Our Towns

Sweet Taste of Success for One Hot Cookie’s Giordani

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – After opening branches of One Hot Cookie LLC in the two main retail centers of the Mahoning Valley in 2015, Bergen Giordani says she’s content stand pat this year.

Well, maybe.

“Everyone is telling me I have to say, ‘No,’ ” Giordani says.

She is “always looking” for new retail spaces, “but really, we need to perfect our practices,” she says.

“Morgen’s always telling me to calm down.”

Morgen is Morgen Reamer, Giordani’s daughter and co-owner of one Hot Cookie, which they launched in 2013 on the first floor of the Erie Terminal Building in downtown Youngstown.

The following year, One Hot Cookie added a shop in the Austintown branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County and last year the company added two more stores, one on state Route 46 in Howland, the other in Boardman on U.S. Route 224.

Giordani, who also works full time as associate director of development at the Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University, was born in eastern Pennsylvania, in the Allentown-Bethlehem area.

“My parents were young when I was born,” she says. Her father’s first job out of college took the family to northern Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. She moved to the Shenango Valley at age 13.

“It was just my dad and me because my parents got divorced when I was younger,” she says. “My brothers grew up with my mom and I grew up with my dad.”

The move to western Pennsylvania came when her father, a chemical engineer, embarked on a career change.

Interested in fitness, he started designing weightlifting equipment in their barn. He took the opportunity to purchase a company in the Shenango Valley that manufactured weightlifting equipment when it became available.

“I kind of veered off course,” Giordani admits. “I gave birth to Morgen when I was quite young – 17. Morgen’s father and I got married when I was 20, and then I didn’t go to school until I was 26,” she says.

The marriage lasted eight years.

“It was a good childhood,” Reamer says. “It was just me and my mom for most of it, so we got really close. She’s always been there.”

Eating and shopping were two activities the mother and daughter could share and enjoy, she recalls.

“We’ve always liked dessert,” Reamer says. For a couple of years, when Morgen was in fourth and fifth grades, the two went out for ice cream nearly every day. “That was a little unhealthy but it was really fun,” she says. “That’s how we bonded.”

Giordani studied sociology at YSU, graduating in three years while working full time. Then she went on to law school at the University of Akron for about a year.

“I think I went to law school because I just told everyone I’m going to law school,” she says.

Instead of returning for her second year at Akron, the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber hired Giordani as director of special events.

While attending YSU (and before that), she was marketing director for the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage, did marketing work for a garage door company and a credit union, did other special events planning and tended bar at the Royal Oaks.

“I swear, that’s where I met most of the people that I know,” she says, laughing.

Her father’s example planted an idea in the back of her mind, that one day she would start her own business.

As Morgen reached driving age and became more independent, Giordani looked for something they could do together, she says.

Giordani noticed the absence of a “hot bakery/dessert-type thing” in downtown Youngstown. “I felt the market was there,” she says.

“I love dessert. Morgen and I have always been big dessert/ice cream/cookie/brownie eaters, so there was passion there,” she continues. “And it seemed like a relatively simple concept. We’re just selling cookies.”

Reamer, however, was skeptical.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Why would you want to do that if it’s going to close in two years?’ I thought businesses couldn’t make it downtown,” she recalls. “I never thought in 2½ years we’d have four stores.”

Giordani, who researched her potential market, also admits she had to convince herself that the idea was feasible. When she called her father, he encouraged her but also asked if she was quitting her day job.

When One Hot Cookie opened, Giordani was amazed at the immediate support it received from downtown business owners, workers and residents, she recalls. That “sense of community” continues today, she says.

In September 2013, Giordani left the chamber to join the Rich Center for Autism as events coordinator. Her efforts led to her appointment as associate director of development.

“That was a big switch, going from the chamber to being on campus for a different job,” Giordani says. “But everyone’s been fantastic.”

“When our director of development left, she took on both roles,” says Melanie Carfolo, Rich Center executive director. “So we had a chance to try it before you buy it. If that was a test for her, she certainly passed with flying colors.”

At the Rich Center, Giordani is responsible for raising funds, writing grant applications and planning events.

Giordani is energetic and “thinks outside the box,” Carfolo says. Her enthusiasm for the center is tempered with realism about whether something will work. And balancing her roles between One Hot Cookie and the Rich Center hasn’t appeared to be a problem.

“I tell people I’m proud of her for being this female entrepreneur. But if I didn’t tell people she owned One Hot Cookie, they wouldn’t even
know,” Carfolo says. “She asks very little and has met every deadline, every demand.” During both of
the past two years she has raised $500,000 for the center.

Although she had long wanted to start a business, “It was never designed that I would quit my job and one day work in a bakery,” Giordani says. “I wasn’t banking on that at all.”

Giordani’s role at the Rich Center led to One Hot Cookie’s first expansion, inside the Austintown library. A colleague at the center told her that Heidi Daniel, the executive director of the library, thought One Hot Cookie would be a good fit.

Daniel, a fan of the company’s treats, also liked its business model. “They didn’t seem to need a lot of space and we had the space at the Austintown library that I thought would fit them very well,” she says. “Bergen and I started a conversation and that’s how they ended up there.”

The response has been positive to the Austintown One Hot Cookie, which opened in February 2014. Since the library is within walking distance of Austintown Middle School on South Raccoon Road, One Hot Cookie is a popular destination for students walking home or waiting for their parents to pick them up.

“I think the kids coming here after school really love having the cookies there,” Daniel says. “Certainly the library thinks it’s fun to have them.”

Giordani credits the Austintown library with being the “catalyst” that spurred One Hot Cookie’s further growth “because we realized that we could do this,” she says. So she started looking in Boardman and Niles.

“The Cafaro [Co.] was really pushing for us and making things enticing,” she says. Last May, One Hot Cookie opened in Howland Commons, part of the Cafaro-owned Eastwood Mall Complex, followed by a fourth store in Boardman in October. The fourth store came about sooner than anticipated but when the opportunity arose she took it.

The Boardman and Howland Commons stores “pick up a ton of birthday party business for us, mainly because of their size,” Giordani says. “Youngstown is very tight, Austintown has some logistic challenges with the meeting space and their existing programming.” In addition, the shop in Howland, with its larger kitchen, handles holiday orders and the company’s newly introduced Web orders.

In 2015, One Hot Cookie’s four stores sold 255,000 cookies, Giordani reports. Holiday orders were 25% higher than the previous year, with about 8% of total holiday sales ordered on the website. Overall, 2015 sales were up 64% from 2014, when just the Youngstown and Austintown stores were operating.

“This growth was in line with our projections for 2015 with the opening of the Boardman and Niles locations, as well as the addition of the online ordering component to our website,” Giordani says.

Main supplier of ingredients to the growing chain is Youngstown Grocery Co. in Austintown. “It’s important to me to use local businesses and also family businesses,” she says. “We’ve had a long relationship with them.”

As One Hot Cookie has expanded, Giordani has emphasized the mantra, “Know your role.” An early misstep, she acknowledges, was opening the downtown Youngstown shop at 7 a.m.

“That was a huge mistake. We thought, ‘Well, we’d open early and catch people going into work.’ Cookies are like doughnuts – I still say that,” she says. “But people haven’t embraced that cookies-as-doughnuts thing yet, so I’m working on that.”

That “know your role” philosophy extended to how One Hot Cookie approached Black Friday, particularly with one store in a retail hot spot.
All stores kept their regular hours that day rather than opening at 4 or 6 a.m. or even Thanksgiving night. “Chasing dollars,” as she describes it, wasn’t worth it.

“The shoppers who were [at stores] at midnight weren’t there for a cookie,” she knew. “We were just going to stick with our regular hours on this one and catch people when they’re coming down off the shopping high instead of in the middle of it.”

Both mother and daughter concede their business partnership has sometimes been imperfect.

“There are times when it feels like all we talk about is work and the business,” Giordani says. “That’s a struggle because I never want that to be the only thing we have. … I am more candid and more open with her about different problems or different stressors, so she hears a lot of my frustrations.”

Like her mother, Reamer admits there are challenges to working with family.

“You can’t quit,” she remarks. “If you have a bad day or don’t want to come back, it doesn’t matter because you’re stuck. But other than that, there are a lot of perks to it. It’s better than free ice cream. It’s a learning experience every day.”

Tuning out work is sometimes is a challenge, she says, along with maintaining communication. “Sometimes we just go off ‘cookie mode’ and then kind of be in the moment,” she says.

Reamer, a sophomore at YSU studying medical laboratory science, says she wants to stay involved with the business but retail isn’t the career path she wants. “I like science better,” she says.

Relaxing is something Giordani says she doesn’t do very well. Her boyfriend of two years, Mark, will tell her – without a trace of sarcasm in his voice – that he is glad when he sees that she hasn’t gotten off the couch to go out or “put on real clothes,” she says.

“He’s a keeper,” she states, adding little more about him because he works in law enforcement. “He puts up with me when I spin out of control.”

When she does unwind, Giordani binge-watches shows on Netflix; she enjoys programs such as “The Mindy Project” and “30 Rock.”

“I read anything and everything,” she continues. “I’ve gone through periods of time where I’ll read every book on the bestseller list, not for any reason, not because I particularly like them, but because I’ve said this is what I’m going to do and I’m going to do it. I really love trashy biographies about B-list celebrities.”

From the start, she has received inquiries about franchising One Hot Cookie, she says. Adding the fourth store was “significantly more work,” she points out.

“To franchise you need to be perfect. We’re nowhere near perfect. So I don’t know if franchising’s the right way to go,” she says. “We’re happy where we’re at. We’re just going to try and perfect what we’re doing for now.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.