Cookie dough business began at home for 1963 baking champ

NEIGHBORS

December 01, 1997|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HOLIDAYS AT Jeanne and Bill Link's Westminster home were never complete without an all-out sloppy sugar cookie decorating session. Jeanne would whip up a dough to die for, and her sons, with several friends in tow, would decorate cookies, lick fingers and laugh until they had plates filled with sugary splendor.

Now, about 20 years later, Jeanne has packaged that cookie dough and launched a business that has exploded during its first year. Jeanne, a former teacher, PTA president and legislative adviser, has test kitchens and 35 people making cookie dough 24 hours a day at a Catonsville plant.

Delivery has gone from her husband strapping dough-filled containers in the back of his pickup truck to a fleet of 15 rented refrigerator trucks. The dough is hauled to clients in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Six sales representatives canvass Carroll County, Western Maryland, Pittsburgh and Northern Virginia.

Schools, bands, service organizations and private businesses sell the 3-pound tubs of dough as fund-raisers. Each tub, which yields about 96 1/2 -ounce cookies, costs $12.50. The organizations earn at least $4. The rest goes to Eastcoast Fundraising Inc., the company formed by the Links.

The company also sells gourmet coffees and snack pizzas, but its growth has been fueled by the cookie dough. Business has grown by 450 percent since September 1996 and is so big that the whole family is involved.

Bill usually arrives at the company's warehouse by 4: 30 a.m. to load trucks. Each of the couple's five sons, ages 13 to 30, stacks cookie dough tubs, runs copies of brochures and puts together promotional packages.

Long gone are the days when Jeanne was PTA president at St. John Roman Catholic School in Westminster, bringing in homemade cookies as a snack. Now, thousands are scooping Jeanne's dough from plastic tubs, baking sugar cookies, white chocolate macadamia, double chocolate and chocolate chunk cookies.

"I have always been a child advocate in everything I have done," Jeanne said. "Whether it was when I was an adviser to the legislators about children's services, on a board that helped with child abuse laws, or involved with this business, children are at the heart of what I do."

Jeanne never knew the taste of a store-bought cookie when she was growing up on a Carroll County farm. Her mother and grandmother filled the house with the sweet smell of homemade cookies.

They never dreamed that the girl who loved animals and being outside (away from baking) would be domesticated.

"For the longest time, I stayed outside with the farm animals. I was never baking in the house," said Jeanne. "Since I couldn't do the boy things in 4-H, I did eventually do some baking."

Jeanne won several cooking competitions, including the 1963 4-H State Baking and Canning Championship. Her pinch-of-that, the-feel-of-this, no-recipe baking style is only part of her success, she'll tell you.

"I always knew that if I was going to launch a business, 10 percent of it would be about the cookie dough and 90 percent would be about service," Jeanne said. "It must be working."

There is a truckload of examples of this company's dedication to service.

One week before Thanksgiving, a rental truck was on its way to St. Paul's Lutheran School in Catonsville, when it experienced a problem with brake fluid.

The driver used his emergency brake for as long as possible and then called a tow truck to haul him to the school.

The delivery was a little late, but it got there.

"[Jeanne] was fantastic. Our order was mixed up, which was not her fault, and she came to my house to drop off some tubs in exchange," said Sherry Elsasser, a Westminster resident and director of Mount Olive Nursery School in Randallstown. "She went way beyond the call of duty to make customers happy. That's what's lacking in businesses today."

The nursery school hoped to earn $200 for new floors by selling Jeanne's Gourmet Cookie Dough. With a $400 profit, new floors went in the day after Thanksgiving, and Elsasser vowed to sell the dough again.

Jeanne and her husband have been entrepreneurs for their 23 years of married life.

Bill was the original owner of American Pizza in Eldersburg and six other locations.

He is a consultant for those businesses and sells commercial pizza dough to clients as big as Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Jeanne is quick to applaud her staff, most of whom are "Carroll County moms."

"I don't have to ask them to do things, they just do it," she said. "They are like family and priority is home. We are all dedicated to our families and children."

Tree lighting ceremony

Westminster will be host of its annual tree lighting ceremony from 3: 30 p.m. to 5: 15 p.m. Saturday. Other holiday festivities will begin at 1 p.m. with free craft activities for children at Carroll County Arts Council. The public library is offering craft activities, beginning at 2 p.m. Downtown businesses will be hosts at open houses. Live entertainment begins at 3: 30 p.m. near the tree at Route 27 and Main Street. Santa Claus arrives at 4: 45 p.m., and the mayor will begin the lighting ceremony at 5 p.m.

Information: 410-848-6962.

Lisa Breslin's Central neighbors column appears Mondays in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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