Black Lives Matter movement pushed San Diego cookie-baker to No. 1
Maya’s Cookies sales went from 100 to 1,000 orders overnight this summer when people rushed to support Black-owned businesses
June 2 started like any other day for Maya Madsen at her San Diego vegan cookie bakery, Maya’s Cookies, but that morning something strange happened in her online store. Instead of the steady trickle of cookie orders that would usually top out around 100 a day, orders began pouring in at more than 100 an hour.
By the end of the day, there were 1,200 orders in the queue. The next day, another 2,085 arrived, and 3,500 more followed on June 4 from all 50 U.S. states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico.
Madsen was one of the beneficiaries of a viral social media campaign that encouraged Americans to support Black-owned businesses in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Before June 2, Maya’s Cookies was a small growing business that did the bulk of its sales at four local farmers markets. Today, Madsen says Maya’s Cookies is the No. 1 Black-owned vegan cookie company in the United States.
Madsen, 51, said that as a Black business owner she is grateful for the community’s support, which has allowed her to achieve sales and charitable goals she didn’t expect to reach before 2025. But getting through the rapid scale-up of her business was so exhausting she said “it nearly killed me.” Madsen has only taken two days off from work since June, but she’s not complaining. As a child growing up in Sacramento, she taught herself to not be intimidated by seemingly insurmountable odds.
“I’ve always had the entrepreneurial mindset. Part of that is being young and having to care for myself because I had food insecurity. If I wanted to feed myself, I had to figure out how to do that. That’s why my motto in life is ‘you put your big girl pants on and get it done,’” said Madsen, a married mother of three grown sons.
For 30 years, Madsen worked as personal trainer and spin class instructor who prided herself on her healthy diet, which became entirely vegan 15 years ago. But every week she would give herself a cheat day, when she’d indulge in cookies and desserts. When she couldn’t find good vegan treats at the stores, she started baking her own and sharing them with her fitness students and the children in her sons’ school classrooms.
When her eldest son entered college seven years ago, she started selling the cookies to her fitness students to help cover his tuition bills. But when her cookie orders grew to 20 dozen a week she decided to turn her hobby into a business.
After sharing samples of her cookies with the managers of the Little Italy farmers market during a new vendors class five years ago, they offered her a substitute slot on just two days’ notice. Over the next 48 hours, she baked 800 cookies and launched Maya’s Cookies at the Little Italy market during Thanksgiving week 2015. She sold out on her first day.
Maya’s Cookies aren’t cheap. They sell online for $4 and up. But Madsen said the price reflects the high cost of the vegan and gluten-free ingredients she uses, and the labor costs involved in hand-scooping and hand-decorating every cookie. Her ever-changing lineup of cookies are known for their creativity, like the Drunken Grandma, an oatmeal cookie with rum-soaked raisins, the New Orleans-inspired caramel pecan and the top-selling Obama, a vegan adaptation of Michelle Obama’s cookie recipe that is only available through Election Day.
Before June, Madsen said Maya’s Cookies was “a farmers market vendor trying to be a national online retailer.” Now she’s an national online retailer that also does farmers markets. It’s everything she wanted for her business, but it was a herculean task to get there.
Madsen said she and her online sales manager were giddy with excitement when the first orders started coming in on June 2. But panic set in by nightfall because the company — which she had reduced to 3 employees after the pandemic hit — couldn’t possibly bake and ship all the orders within the promised three days of sale, especially when the queue kept rising to 9,800 orders.
Working 17 hours a day, Madsen said she brought back her laid-off workers and asked them to invite all their friends who were valedictorians, student athletes and college students “who are problem-solvers that can work under pressure.” Soon there were 35 young people baking, decorating, packaging and shipping Maya’s Cookies.
Madsen used the sales income to buy larger ovens and better packaging equipment and she hired a full-time customer service manager. Within days she rented a warehouse across the street hold 6,000 shipping boxes and thousands of pounds of supplies needed to keep up with demand.
Even with the rapid scale-up, orders began falling behind. Angry customers emailed and called with complaints and posted negative reviews. Madsen did a live video on social media to apologize for the delays and broke down crying midway through.
“People were trying to support Black businesses and I wanted to show them Black excellence,” she said. “I didn’t want a sub-par product going out. That was really important to me. It might take me a little bit longer to do that, because I wasn’t going to try to rush out a bunch of crap.”
The crush of sales eased off around the end of July and the business has since returned to a more manageable size, with five full-time employees. Madsen has used the money from online sales to upgrade her website, invest in marketing and more than double her bakery space at 4760 Mission Gorge Place, Suite G, in Grantville.
On Nov. 6, she will open her first retail counter at the bakery. She also recently launched a cookie-subscription service and is hoping for a Christmas surge in sales to companies that have expressed interest in supporting Black-owned businesses in their holiday giving this year. Madsen said her future goal is to make Maya’s Cookies the nation’s top go-to gourmet cookie brand, with bakery hubs in several major U.S. cities.
A portion of all sales goes to two of Madsen’s favorite local charities: Detour Fancy, a leadership academy that empowers young Black women to succeed, and the Farm Animal Refuge in Campo.
What started as a way to help pay one son’s college tuition has now helped pay for the education of all three boys, ages 19, 23 and 25. Two of Madsen’s sons have also expressed an interest in joining the company in a few years.
“I’m trying to build a foundation for my sons,” she said. “They’re proud of it and they want to be a part of it.”
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