Leon and Tiffany Chen started warm-cookie delivery company Tiff’s Treats in 1999 when they were sophomores at The University of Texas, baking cookies out of an oven in Leon’s apartment.
Since then the couple married, opened the first storefront, and expanded the company to 19 locations in the Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio areas. Each bakery can make 40 dozen cookies in 15 minutes, Leon said.
On Jan. 12 the company said it will open stores this spring in Cedar Park, The Woodlands and San Antonio. Another store will open in 2016 outside Texas.
“One day we hope to have this concept and this brand nationwide,” Leon said.
How did you start Tiff’s Treats?
Leon: We were sophomores, and the idea came about because my now lovely wife here stood me up on a date.
Tiffany: We are from Richardson. We were there for winter break our sophomore year, and yes, I stood him up on a date. … So I made a set of cookies and drove over to his dad’s house, and when I got there they were still warm. … I get back home, and he calls me and says, ‘Hey, when we get back to school we’re going to do this like a business. It’s going to be just like a pizza delivery [company], only with cookies.’
Leon, were you always entrepreneurial-minded?
Leon: My parents were, and so I thought that’s how everyone thought. And so I’d always be thinking of ideas, some terrible and some not so terrible. But really the impetus was, after my freshman year in college, I interned at a company in Dallas. … I was sitting there one day thinking, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if I can do this when I graduate.’
Do you have any advice for any future entrepreneurs who are busy at work or school?
Tiffany: Put your passion into the thing that you want to really be doing, and then you can spend your other hours doing the other thing. But it’s hard to split passions up one way or the other. We put all of our focus and all of our energy into Tiff’s Treats while we were still in college.
How did you build the Tiff’s Treats brand?
Tiffany: I think we did realize early on that people had an emotional connection to our company. I don’t know that’s something that we necessarily did, but it was just a family-based business; it was just Leon and I doing it with passion. But I also think our product lends to that; it’s a warm product. Ultimately, we just strive to do everything the best possible [way] that we can in terms of customer service and the product being consistent.
Do you plan on offering other products?
Tiffany: We are really laser-focused on warm-cookie delivery, and we don’t feel like we’ve maxed out what we can do with warm-cookie delivery. So until we feel like we have, we don’t think that we have to be doing offshoots. So even if someone is really respected and has a great idea, [it] doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. It’s just that they are not in the day-to-day with us.
How have traffic and rising rents impacted your business?
Leon: We have been pretty lucky in the fact that most of our leases, we signed them in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and we were able to lock down rents for 20 years near those rates. … Traffic, it is what it is. Luckily, we’re prepared in Austin. We’re also in Houston and Dallas, and traffic is terrible, especially in Houston. We just work around it. We just hire more drivers.
Are you going to go out of state?
Leon: We plan to go out of state. We don’t have anything set, but we hope to be making an announcement. We hope to have something out of state by the end of , if not multiple locations. … The goal is we’re still going to continue [expanding in] Texas.
How did you come up with the recipes?
Tiffany: It was a recipe that I used to make for fun for my mom, so it was something she taught me. … Over the years it has been tweaked numerous times. … There are tweaks just for volume. [The recipe is] a little different now than it was when we started.
Leon: Tiff and I cannot make cookies anymore, ironically, because we don’t know how to work the equipment.
Tiffany: I got retrained a couple of Valentine’s Days ago. At the facility that makes all the dough, they had a whole bunch of people who were off all at once, and it was right before Valentine’s Day, so it was a crisis moment. All the corporate staff came in. I was like, ‘Will someone train me how to make these?’
Watch the full interview: