Over the years, Daniel A. Washington has seen his neighborhood, NW Goldberg, struggle with blight, disenfranchisement, and lack of economic prosperity. He’s hoping that the sweet success of the cookie dough company he co-founded with his sister, Victoria Washington, and girlfriend, Autumn Kyles, will help revitalize this neighborhood.
“We are three Black millennials from Detroit that care about where we live and the lives of those that might not see hope in what tomorrow offers, they might not see hope in their neighborhood, they might not see hope in their dreams,” says Washington, chief marketing officer of the Detroit Dough. “We attempt to embody that hope and offer ourselves to our community to uplift those who, far too often have been forgotten.”
Their vision to use their business for good comes at a transitional period for NW Goldberg. After years of disinvestment, the neighborhood, which is home to the Motown Museum and Recycle Here!, has seen increased development in recent years, including Henry Ford Health System’s new cancer pavilion and arts space as well as new businesses like Rebel Nell and York Project’s retail storefront.
Detroit Dough is in partnership with nonprofit NW Goldberg Cares, founded by Washington. The organization, first named ORIGINAL CREATIVITY, was developed at the same time as Detroit Dough to improve the community, which is predominately African American.
The company also pledges 5 percent of sales to NW Goldberg Cares to fund a neighborhood garden, redesigning homeowners’ front yards, and an art park expected to open on Sept. 12.
The Black-owned business operated by the three 20-somethings may not yet have a storefront, but has expanded its reach through different avenues, including a contract with MJR Theatres. Since launching, the business projected $17,000 in revenue in 2017, to $125,000 in 2018, and $350,000 so far in 2019.
“If you would’ve asked me in October 2017, I thought we would’ve had a really nice brick and mortar shop, doing enough to employ people, doing enough to create a name for ourselves and (the storefront),” Kyles says about building a business in Detroit. “But I don’t know if I would’ve (seen) the revenue and growth potential that I know we have now.”
Kyles says they may consider opening a retail store in the future. But their goal for the business is to expand across the Midwest in 2020.
The love for cookie dough inspired the three co-founders to turn a concept into reality after Kyles pitched the idea to the Washington siblings inspired by a cookie dough business in New York City.
Their initial vision for Detroit Dough was to bring a cookie dough café to the neighborhood in a form of a storefront. But as business was forming, the market for opening a store at the time was not as bright for them as they hoped. Pivoting to manufacturing was an opportunity for them to provide their product in various entertainment venues across the Midwest, and eventually the nation.
The trio was already faced with a challenge before they were able to launch their business as they did not have previous experience in food manufacturing. Kyles says researching the food industry and safety of edible cookie dough was their first step, and there was a lot of trial and error.
“Learning this process has been difficult. A lot has been bumping our heads, figuring out what we’ve made mistakes on and then deliberating as we go,” Kyles says.
Washington says the tagline, “Safe, delicious and ready to eat,” was developed to inform customers that the dough is safe to consume. The initial recipe of the cookie dough was developed by Daniel and Victoria’s older brother, Theodore, an avid baker, and later altered to fit each of the five flavors: chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, brownie, and Hold My Chips (cookie dough without the chocolate chips).
“Marketing our product was very challenging at the beginning because a lot of people wanted to be convinced that it was ice cream instead of cookie dough. As an emerging product, we found that we (must) educate our customers,” he says.
Detroit Dough faced other early challenges, including a dispute over the company’s name. The other Detroit Dough is now operating under the name, The Cookie Board, according to its Facebook page.
After those early stumbling blocks, Detroit Dough has grown the business by winning competitions — and fans.
Shortly before the November 2017 launch, Detroit Dough won second place in Michigan Women’s Foundation Dolphin Tank competition. Washington says the money, about $7,000, was a steppingstone in the first pop-up shop launch.
Recently, Detroit Dough received $225,000 at the third annual Quicken Loans’ Detroit Demo Day, awarded second place in the Grow category, which is for businesses looking to expand locally, and People’s Choice category.
Detroit Dough is available at Detroit City Football Club and Ann Arbor Football Club home games, University of Michigan football and basketball home games, Oakland University during basketball season, Michigan Science Center, Mitten Crate Gift Shop, RJ’s Heavenly Delights, United Shore Professional Baseball League games, Jimmy John’s Field, and seven MJR Theatres.
For the last seasons, Kelly Mozena, of Grosse Pointe Woods, and her 14-year-old son Jack make it a routine to stop by Detroit Dough at DCFC home games. Mozena, who was not a fan of cookie dough, first tried the sugar flavor after Jack convinced her.
The Mozenas prefer chocolate chip or brownie as their go-to snack at the games.
“We (have to) do it at every match,” she says. “They have a friendly face; (they make) you want come back. They recognized us.”
Washington and Kyles hope their business venture sends Detroit in a new direction and embrace young business owners as they branch out into the city. And they’re starting with visiting schools to speak to students.
“We are an organization that really believes in our community,” Washington says. “We believe in our neighborhood, more importantly, the future of this city by way of our youth.”