For his latest business venture, local entrepreneur Johnathan Mayo has cooked up a way for people to send a tasty gift to friends while at the same time making a playful jab.
Mayo’s startup business, Crow Cookies, sells cookie gift boxes, but not your run-of-the-mill cookie gifts. Each cookie is given a sarcastically funny label such as “Seedy Chocolate Chump” or “Gloatmeal Raisin” or “Sore Loser Lemon.”
“Let’s say your favorite sports team beats someone else’s favorite sports team, or if somebody told you you couldn’t do something but you did it,” Mayo said. “You can send them some Crow Cookies.”
Mayo, 46, is a serial entrepreneur who started his first business more than 30 years ago, when he was about 10 years old and growing up in Richmond.
“It was called John’s Lawn Service,” he said. “My mom kept the flier that I made.”
The Virginia Military Institute graduate worked as an engineer in the corporate world before getting into business for himself.
Mayo is part owner of Mama J’s restaurant in Jackson Ward. He is also a founder of the online fundraising platform Serving Up Change and a venture called Team Excel, a “reverse” fantasy sports team program in which students portray fantasy athletes who score points by excelling in school and community service, with coaching from mentors and professional athletes.
Crow Cookies is Mayo’s first venture in which he’s had to do cooking himself, which has been a challenge.
“There are a lot of moving parts to the food business,” Mayo said. “I had to take a food safety management class.”
He’s had some help. Mayo makes Crow Cookies at Hatch Kitchen, a local commercial kitchen designed to provide shared kitchen space and cooking equipment for startup food businesses.
“Hatch has been a lifesaver,” Mayo said. “It is great network of people here. A lot of us are at the same point in our businesses — just starting out — and some have been around for a few years.”
To come up with a recipe for the cookies, he partnered with Morgan Botwinick, the owner of Whisk bakery and Scoop ice cream shop in Richmond. “I love her chocolate chip cookies,” Mayo said.
Botwinick said it was her first foray into developing recipes for another business, “but Johnathan had a unique idea and there was very little overlap between our businesses, so I was happy to help,” she said.
After developing the initial recipes, Botwinick spent some time with Mayo at Hatch Kitchen, baking test cookies.
“After some final tweaking, I was really pleased with each cookie we created, and hope all Johnathan’s customers will be as well,” she said.
The whole idea for Crow Cookies has a rather unusual origin. It goes back to when Mayo’s wife, Nicole, was pregnant with their second child and the couple sought out the services of a doula, Emily Bruno.
The Mayos’ first child had been born by an emergency cesarean section, and his wife had been told future births would have to be done that way.
That turned out to be wrong, as the next birth ended up being an unplanned, natural home birth. Bruno jokingly suggested sending a batch of Crow Cookies to Nicole’s doctors as a way of telling them to “eat crow.”
Mayo liked the idea of a funny cookie gifts business, and he and Bruno first started pursuing the business idea in 2017, “then we both got busy with our other businesses,” and it fell by the wayside, Mayo said.
Mayo picked up the idea again in 2018. Crow Cookies is now selling cookie gift boxes online. Buyers also can send personal messages with a box of eight cookies, which sell for $19.95. Orders placed by 2 p.m. Monday-Thursday are shipped the next business day.
Mayo wants to expand the offerings to include comic cookie gifts for different sorts of occasions such as engagement parties. “We have about 10 different flavor ideas,” he said. “We want to make it a fun brand.”