A Jenks graduate takes a bite out of the Washington, D.C., cookie market.
Kirk Francis says his wife named his cookie truck business “Captain Cookie & The Milkman.” He has four trucks and a store in Washington, D.C.
VITAL STATS: Graduated from Jenks High School in 2004 and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2008 with degrees in Chinese and English. Following graduation, moved to Washington, D.C., and began working in emergency communications. Started Kirk’s Cookies in early 2009 as a side gig to his day job, supplying cookies to two D.C. coffee shops and other local customers. In 2011, bought a van and rebuilt it into a mobile bakery. In February 2012, quit his day job and started selling cookies on the streets of the nation’s capital.
NOW: Captain Cookie & The Milk Man has four trucks and a store in Washington, D.C. Francis, 30, employs approximately 40 people and offers catering and online ordering at www.captaincookiedc.com.
How exactly does one get involved in the cookie business? Ha, well, I’ve been obsessed with making the perfect chocolate chip cookie since age 4. I’ve made cookies pretty regularly for the past 25 years — most likely my classmates in high school and college will remember me as the guy who had a Tupperware of cookies to share all the time. I had a lot of experience making cookies, and in college I worked at a bakery for three years learning customer service, how to make food in bulk and how to prepare it quickly. My two years of doing cookies on the side in D.C. let me experiment with other recipes, find good ingredient wholesalers and meet a few other people in the food business. That helped tremendously when I launched the truck and changed the name to Captain Cookie & The Milk Man. After the truck started, it was mostly a matter of working all the time.
What makes your cookies unique? They are the best ever. Or, at least, that’s what I say. I make them all from scratch, and I have a quarter-century of cookie experience, so I’m not very humble about how friggin’ awesome they are.
What is the hardest part of running your own business? The workload is remarkable. For the first 3 ½ years, I worked 115 hours a week, 50 weeks per year. On weekdays, I would get up around 5 a.m., answer emails, prep the truck, restock, buy supplies, stop by the depot (a commercial kitchen facility Francis rents to make dough, store supplies, etc.) and get to the lunch spot between 7-9 a.m. It’s very competitive to park in D.C., so it was always a game of chicken with the other food trucks. Plus, D.C. parking enforcement gave out $100 tickets liberally if you parked before legal hours. Then, I set up, baked my cookies and opened up 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. After that, I often had a second stop or a late-night event.
In the evening, you clean the truck, answer emails and phone calls, fix whatever part of the truck broke today and, of course, take care of maintaining or renewing your food-serving license, business license, sales tax filings, insurance requirements, finding a new employee, etcetera. I would often work overnight making cookie dough if I hadn’t made enough on Sunday. Every Saturday I had one or more events and frequently on Sundays, also.
They say about 50 percent of food businesses fail in the first year, and that might even be an understatement. Most of my fellow truckers who threw in the towel did so because they weren’t prepared to work that hard. A few others had an overly romantic notion about how it would be nice to just cook for a living, but when it came to the practical aspect of finding customers, marketing, pricing your food and figuring out how to make a profit, they were lost. So, if you love popcorn, for example, and want to sell popcorn for your career, take a few business classes and be prepared to work crazy hours for the first few years.
What is your favorite cookie? Chocolate chip. Always.