Isiah Davis is The Cookieologist
The Brown Street hub of baked deliciousness started after the restaurant Isiah Davis was working at as a chef closed due to the pandemic. His entrepreneurial wheels began to turn even more after he and his wife visited a cookie establishment in Indianapolis. He said he wondered why Dayton did not have something like this. Before July 2020, Dayton did not have a place exclusive to cookies.
Before setting out on his own, he got permission from his restaurant owner to hone his craft. He devoted a couple of hours after his shift was done and realized he was onto something, except “the first three months [of baking] was horrible,” he says. He said people told him the cookies tasted great. “Yeah, [but] they look like crap,” he would reply. “I can’t serve a cookie that looks like this.”
He was approved to set up shop inside a restaurant near Wright State University, but the plan was nixed as the pandemic set up shop, shutting down just about everything in its path. With the goal to find another location, Davis set out to find another business that had the space and time to help him “give it a run.”
An entrepreneur at heart, he believes, “If you’re willing to work for someone else for 8 or 10 hours a day, and you’re not willing to put anything into [something] for yourself, you’re uninspired and there’s a huge problem there.”
A former co-worker mentioned Amy Beaver of Butter Café. When Isiah met with Beaver (paperwork in hand) he says, “All Amy said to me was, when do you want to start?” He said he thought to himself, Look at God. He started baking at Butter Café in July 2020. “That taught me a huge lesson,” he says. “Not only is what’s for you is for you, but also that it is not about what you know, it’s about who you know. For me, that’s where it clicked.”
He had worked in the food industry for 15+ years. “The last application I filled out was nearly 10 years ago. Every job I’ve had since then has been because somebody knew someone who needed a chef, and that’s how it worked out.” Davis is grateful for all the opportunities he’s had over the years.
When asked who his typical customer is, Davis says, “When we first started, I thought my customers would be college kids. I thought they would be people who were late-night stoney munchies. That’s what I was expecting. That’s what my SWOT Analysis told me, that’s what all my research showed me, but what I’ve noticed is that my customers are mothers, grandmothers, and others. Seventy-seven percent of my client-base is women ages 25 to 34.” These numbers “really [shone] a light on things for me,” he said, “that although [the cookie store is] headed in the same direction as before, it made me more aware of who my customers are. I did not think it would be this way at all. Do I get college kids? Of course,” he says, “but at this point, they are not the majority. If I get them, great! But most of the time, it is mothers with kids in the car or other adults who say, I just wanted to get some cookies. And they will sit in the car, eat cookies, and drink milk.” The Cookieologist now makes Sweet Oat and Blended Nut milks too.
Davis is “building a cookie empire one batch at a time.” He uses the word empire because he “doesn’t only want [a store] in Dayton, but the goal is for us to be a hub for training and mentorship.” He says he wants to put other “entrepreneurs in the same position that [he] is in.” Davis seems relieved and content to do something he loves; something that helps his family and serves the Dayton community.
He speaks with disappointment about how toxic the restaurant industry can be, and how physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding the work is. “When I was coming up in the ranks, if you didn’t work 80 hours a week…” he says, shaking his head... “chefs are celebrated and given high-fives if they do not eat. If chefs are fussy, if they curse, are irritable, angry, aggressive, ready to fight, those were all things [at the time] that… if you weren’t on some kind of drug, there was something wrong with you. These were [the kinds of] things you were praised for, and in many restaurants, it is still this way. I believe I have learned from experience what is important for my future employees. My goal is to put the people who work with me in a position where they can learn and start investing, and if they want to own a franchise, they can. They can build [on entrepreneurship]. We are spreading it out. If they work with me, they are going to be well-balanced.” At The Cookieologist, “we don’t have the same culture or attitudes as the restaurants” he worked at, he says. “When people work at a restaurant with a good overall culture, people [rarely] leave, but it’s hard to find places [in that industry] that care about people.” He does not want people to work for him forever. He wants to get entrepreneurs [to a place] where they can work for themselves. “At The Cookieologist, we will have a more people-oriented culture. It is not about me. It’s about serving customers and one another.”
Davis says he is still being mentored in business. “I’m always looking for a person that is willing and able to help me get to the next level. I never want to be the smartest or most successful person in the room. I want to have something to look toward.” He says he had a few chefs throughout his career who were awesome. “They were awesome because I was able to put up with all the things they threw at me” to glean from them and learn to handle “all the stuff that comes with working in the restaurant industry.” Davis says he is still connecting with people who make him a more balanced individual and business owner.
He said he believes in keeping things as simple as possible. He does not bake cakes or pies or make donuts. Just cookies and “they will not have icing,” he says. With two paid employees and one volunteer, he is forward-thinking, and it seems he might be trying to fill the void left by the 2008 bankruptcy and subsequent restructure of Mrs. Fields.
Davis credits the SBDC (Small Business Development Center), SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), and The Entrepreneur Center with helping him start and run his business. He says it is much easier now to find information about how to start and maintain a business than it was for him in 2012, when he first thought seriously about entrepreneurship.
Davis left Dayton for a while, lived in Florida, Chicago, and Hawaii before deciding to come home. He says that starting the business during the pandemic has both negatively and positively impacted his business, and because The Cookieologist is curb-side pick-up (at the drive through window) and delivery only, this part of doing business “has been great, because we never planned to set up for walk-ins.” The time they spend teaching customers that they cannot come inside the building is the only negative,” he says. Davis’ set up is reminiscent of the way Dairy Queen was once, where you picked up your food to-go only. Davis says teaching customers to order ahead online” is something he did not expect. If you call to place an order, you will be directed to order online. Why? Because The Cookieologist is baking cookies, of course. He decided that online ordering and curb-side pickup is the most efficient business model and taking phone orders is not.
Black on Both Sides (double chocolate) Order ahead online
Recently, Davis, his cookie-colleagues, and other small business comrades put together an Earth Day cleanup at Lakeside Park in Moraine. Periodically, The Cookieologist does giveaways and says he is intentional about working with other small businesses.
To market his business, he and his social media expert, Austin Quigley, decided on “the best course of action,” including taking good pictures of his product; they created snappy punchlines for the cookies to give people a laugh and something to look forward to. The baker/business owner was almost exclusively on social media in the beginning. This was a no-cost way to find their target market.
Starting and maintaining a successful business includes “research, research, research!” Davis says, (and he laughs). “The research doesn’t stop. We are almost a year in, and the research has picked up even more now. Get around people who have done it. There is no need to play guessing games. ‘There is nothing new under the sun’” (Ecclesiastes 1:9b), he says. “Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Get with someone who is doing it, and learn from their mistakes, so you do not make the same ones. There is no need making the same mistakes that someone before you made, especially if you don’t have to.”
“Know your product, know your business, know your numbers,” says Davis. “Continue to meet people who can help you because you cannot do it by yourself. It does not matter how high your motor runs, how your mojo is, or how great you feel [because] motivation runs out. Find something that inspires you, and of course, discipline is the biggest part of it. Set SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based—goals…otherwise you’re just wasting your time.”
I popped the dough into the oven (at the time and temperature Davis suggested) when I arrived home and sampled three flavors: Busta-Nut (butter pecan), Rastafarian Philosopher (coconut, cinnamon chips, and ginger), and Black on Both Sides (double-chocolate). Mm, mm, mm!
Davis says, “the plan is to also get into grocery stores.”
Follow The Cookieologist on Instagram and Facebook @thecookieologistdyt. Be sure to order ahead, then stop by 1106 Brown Street, Dayton (near the corner of Woodland Ave). You can also find these sweet treats around Dayton at George’s Family Restaurant (N. Dixie Drive), Stoney’s Munchie Bar (Fifth Street), The Butter Café (Brown Street), and you can find The Cookieologist’s edible, gluten free, vegan cookie dough at Glo Juice Bar + Cafe (Brown St).