Robyn Frank’s Whyography is one of more than 30 stories featured in the “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose” book.
When she wasn’t waiting tables or auditioning for acting roles, Robyn Frank often wandered around New York City ducking into neighborhood bakeries. A transplant in a city known for its culinary diversity and delights, Robyn had yet to find one specific treat that reminded her of her Minnesota roots. Surely there was a New York baker who’d created something similar to her mom’s tiny, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth “thumb cookies.” Named for the gentle thumb press she’d give each quarter-sized mound of dough before baking them, they were the very definition of comfort. But Robyn couldn’t find anything like them anywhere.
Robyn’s acting career hadn’t exactly gone as planned, and her gut was telling her to do something different. So she started making her favorite tiny cookies in her apartment kitchen and hit the pavement again. This time, instead of bakeries, she popped into local small businesses to share samples and ask buyers if they were interested in selling her cookies. Eventually, a handful of stores bought—that’s when she officially launched Thumbs Cookies. Robyn’s big break came while she was waiting tables at the Ace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The hotel’s general manager asked Robyn what she did when she wasn’t serving. When she told him he asked, “Why don’t we sell your cookies here?” A few days later, they were hashing out details for Thumbs Cookies to be included in the hotel’s VIP amenities basket.
Thumbs Cookies continued to gain traction over the next two years as Robyn’s side hustle. But she wanted to transform her life from waiting tables to becoming a full-time businesswoman. Eventually, she realized she’d be able to get traction more quickly if she moved back home to Minnesota. She relocated Thumbs Cookies to the Twin Cities, where she could afford commercial kitchen space and focus on scaling the company. Robyn’s friends and family back home immediately rallied around her, just like she knew they would. They spread the word with their networks about her products. They showed up at the farmers market and pop-up events where Robyn set up shop. It ended up being one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
As demand for her products grew, Robyn invested in an apparatus she calls “Kranky,” which pushes out perfectly portioned disks of dough. But more important to Robyn is the dedicated team she’s invested in. She works side by side with her cookie-making crew and prides herself in creating a collaborative and joyful culture where everyone loves coming to work. She believes in putting people first.
She is also committed to giving back. Thumbs Cookies is a member of Six for Good, a retail collaborative in Minnesota. The six female founders in the group are dedicated to using their purpose-driven businesses to make a difference in the lives of others and the world. A portion of Thumbs Cookies’ sales are donated to Students Demand Action, a national initiative dedicated to ensuring school and community safety.
Photo credit: Thumbs Cookies
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