No storefront? No problem. Virtual bakeries thrive on social media
Updated: Jul 13
There's a classic scene in several movies where a character walks past a bakery and the smell of cookies wafting through the window stops him in his tracks.
But how does a bakery grab customers' attention if it has no physical location?
With the rapidly increasing digitization of restaurants, more bakers are finding ways to sell online.
Matt's Fat Cookies is a primary example.
Matt McKean, the founder, is known for his gigantic take on the classic cookie. The treats are so massive that he's gained a strong, cult-like following in the streets.
"A year ago, I made cookies for friends who were at the beach and my friends were like, 'You have to make this a business'." Matt says that since most of the friends were business owners themselves, he trusted their advice.
And it turns out, they were right.
He says that when he goes live on social media to announce a "drop", it's not unusual to get 20-30 orders within the first five minutes. He bakes the cookies, announces that they'll be ready at one of the two Revolution Ice Cream locations, and then people eagerly swarm the stores to pick-up their orders.
"It's awesome to see the loyalty. We have people who order every week. When my wife and I got married we announced that we wouldn't be making cookies for a few months, and people ordered five, six packs-- that's like 30 cookies for one person."
When asked about what makes the treats so noteworthy: "You can eat one half of our cookies and you're full. Each cookie weighs half-a-pound and they're weighed and made by hand-- by me and my wife."
And his business isn't the only digital bakery that has locals' mouths watering.
Chriss Holliday is the owner of Holliday Bakes, a multi-cultural bakery offering a rotating menu. She was selling her products at her former employer's location but when she left the job (she was allegedly terminated for posting on social media in support of Black Lives Matter), she began baking full-time with the help of her community.
"People are really engaged with me on Facebook. They order, they comment on my personal posts, they give thoughts on what they want to see next-- it lets me be really responsive as a business owner."
Holliday Bakes is known for its "Weekly Unfamiliar"-- a new, limited-time treat that showcases the flavors and style of a different region. Last week's feature was beignets from New Orleans. This week it's Guyaba Palm-Tarts, a treat honoring a fruit commonly used in the Carribean and South America.
"I like exposing people to new tastes and combinations. It opens their worlds to something new, and it lets me be creative at the same time."
Chriss's next pop-up is in a few weeks at The King of The Coop on Florida Avenue. "People watch for the pop-up announcements so they know when they can get their next hit but if they don't order in person, they can always order through my website, and we arrange for delivery. I don't mind being flexible."
And while Matt's Fat Cookies and Holliday Bakes were both born in Tampa, another digital bakery just came from a different "headquarters": Miami.
Seidy Sleiman owns Seidy's Bakery and while she's been baking since she was a child and began her shop while living in Miami in 2014, she's been a Tampa resident for two years, and the growth of her audience (in both cities) is still going strong.
"People usually buy from me for special occasions, but I've embraced being virtual and having people order smaller quantities."
Seidy is known for her fun personality and decadent desserts, and since she works in the heart of downtown Tampa during the day, her desserts are a favorite among professionals in the area looking for an afternoon sugar rush.
When asked about whether she has goals of opening a storefront, she says, "I want to take it to the next step and have a physical bakery where people can come and have coffee dates!"
But Chriss and Matt aren't in any rush.
While Chriss is currently working on opening her physical location, Matt's Fat Cookies is enjoying the community and flexibility that comes along with a virtual operation.
"Having a storefront would be awesome," Matt admits. "But it's also cool that it's become really exclusive. You have to buy and pick-up on a certain day... and to do that, it's almost like you're a part of this [super exclusive] club. The support's been amazing."