By Lauren Sable Freiman | Photo by McKinley Wiley
In the early months, sleep was elusive as Burge spent nearly 24 hours a day baking, working at the cart while gauging mall traffic, tweaking her inventory, and developing a customer base.
“From May until July I did not sleep, and I was a zombie,” Burge says. “Now I go to sleep at night and wake up early and make what I’m going to make.”
An entrepreneur at heart who says she “really loves to start things,” Burge’s business evolved out of necessity when she began baking to bring in extra income to help support her family. With her mom’s encouragement, she peddled her sweet potato pie, eventually ending up with catering contracts with five different restaurants. After her mom passed away, she decided to simplify and focus on selling cookies. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Based on the demand for her product, she decided to open a retail location in the mall.
Since opening in May of 2015, Ellie-May’s has cultivated a loyal and devoted clientele. With plenty of repeat customers craving Burge’s delectable treats, her cookie sales have tripled in the past year. And when Burge’s sweet potato pies show up at the cart around the holidays, they fly off the shelf. That’s exciting growth for Burge, whose business plan includes expansion nationwide over the next several years.
“It is all about getting a following,” Burge says. “People who don’t know who you are just walk past you. People who taste the product fall in love with it, so we have tons of repeat customers.”
With offerings like peanut butter, butter, sugar with sprinkles, double chocolate, oatmeal, and chocolate chip, Burge’s cookies have been so well received that Ellie-May’s will open a second location on May 15 at a five-story mall in Syracuse, N.Y. Burge says she plans to spend four weeks in Syracuse while she hires and trains employees, then travel back weekly to check on the business.
“There was a rep from that mall who came here and thought we’d be a good fit,” Burge says. “He gave me a great rate, and the traffic is amazing, so it will be a good opportunity for growth for us.”
By the end of 2016, Burge plans to open two additional stores in Strongsville and Columbus. Because she doesn’t have the space to make and store large quantities of cookie dough, Burge says the job of making her dough will be outsourced to support the company’s growth. She will also bake her cookies in a commercial kitchen, although her vision is for some locations to bake on-site.
“Every day I’ve been making the dough fresh. I’m doing it all every day,” Burge says. “I can’t wait to see how much time I have on my hands after it is outsourced.”
For Burge, a wife and mother of five kids aged eight to 18, newfound free time means she can devote more time to completing her biology degree at Cleveland State University. Once she’s completed her degree, she will begin preparing for her next goal – studying to become an OB/GYN at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
“Medicine is my first love,” Burge says. “My plan in four years after I expand the business nationwide is to take my MCAT and go to medical school while managing the business from a distance.”
Despite her packed schedule from sunrise to sunset, Burge also finds the time to nurture yet another passion – opera singing.
“I started training about three years ago,” Burge says. “I started later in life but it comes naturally to me to sing. I’ve been to a few auditions, but I haven’t actively performed yet. I’m not currently taking lessons now because I can’t find time in my day.”
Juggling life as an entrepreneur, a mother, and a student has been made easier by a strong support system that includes Burge’s husband and other family members who step in to help out so Burge can keep her eye on achieving her business and personal goals.
“I just go for it. I’m not afraid to fail. I’ve really just followed my own path,” Burge says. “Don’t give up and be consistent, have a plan and know what you want to do to keep you focused. When you know you have something, keep at it and don’t give up. That’s my advice to anyone.”
For more information: facebook.com/elliemayscookies