Cookie dough keeps Bondi cafe Bennett Street Dairy in business

James Meek (left) and Cliff Baskin package up cookie dough for sale at their Bondi cafe.
James Meek (left) and Cliff Baskin package up cookie dough for sale at their Bondi cafe. Photo: Janie Barrett

What do you do when a global pandemic leaves you with mountains of cookie dough? If you're cafe owner James Meek, you knead that dough into a profitable online business.

"Everything was ticking along nicely at our stores, then kaboom - the coronavirus happened," says Meek, who co-owns Bondi's Bennett Street Dairy and its sister cafe nearby on Blair Street.

"When social gathering restrictions were announced in late March, my business partner Cliff [Baskin] and I went into the Bennett Street kitchen to start packing down equipment, and we found 100 kilograms of cookie dough left over from the cafes. 

Bennett Street Dairy cookie dough in its baked form.
Bennett Street Dairy cookie dough in its baked form. Photo: Janie Barrett

"I made a casual Instagram post to see if anyone wanted to buy it, and the whole lot was gone in two hours. At that point, we figured we should probably make some more."

Bennett Street Dairy is now home-delivering more than one tonne of cookie dough per week throughout Sydney. Demand for the choc-chip treat means Meek and Baskin have been able to keep 70 per cent of cafe staff employed during the coronavirus crisis.  

"We're not business geniuses, it's just a nice little accident that's come out of the current situation," says Meek. "It looks like the dough should get us through the pandemic and we'll have a great little side business when the cafe can be filled with people again." 

Cake Mail founder Jonathan Massaad prepares a birthday cake at his production site in Smithfield.
Cake Mail founder Jonathan Massaad prepares a birthday cake at his production site in Smithfield. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Data suggest Sydney's sweet tooth has grown since the implementation of social distancing. Uber Eats reports searches for "vegan" are down, while "comfort food" and "dessert" have broken through to the online delivery platform's top user queries. 

Similarly, searches for "ice-cream" are up by 139 per cent at rival platform Deliveroo, and Gelato Messina is the only brand to join McDonald's in the app's top 10 search terms.

Meek owes Bennett Street Dairy's dough success to customers sharing their cookie experiences on social media ("the dough has gone viral, for want of a better word") and the simple joy of baking at home.

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"It's a way to fill your house with the smell of freshly-baked cookies, but without the hassle of buying all the ingredients. A few people like to eat the dough in raw form, too, but I reckon they're a bit mad."

Social distancing has also led to a business boom for Sydney-based delivery company Cake Mail, which specialises in special-occasion desserts topped with KitKats, Oreos and other sweet things.

"We're now shifting five times the number of cakes than before the pandemic," says Cake Mail founder Jonathan Massaad. "In the two weeks leading up to Mother's Day, that volume has increased by 500 per cent again."

Cake Mail has almost doubled its staff total to 50 employees in the past two months, with people working in dessert delivery, cake decorating and marketing.

"A lot of customers are ordering cakes from us to celebrate birthdays with friends and family they can't be with in person," says Massaad. "We've been delivering a lot of cakes with Zoom meeting codes attached."

Fairy floss specialist Fluffy Crunch has experienced a 1000 per cent rise in online sales too, however the company's husband-and-wife founders Paola and Michael Karamallis are still concerned for the future of their small business. 

"Before the coronavirus, around 90 per cent of our revenue was made through selling fairy floss at events and festivals," says Michael Karamallis. 

"The cancellation of major events such as Vivid and the Sydney Royal Easter Show has impacted us greatly. Online sales have been incredible, but they haven't made up for the loss in event revenue."

Karamallis says he thought he would be closing the Fluffy Crunch for good when most major events for 2020 were cancelled in March and April.

"We were just lucky to have an online ordering system already in place, and a large number of social media followers we could connect with. 

"Our fairy floss advent calendar has helped sales too. We usually release the calendar at Christmas, but now it's rebranded it as the COVID-19 Isolation Countdown Box."