Tule Yomogida, Laura Katayama and Jennifer Szostak started out their online business by baking cookies for friends and family, and in 2012 they paused in wonder the first time they got an order from someone none of them knew.
“Well, c’mon, we can’t know everybody,” Szostak told her business partners.
That’s especially true now that Tule’s Cookies ships more than 1,000 cookies each month to customers from New York to Hawaii. Right now, Yomogida and Katayama said, they manage to run the business by baking for five or six days each month, but they can foresee a day when they’ll have to give up their part-time jobs in retail and perhaps even hire staff.
“I’m surprised at the way it’s grown,” Yomogida said. “We always say, ‘We have to make how many cookies!?’ Every Christmas, our business has increased by at least 20 percent.”
Yomogida develops the cookie recipes and designs. Katayama handles the books and writes any copy needed for marketing materials. Szostak handles the website, social media and online customer interaction. All three women bake.
I’m surprised at the way it’s grown. We always say, ‘We have to make how many cookies!?’ Every Christmas, our business has increased by at least 20 percent.
Tule Yomogida, owner of Tule’s Cookies
They are not only business partners but family. Yomogida and Katayama are sisters. Szostak is Yomogida’s daughter, Katayama’s niece. The business was her idea.
“I would send her cookies at work,” Yomogida said. “She would open the bag and the scent would go out, so everybody in her office knew she got cookies. Her friends at work would say, ‘Your mom ought to go into business.’ She should call it Mom’s Cookies. Well, of course, that name was already taken.”
Yomogida had an unusual given name, however, one that her parents gave her when she arrived seven days after they were relocated to an internment camp at Tule Lake during World War II. Yomogida’s first name, the women decided, should be synonymous with the brand, so they went with Tule’s Cookies.
Their goal is to bake cookies that customers can’t find anywhere else, so you won’t find chocolate chip or oatmeal-raisin cookies on their list of goodies. Rather, there are salted caramel chews, raspberry ribbons, pepper ginger snaps and a cookie known only as the “one x one.”
“It’s a 1-inch square cookie,” Yomogida explained, “and it has a baked vanilla marshmallow that sits on top of this cookie, and then we drizzle dark chocolate over it … and put a little sea salt on top of that. It’s really good, but it’s so labor-intensive. We wrap them individually.”
Yomogida studied fine art at Sacramento City College, and for several years, she sold her serigraphs at a gallery in San Francisco. Cookie ingredients now compose her media. She experiments with design, taste and texture until she considers every element perfect.
Her husband, George Yomogida, she said, acts as a sounding board – and doesn’t mind consuming the rejects. His help is coming in handy as Tule Yomogida experiments with a new cookie she plans to introduce July 17-19 during the Sacramento Japanese Film Festival at the Crest Theatre.
Customers pay $9 for a dozen of Yomogida’s cookies, she said, so they expect meticulous attention to detail. The co-owners of Tule’s Cookies also are just as picky about the ingredients they buy, using only Montana wheat, for instance, because it contains no genetically modified organisms. They cook up the caramel and raspberry jam that go into their cookies.
The women also make alfalfa honey granola, which they sell online at their website, tulescookies.com, and at Taylor’s Market, 2900 Freeport Blvd., in Sacramento. They rent a commercial kitchen in Sacramento to do their baking.
They started out buying 1- or 2-pound bags of nuts but now buy 30-pound ones. Their oatmeal comes in 25-pound sacks. The 50-pound bags would be more economical, but they can’t lift them. Now that the business has grown so much, Yomogida and Katayama said, friends will ask them whether they are still having fun.
“If we had a storefront or something like that,” Katayama said, “it might not be fun. We wouldn’t have any time off. The online business is just right.”
Yomogida added: “And, this way, we know that what we buy is going to go out. There’s no waste.”