Small businesses have played an important role in creating the culture we love here in Santa Cruz. The Pacific Cookie Company stands tall among the brands we admire like a redwood grove overlooking the bay. This past year has posed some serious challenges to small business, so we thought we would turn to one of the long-lasting legacy brands here in Santa Cruz to hear some of their story in the hopes that it might inspire others to find ways sustain our local culture. We were lucky enough to speak to Cara, CEO and daughter of the original owners.
In the case of Pacific Cookie Company, sustainability was always part of the vision. Larry and Shelly Pearson began the brand with a dream: to combine their talents in a family business. Their original idea of sustainability was to create a business small enough that they could run, but big enough that it would be their only source of income. They struck out on the path of entrepreneurship in the late 70s and began growing their brand into the beloved affordable luxury cookie company it is today.
It was not without some twists and turns, however. In 1989 an earthquake struck Loma Prieta and devastated downtown Santa Cruz. The Pacific Cookie Company lost their original location and bakery. Cara was only in middle school at the time, but she remembers people pulling together to figure it out. They lost their primary retail location and bakery, but they still had wholesale accounts. In order to fulfil orders placed by retail stores Larry would bake cookies at night using the kitchen at Erik’s Deli while they were closed.
This spirit of resilience, a love of family, and a little bit of luck and the Pacific Cookie Company managed to survive the earthquake and evolve into their next phase. That family business grew into something much bigger over the years, and as the next generation began to get involved, Cara remembers deciding to make some changes to improve the cookies. Once she had a daughter of her own, she began thinking about sustainability in other ways.
As a leader at Pacific Cookie Company, Cara has made sourcing local and Fair-Trade ingredients a priority. This shift coincided with UCSC’s decision to join the Real Food Challenge. “Real food, as defined by the Real Food Challenge, is food that is produced in a fair, humane, and sustainable manner.” This proved to be a happy alignment of values and through interacting with UCSC and listening to what students are requesting Pacific Cookie Company has begun experimenting with vegan cookie recipes.
Santa Cruz finds itself at another crossroads. This past year has been beyond challenging for small businesses. While we can’t predict the future, we take strength from the story of Pacific Cookie Company and learn from their ability to adapt to change. We wish them and all the other Santa Cruz brands good luck and good health.