The Cookie Cups Brand Opens a Shop

Minnesota-born brand The Cookie Cups opens a brick-and-mortar shop in Orono, serving up cupcake-shaped desserts and savory bites plus gourmet beverages to pair with them.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. So when marketing and PR professional Nicole Pomije needed a treat for a party but couldn’t find her cookie sheet, she made do.

“I had this weird mini-cupcake pan I never used,” she says. “I stuck some cookie dough in there and stuck it in the oven. Everyone loved them!”

The “cookie cups” became her trademark, and she’d bring them to family events, gathering feedback on experimental new flavors as she expanded her list of cupcake-shaped dessert recipes. Ever the entrepreneur and already an owner of two small businesses, she thought the idea could be the foundation of a fun side hustle. The Cookie Cups brand was born, and it’s snowballed (er, dough-balled?) ever since.

Soon Pomije set up shop at farmers markets, selling individual cups and variety boxes. Then it was bigger events like the Renaissance Festival and Holidazzle. She built a partnership with The Knot and began catering for weddings while also dabbling in grad and bachelorette parties. She and her fun, quirky brand have been featured by countless local media and even Buzzfeed and Forbes, which ramped up traffic even more on her online store and contributed to annual sales topping 18,000 cups in 2017.
“The trouble is, when you’re event-based, you get all these customers who love your brand, but they have no place to go when they want more,” says Pomije. She began dreaming about the next logical step for The Cookie Cups: the 15-seat storefront and cafe that opened in April. The idea, she says, was to build on the brand that’s become a local favorite, but also offer a different experience than what’s currently available.

“I wanted a spot where people could drive by and pick up a box of Cookie Cups, have a cup of coffee, stay for a while,” she says. Her nieces—who have starred in bright, fun promotional photos for the brand—were a source of inspiration for what the spot would look like. “I’ve seen this as something really fun for kids, unlike Starbucks or Caribou. There’s not much for little kids to do around here.” While a storefront might have limited hours, she envisioned a space for small birthday parties or baby showers. It could become that “third space” (not home or office) with a slightly different, more kid-friendly vibe than other coffee shops in the area.

With that goal in mind, a For Rent sign caught her eye in a small Orono storefront near The Narrows and Lunds & Byerlys. “I fell in love. It was a perfect size for a small business,” says Pomije. She jumped at the opportunity and enlisted her husband David to help with an eight-month renovation. With the new digs came new menu items like coffees, teas, steamers and savory breakfast Cookie Cups.

A couple of breakfast combos and a mac-and-cheese Cookie Cup topped the lineup at the grand opening, but Pomije continues to try out new ideas. “Taco cups? Cheeseburger? Pizza cups, maybe?” she says. While the ideas are endless, one thing will stay consistent: “Everything is going to be shaped like a cupcake,” she says. “Oh, and I could eat a bucket of the cornbread cups. They’re ridiculous.”

While Orono is the flagship location for the brand, Pomije is already thinking about expanding. The brand could be franchised down the road, or she might make a foray into delivery. (Think hot breakfast cups and fresh coffee for the office or a dozen Cookie Cups when company shows up on a whim). A second Twin Cities storefront is likely—and soon—with Maple Grove topping the list of possibilities.
“Everything’s funny with this brand. It’s kind of like we played a joke on milk and cookies or something. Which is it? A cookie or a cupcake? We’re not sure,” says Pomije. “It’s a kooky take on cookies and milk, but it’s glamorous, too. We use beautiful colors and natural ingredients that are fun for kids. But older people love them, too. Small cups, big taste!”

Delicious Duos

Strawberry cookie cup with strawberry steamer. Who says you can’t do red on red? The steamers are made with fresh fruit puree, bringing the flavor—and nutrition—up a notch.

Blueberry cookie cup with blueberry tea. Organic Rishi tea rounds out the menu for the non-coffee, less-sweet crowd. “It’s high-end and very on-brand for us,” says Pomije. There are also strawberry, peach, peppermint and lavender flavors. “The blueberry Cookie Cup is amazing with maple syrup. It’s like a breakfast cookie with fresh blueberries,” she says.

White chocolate caramel cup with vanilla steamer. Need an afternoon pick-me-up? This sweet-and-gooey take on the Cookie Cup is fantastic alongside a streamlined, sweet steamer. It’s a duo that customers of any age will love.

Breakfast Cups with coffee. These decadent concoctions are the brand’s newest foray into savory cups, including breakfast options like spinach and egg, or potato and egg. “The hashbrowns are like a little bird’s nest,” say Pomije. “It’s fantastic.” Try them with small-batch, local coffee.

Chocolate chip cup with hot chocolate. This one might be the crowd favorite, in online orders as well as to snack on during a cold day or coming right off the lake. This was the cup that started it all, and it’s endured.

Fudge brownie cup with chocolate raspberry coffee. The flavored coffees are a medium to dark roast with subtle flavor, and the raspberry plays well off the rich brownie.

Apple pie cup with vanilla swirl coffee. While the seasonal pumpkin pie cup didn’t catch on, the apple pie is a favorite, especially in late summer and fall when apples are at peak season and everyone’s thinking about going back to school. We’re sure this one would be a hit as a teacher’s gift.  

By the Numbers
3: Years since the brand was born in the Pomije kitchen
50,000: Cups sold to date
(about) 90: Calories in a mini Cookie Cup
2 : Gluten-free options
6 : Signature flavors (plus summer’s seasonal blueberry)