When she wasn’t waiting tables or auditioning for acting roles, Robyn Frank often wandered New York City ducking into any bakery she could find. 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. She would look past rows and rows of doughnuts, cupcakes and other confections until her eyes settled on what she was really after: cookies. Always cookies. Surely there was a New York baker who’d created something similar to her mom’s tiny, cinnamony, 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. A warm hug on a cold November day. Or any day, really. But Robyn couldn’t find anything like them anywhere.
Then one day, after her restaurant shift ended, Robyn decided to spend her cash tips on flour, sugar and butter. Her acting career hadn’t gone exactly as planned and her gut was telling her to do something different. It may have been sparked by a longing for home and time in the kitchen with her mom, but it was definitely fueled by a desire to make her mark on the world. And if New York wasn’t going to give her the cookies she’d been obsessing about, she would give her version of the best cookies in the world to New York.
Robyn started making her favorite tiny thumb cookies out of her apartment kitchen. Then she hit the pavement again. This time, instead of bakeries, she popped into artisanal shops and gift stores she’d discovered throughout her time in the city, share samples and ask buyers if they were interested in selling her cookies. Eventually, a handful of stores bought—that was the birth of Thumbs Cookies. But Robyn’s big break came out of the blue, 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. She took a deep breath and told him about her side business. “Why don’t we sell your cookies here?” he asked.
A few days later, Robyn was sitting in his office, making plans for Thumbs Cookies to be included in the hotel’s VIP amenities basket. The exposure was just what she needed and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Thumbs Cookies continued to gain traction over the next two years, but it remained a side hustle for Robyn. She desperately wanted to transform her life from waiting tables to becoming a full-time businesswoman. After a lot of self-reflection, she realized she’d have a better chance of success if she moved back to Minnesota. She decided to relocate Thumbs Cookies to the Twin Cities, where she could afford commercial kitchen space and focus on scaling the company.
While she walked away from amazing connections and opportunities in New York, Robyn’s friends and family back home immediately rallied around her, just like she knew they would. They showed up at the farmers market and pop-up events where Robyn set up shop. They told their connections about her products. One person even got Thumbs Cookies into that year’s Grammys gift bag—without even telling her. Most importantly, they bought cookies. Hundreds and hundreds of tiny cookies.
It’s been five years since Robyn moved back to Minnesota, bringing her business with her. She now describes that hard decision as one of the best she’s ever made. She leads Thumbs Cookies full-time and works side-by-side with four longtime staff members. Putting people over profit is important to Robyn. As someone who has experienced jobs and workplaces that didn’t spark joy, she prides herself on creating a culture without competition or fear and one where people love coming to work.
She is also committed to giving back. Thumbs Cookies is a member of Six for Good—a new retail collaborative at Rosedale Center in Roseville, 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. Currently, a portion of Thumbs Cookies’ sales are donated to Students Demand Action, a national initiative dedicated to ensuring school and community safety.
Photo: Thumbs Cookies
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