sugar), Strawberry, and S’mores. She updates the menu from time to time, removing flavors when people aren’t buying and adding more if orders match the demand. Popular flavors are menu mainstays, though, and she experiments with new flavors, too.
Brown prepares cookies at her Pelham home, but she has been looking into renting commercial kitchen space. She’s also thinking of looking for help.
“I’m trying to wash dishes, make dough, bake dough. If I run out of dough, I have to make more dough. There’s only so much [one person] can do,” she said.
One change Brown has made is that she asks customers to preorder: “As long as I have a day in advance, everything should be good.”
In addition to baking her cookies, Brown also delivers and ships them, which can mean a trip from, say, Pelham to Ensley.
“It goes back to preordering,” she said. “I don’t make any profit from delivery; I just charge $3 every six miles. It’s really the time more so than the money because the drive is about 30 minutes long.”
Looking forward, Brown would like to invest in a food truck or brick-and-mortar location, though she’s leaning toward the truck because of the mobility.
“I really want to be like the ice cream man,” she said. “When you hear the song you think, ‘It’s the cookie lady!’ Plus, food trucks are really popping right now, so I’ll really be able to get more customers.”
Brown also would like to start selling cookie dough by the tub, so people can buy the dough and make their own cookies. Regardless of how big her business becomes, she knows the importance of her customers.
“All those people play a part in giving you that finished product,” Brown said. “It’s not me. I can’t take credit for this by myself. I mean, I put in the work as far as making the cookies, but the support is just amazing.”
Visit ashleysfamouscookies.com to place an order.