Warm cookies can transport people to their “happy place,” but who knew that a business transporting warm cookies could have been baked at Trinity University?
The Trinity bug bit Lyn Swoboda Akhil ’06 and Lauren Swoboda Pepping ’06 when the twins first toured the campus. Tucker Gibson, professor emeritus of political science, spotted them and immediately took them under his wing. “In a sense, we were lost, and he said, ‘I’ll show you around.’ He was warm and welcoming,” Akhil says.
It was the first of many faculty encounters that left the Swoboda twins feeling warm and fuzzy about their alma mater. Now they are making and delivering warm cookies to corporate clients and other cookie lovers because—as they often say—“Who doesn’t like freshly baked and warm cookies delivered to their doorstep?”
Their business, Cookie Cab, opened in January 2014 with Pepping and another business partner. Not officially involved yet, Akhil says she was a taste tester. Pepping, who had always wanted to open a business, and her then-business partner, were young moms who wanted to try their hand at something fun with variable work hours. At the time, San Antonio did not have any cookie delivery services, so Cookie Cab was born.
If good news spreads fast, news about good cookies spreads even faster. Cookie Cab’s overnight success was actually its first challenge, Pepping says. “From Day 2 we couldn’t fill all the orders, and we had to figure it out,” she says. “We should have prepared for the best and for the worst.” They quickly hired more people and now have three additional employees.
Cookie Cab didn’t need a lot of start-up capital—just 500 pounds of flour, lots of sugar, what Pepping describes as “tons” of butter, and other (secret) ingredients. Pepping and her original partner scratched an idea to bake at home because of rigid licensing requirements and to keep all that flour out of their family kitchens.
Instead, they rented baking space and have moved to the former home of Janie’s Pies in the Carousel Court Shopping Center not far from the Trinity campus. In early 2017, Cookie Cab plans to offer curbside pickup in addition to delivering orders.
Pepping’s next struggle came when her business partner decided to move her family to Vermont to fulfill a lifelong dream of raising kids in New England. It was an amicable split, but with no succession plan, Pepping turned to Akhil, who had left a seven-year career as a business consultant to become a physician assistant working 12-hour shifts in an emergency room. “We only live a mile apart, and I thought, ‘I spend a lot of time with my sister anyway, so why not join in and have fun?’’’ Akhil says.
In some sense we had to start over. Trinity prepared us to overcome real-life situations like this.
At Trinity, both sisters earned degrees in finance and international business, which has served them well in starting and running the company. Although they emphasize the fun side of baking cookies, they recognize that Cookie Cab’s long-term health depends upon their business savvy. In addition to using their learned skills to do their own bookkeeping, do most of their own marketing, and manage employees, that became evident when someone burglarized their prior location, stealing their computers and other equipment. Now, Pepping says, they back up all their digital files and are perfecting their technological skills. “In some sense we had to start over. Trinity prepared us to overcome real-life situations like this,” Pepping says.
A typical day at Cookie Cab follows the rhythm of casual fun. Someone comes in and reviews online orders and invoices, boxes are prepped for the day’s deliveries, and cookies are mixed, shaped, and refrigerated. “We usually have loud music going, we have fun, and chit chat while we get orders out,” Pepping says. “Ninety-nine percent of our customers are happy. People are smiling and cheerful when you drive up and they see you coming. That’s what I love versus my old job (at a financial software company) where you would have to deal with unhappy people. Here, our typical day is a happy day.”
Each day also offers some flexibility in case an employee needs to attend a child’s school function or make a medical appointment. In addition to offering retail cookie sales, Pepping and Akhil are considering extending hours—in case Trinity students need a late-night snack—or adding locations.
“We have nothing but awesome things to say about Trinity,” Pepping says. “Both our husbands went there.” Pepping’s husband is Matthew Pepping ’05, a San Antonio attorney, and Akhil’s husband is Omar Akhil ’00, ’01, who holds a master’s degree in accounting. They have attended athletic events, and Pepping has been a guest speaker in an entrepreneurship class. “We try our best to give back as much as we can, but we would like to do more,” she says.
When they were Trinity students, everyone seemed to know the Swoboda twins. One of their biggest fans was Dean of Students David Tuttle and his wife, Donna, who employed the twins as babysitters and invited them to holiday gatherings because their own family was thousands of miles away. The twins speak glowingly of nearly every business administration faculty member—especially professor emeritus Don Van Eynde and his wife, Dixie, who also invited the Swobodas to their home for Thanksgiving. “We had no place to go,” Akhil says. “When we were first-years, Dr. Van Eynde invited us into his office to get to know us and said, ‘Let us know if you need anything.’ He made us feel at home away from home.”
Attending Trinity was an easy decision because it lies at the midpoint between Mexico City, where their mother is from, and St. Louis, which is their father’s home. They briefly attended elementary school in Castroville but grew up in Saudi Arabia, attending a high school with a senior class of only about 50 students. It provided a close-knit environment similar to what they experienced at Trinity.
Although Pepping jokes, “We were nerds,” the sisters were active outside the classroom as Residential Life assistants, the international club, a business fraternity, a book drive with TUVAC, a PAWS animal rescue group, and honor societies such as Mortar Board and Blue Key, among others.
Trinity alumni have been supportive of Cookie Cab, and the Student Involvement office has placed orders for the weekly “Cookies and Milk” engagement activity.
“This has been awesome and amazing,” Pepping says. “It’s not rocket science. It’s a simple concept, and everyone loves it. We bake and deliver warm cookies.”