Eleni’s custom cookies are an international favorite. Their playful shapes, detailed with colorful icing, are sought after by celebrities and cookie lovers everywhere. Eleni Gianopulos opened her Chelsea Market shop in 1997, and in 2005, she built a 20,000 square foot plant in Long Island City to make room for rising demand. In addition to her Chelsea Market shop, her cookies are available online and at several major retailers across the United States and Canada. This cookie empire began with her mother’s oatmeal raisin cookie recipe and the oven in her Upper East Side apartment kitchen. By building a close relationship with a local banker, she was able to secure the necessary financing to move the business out of her home and achieve the prominence she now holds in the industry.
“As it grew, it quickly became obvious that I must have a bigger kitchen,” says Eleni. “There came a point where I couldn’t even carry in enough ingredients just to make the cookies. It was overwhelming for just one person.” Her first move out of the home kitchen was to a rented space in a Tenafly, New Jersey church. “Many local community churches have state-of-the-art kitchens that are only used on Sundays. Underutilized church kitchens can provide young bakers commercial kitchen space at a fraction of the cost to set up one’s own,” says Eleni. “This worked for a while, but as the business grew, deliveries became difficult from that distance. She returned to the city, working for a year out of a Midtown loft. This gave her time to establish regular accounts and onboard new employees.
When the time came to open her own kitchen, she chose the Chelsea Market location and turned to a New York bank, where she had established a relationship for financing. “I had been working with a woman named Ruth Ann Finn for several years, establishing what was common in the day, a local banker relationship with the banker around the corner.” With an initial loan of $60,000, she built out the Chelsea Market kitchen and opened shop.
The location, at first, worked well for her baking operation. “From the time the market opened until early 2005, the Chelsea, Meatpacking area went from near zero foot traffic and a feeling of almost unsafe, to a yuppy, high traffic hot spot.” It was great for Eleni’s cash and carry business, but it became nearly impossible to get the tractor-trailers with their deliveries through the streets. She again turned to her banking relationship to secure a five-year building loan and moved her kitchen to Long Island. “Today I still have a very close relationship with my local banker,” says Eleni.
Eleni advises budding entrepreneurs to “dream big, but start small with reasonable loans, and outline for the institution exactly how you can afford these loans, especially if times are tight like in 2008.” She suggests looking for a business partner, but cautions that the relationship can be more challenging than a marriage. To keep a positive cash flow she says, “Work with accounts to have them pay quicker and more short term, but pay out vendors long term. Spend time understanding cash flow. Cash is king, and in a small business, it’s everything.” Her axiom for success? “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.”
This article was written by Gillian Burdett for Small Business Pulse