As a student at FIT, self-proclaimed foodie Talia Zar started a blog to chronicle her journey tasting her way around the Big Apple. “Every night or in between classes, I’d take the subway all across the city and go try amazing dessert spots or restaurants,” she said. “Anything that was trending, I was the first to try it. I’d wait on lines. It was crazy.”
The Great Neck native-now-Flatiron resident would post videos with her informal and honest reviews, and outlets like the Food Network, Thrillist, Tastemade, Buzzfeed and Eater took notice and reposted her videos. She would also post the sweet treats she would bake — and every time she posted her chocolate chip cookies, they would go viral and followers would message her asking if they could buy them.
With encouragement from her mother, Naomi, an immigrant from Iran who always dreamed of owning her own business, she decided to start selling them and that’s when Cookiesforthesoul was born. At the end of 2018, she stopped looking for jobs and started baking in her mother’s Great Neck, Long Island kitchen. The following year, the mom-daughter duo started shipping throughout New York. In November 2020, they started shipping nationwide and now sell approximately 12,000 cookies a month.
Zar’s future plans include one day possibly opening a “cute, little bakery,” but for now, she is more focused on expansion. “I want them to be in every market,” she said. “If you walk into your local supermarket or gas station, to just have Cookiesforthesoul there. That’s my dream.”
Tell us about how the business came about.
I originally went to school for fashion. I thought that was what I wanted to do. After college, I had a few jobs in fashion and I realized that it’s just so not for me. And I was in between jobs, I just thought I was going to continue to work in the fashion industry and bite the bullet. And throughout college, I was a huge foodie. I started a blog and then once it started kind of taking off ... I also love to bake, my grandma was a huge influence. She barely measured; she was just the most amazing cook and baker. I started posting things that I’d bake on the blog and kept posting these cookies that I’d always make. And every time I posted the cookies, they would just go viral. People would message me. And one day, my mom was just like, “You know, you should really just sell these.” And my mom also being an immigrant, she always dreamed to have her own thing. So she was just like, “I’ll help you. Let’s do this together.”
What was the first post that went viral?
These slutty brownies that I made. It’s like an Oreo brownie cookie kind of thing. It was before the time that TikTok existed, so I would get 20,000 likes on Instagram, which was a lot. My account was so small at the time. And I think something that made my account so different was I would write reviews in my own words. I would write like, “This tastes like shit” or “This is amazing, epic, gotta visit.” Just very informal. Food Network actually ended up reposting a few of my videos and all these really huge accounts would repost me. My videos were getting a couple hundred thousand views.
When did you decide to focus on the cookie business full time?
I think once the account really started building momentum and my cookies, every time I would post them, kept getting such big traction and people would email or message me and say, “Please, we just want to buy these or give us the recipe.” My mom was like, “Let’s just sell it.” We decided that we were going to start a company and we opened an S corp. the next day. And we started tweaking the recipe to just make it as good as possible for shipping. And then once we had that down, which was 2019, is when we started the business.
You started shipping them nationwide in November of 2020. So before that, you were selling them locally?
I come from a big community in Great Neck, so people were really supportive and would buy them. It was just in my town and the neighboring towns, pretty much.
Tell us about your mom’s background.
My mom is such an amazing woman. She is literally just brilliant and able to execute all of her ideas so well. She grew up in Iran and then right when the Revolution started, her family came to the U.S. with nothing. She didn’t speak English. And she moved to St. Louis and went to high school there. She came to New York; she met my dad. We come from a Persian community in Great Neck. Obviously, my dad’s so proud of us now, but at the time, he really just wanted her to stay home with the kids and be there for us. I think something that she always really dreamed of was to have her own thing. She loves to work; she has so much energy. We’ll all be in the kitchen baking and need to stop for lunch because it’s very exhausting and she won’t sit. She’ll just go until the end of the day without even sitting once.
Are you and your mom both equally involved in the company?
Honestly, I would say I work for her. She’s on top of everything.
Does your dad and anyone else in your family help with the business?
Yes, everyone in any way. My dad helps a lot with the accounting and my brothers help a lot like if we ever have an event, they’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting. And my aunt, my mom’s sister, is actually now a partner with us also.
What kind of events have you done with the cookies?
When we first started, a big way that we really grew the business in Manhattan was we would go to WeWorks whenever they would host happy hours for all the members. We’d bring cookies for the happy hours and I’d be there and meet people. I became friends with a few people who did events for these apartment buildings in the city, so we’d also go to these really beautiful apartments and have ice cream sandwich-making things and ice cream sundae-making things.
What are your bestselling flavors?
The chocolate chip is always the bestseller. But our Summer Camp flavor, it’s like an Oreo-infused base with mini M&M’s on top, is also one of our biggest sellers.
Do people on social media give you ideas for flavors they want to see?
Yes, I’ve become close to a few people; it’s become a family. Some of my customers who constantly buy from me, they truly want to help me grow the business. It becomes that kind of relationship. They’ll DM me and be like, “Do this” or “Sell your cookies here.” They’ll give me suggestions and recommendations on where to bring my cookies. It’s really nice; you kind of create a little foodie community and I love it.
To learn more, visit www.cookiesforthesoul.nyc