A Torrance Native Brings Freshly Baked Cookies to the Masses—with a Loyal and Rapidly Expanding Following
Nineteen years ago, Jennifer Palmer—founder of Redondo Beach–based Isabella’s Cookie Company—walked into a local grocery store with a freshly hatched business plan and a batch of large, 1/3-pound cookies. “I just told the owner [Andre Klaser] at Granny’s Grocery in Hermosa Beach to take them and place them on the counter and see if they will sell,” recalls the Torrance native. “He saw them, liked them, but wasn’t sure if they would sell in his store for $3. He thought the retail price was too high. He wanted to know what kitchen I was working out of and if my packaging was legitimate.”
For the next two years, the Arizona State University graduate who previously worked as a project coordinator for a commercial contractor studied everything from FDA-approved food labeling requirements to packaging designs. She began fine-tuning her cookies in a cafeteria kitchen near LAX during the kitchen’s off-hours from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.
After all the hard work, she went back to Granny’s Grocery with a dozen cookies and a simple wish list for the owner: “I told him, ‘See if they sell in a week, and if they don’t, I’ll take them back and you won’t owe me any money.’” They sold out in 45 minutes.
From there, it was a ripple effect with her cookies landing in Boccato’s Groceries in Hermosa Beach followed by Manhattan Beach Grocery. The cookies are now distributed in more than 150 stores and counting, including Whole Foods and Bristol Farms. With nine employees and a commercial kitchen space she’s occupied since 2003, Jennifer sells her cookies in packages featuring original illustrations she draws by hand.
“When I first started, I was surprised that there were no fresh-baked cookies at the store besides what an in-store bakery would make,” says Jennifer. “So I wanted to bring the fresh-baked cookies to the market in the bakery section. My thought process was, if you make the cookies weekly and you deliver them weekly—almost like how they deliver fresh bread—then someone could appreciate the fresh cookie experience at a retail grocery store level.”
Jennifer, who named the company after her inspiration and late close family friend Isabella, didn’t want to just make ordinary cookies. “I wanted to make them fun and funky,” she says. “I wanted to set myself apart and come up with unique flavors. Anyone can make a plain chocolate chip cookie.”
Her cookies range from the Peanut Butter Bomb, a peanut butter cookie loaded with peanut butter chips and peanut butter candies, and The Muffy, her take on a blueberry muffin with white chocolate chips, dried blueberries and milk chocolate-covered blueberries. “I was walking through Costco and saw a 5-pound bag of chocolate-covered blueberries and was intrigued,” explains Jennifer. “I bought them, made a test batch and the kitchen smelled like I was baking blueberry muffins. It’s one of my most popular cookies.”
Today Jennifer’s daily itinerary consists of fielding phone calls and orders from distributors; problem-solving and negotiating deals; sourcing wholesome ingredients; tracking down new business leads (with dreams of national distribution); and making time for her two Labrador retrievers, Lulu and Leroy. She’s also busy working to expand the flavor selection at individual stores for store-to-store consistency.
“It’s a fun and creative outlet for me,” says Jennifer. “I never thought this was going to happen, and I thought it might just be something I did as a side hobby. But I kept pushing, and it paid off. I’m super happy and proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m happy where I am. I’m curious to see where I go.”