Kathy's Famous Cookies: From one cookie and a can-do attitude

Kathy Klein has a can-do attitude.

The Milford businesswoman, who recently moved her Kathy’s Famous Cookies business from an 800-square-foot shop on Melba Street to a 1,600-square-foot shop in the Adam’s Market Plaza on New Haven Avenue, said she has never let obstacles get her down, and that is why she continues to succeed.

She started her cookie business about 19 years ago, “on a whim,” she said.

She was actually getting her pink slip from the advertising company she’d been working for when the thought popped into her head to create a business out of her mother’s cookie recipe.

“I probably had my doubts, but I don’t remember,” Klein said.

At the time, May 1999, her two sons were about three months old and two years old. “During nap times, I called and researched information for selling cookies wholesale. After procuring a commercial kitchen, getting my bakery license and having a label produced, I was on my way,” she says on her website.

She rented a kitchen at the old Pyramid Shriners’ building on Wheelers Farms Road.

“At the time, I was concentrating on selling only one cookie — a cookie I perfected since I started baking them at ten,” she says on her website. “My beautiful Mother always gave me free rein in the kitchen, and I took advantage of that. This cookie is actually called Mandel Bread. I had only planned on producing this one item, and I would not call them Mandel Bread, simply because much of the general public would not know what they were. I don’t make them like they are traditionally made, so I would just name them ‘Kathy’s Cookies’.”

After about a year, she added retail to her wholesale business and shared a kitchen with a small bakery already existing downtown. She started to expand based on the same can-do attitude that kept her from fretting a pink slip. Customers asked her to make more than her trademark cookie, and she said, “Sure, I can do that.”

About six years later, her business had grown enough to move again, this time to her own shop on Melba Street. She said it wasn’t the ideal spot for retail because it was sort of hidden at the back of a small commercial parcel, but she knew her wholesale accounts could carry her. “And I had some great clientele there,” she said.

But she was still growing her business: Her wholesale accounts included ShopRite, Adams, Cafe Atlantique and Common Grounds, and now Big Y wanted to add her cookies to their lineup — she needed a bigger shop.

“I am an optimist, and if you do things the right way, it works out,” she said.

She said didn’t always have the confidence she has now. When she was younger, she was overweight, and that distracted from her perception of herself. But after she lost 60 pounds in her early 20s and came in as runner-up in a Miss New Haven pageant, she realized she could achieve her goals.

“If you are insecure, nobody wins,” Klein said, explaining that it’s important to believe in yourself.

That attitude transcended to business, and her confidence grew: Even when she made mistakes, she learned from them.

After Storm Sandy, for example, she lost everything in the shop on Melba Street.

“I learned don’t over shop, don’t over-buy,” she said.

Achieving success leads to a sense of independence, she said.

“There are so many positive things people don’t look at in themselves,” she said. “We can control our own happiness.”

Mayor Ben Blake and others descended on Kathy’s Famous Cookies last week for a ribbon cutting at her new shop. And later in the week, the shop, filled with cookies, scones, cupcakes and more, drew a steady stream of customers — triple the amount that might come into the Melba Street shop on a given day.

Klein greeted them as staff baked and rung up purchases, and she chatted about 19 years ago, when she sort of put herself into a monetary ditch to open the business. Today, she is long out of that ditch, is respected in the community for not only her cookies but for her business success. And she said her sons, both doing amazing in college today, are proud of their mother.

And she hasn’t stopped dreaming, because a can-do-it attitude means you keep looking to grow, she said. One day, she’d like to see her cookies on the Home Shopping Network.

“I always say, ‘It’ll be okay,’” Klein said. “We can get it done.”