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Saratoga store pairs two old favorites: Cookies and milk

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
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Stephanie Collins of Greenfield Center drinks a vanilla latte while her daughter Abby, 5, and son Alex, 2, eat sugar and chocolate chip cookies with marshmallow and chocolate milks at Plum Dandy’s Cookies & Milk Store in Saratoga Springs.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Stephanie Collins of Greenfield Center drinks a vanilla latte while her daughter Abby, 5, and son Alex, 2, eat sugar and chocolate chip cookies with marshmallow and chocolate milks at Plum Dandy’s Cookies & Milk Store in Saratoga Springs.

Nelson Peralta always has time for milk and cookies.

“It takes you back to your childhood,” said Peralta, 18, a freshman at Skidmore College. “Who doesn’t like nostalgia?”

Larry Levitas is hoping to attract nostalgia and cookie fans at his new, family-operated Plum Dandy Cookies & Milk shop in Saratoga Springs. The speciality shop — a spinoff business to the Levitas family’s three Capital Region Plum Dandy yogurt shops — sells chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar and an assortment of other cookie flavors. Chocolate and whole milk from the Battenkill Creamery, plus hot cocoa, almond, egg cream, strawberry and soy milk, are all on the beverage menu.

The bake shop opened in September at Railroad Place’s Market Center. Pedestrian traffic is already in place with people shopping at the center’s Price Chopper Limited market, a smaller version of the chain’s city and suburban stores. Levitas expects more visitors when Bow Tie Partners’ Criterion Cinemas opens this month a few doors away.

Levitas believes there’s a market for people — like Peralta — who just want to step into the upscale cookie store for bites and sips.

“We think it’s going to be popular,” said Levitas, who is running the business with his wife, Diane, and son Phil. “We’ve had a lot of families, younger groups. We find a lot of men come in here for a cookie and a milk or a coffee, more than we thought it would be. That was the biggest surprise.”

Cues from TV shows

Ramon Zayas, a board development officer for the Retail Bakers of America, said some specialty start-ups take their cues from television. He said shows such as “Cupcake Wars” and “Cake Boss” have inspired some bakers to begin business ventures in their communities.

“It’s a niche,” he said. “The younger generation is always looking for something like that.”

Zayas, production manager for Holland Farms Bakery and Deli in Utica, said he has not seen many speciality cookie places.

“I think a cookie bakery idea is great if you have the right market for it,” he said, adding that variety is a must in such an endeavor. “If you have only one cookie, or even five kinds of cookies, it could be difficult to survive. That’s only my opinion.”

In Saratoga Springs, the cookie bill of fare includes the “Cherry Chipper,” made with dark chocolate and dried cherries; the “Kettle Belle,” baked with English toffee and Saratoga kettle corn; and the “Lucky Oat,” composed of oats, cranberries, walnuts and cinnamon. The full-sized cookies are big — 41⁄2 ounces — and expensive. Each one costs $2.75.

High-quality makings

Levitas said quality ingredients are one reason for the price tag.

“We buy vanilla from some company out West; it’s $100 a gallon,” he said. “Everything we buy is top stuff. Even the baker said, ‘This is really expensive, you could save money on that.’ We said, ‘Don’t worry about that.’ We want good ingredients. We’re trying to change the way traditional cookies taste a little bit.”

Biscotti are stocked in almond, chocolate and cranberry pistachio flavors. There are also flower- and animal-shaped cookies for the kids, and miniature ones for everyone.

Levitas knows miniatures are popular for cookies and other foods. He thinks they’re both practical and economical.

“You can get a variety. I think it’s a way to give people a choice,” he said. “People like different flavors, so we have a shortbread miniature cookie that’s either hazelnut, thyme or lavender flavored.”

Brownies are also for sale. So are cookie “sandwiches.”

“They’re like ice cream sandwiches, but with yogurt,” Levitas said.

The business, equipped with four Apple iPad tablet computers, will also offer services inspired by pizza restaurants. “We have a party room planned for kids,” Levitas said. “They’ll make their own chef’s hats; they can decorate their own cookies.”

Late-night snacks

Customers can also call for deliveries. Levitas is counting on late-night calls from Skidmore students planning midnight snacks.

“We’ll deliver cookies instead of pizza,” he said. “My neighbor was just up in Syracuse for his daughter’s birthday; somebody sent over a box of cookies. They have a local place that delivers to the dorms. Let’s face it, kids at night, they want something. They call up if they can get it delivered.”

Los Angeles resident Peralta and his friends are happy to deliver themselves to Railroad Place. Peralta said he’s seen cookie bakeries in L.A.; there are also cookie clusters in New York City, such as Eleni’s, Milk & Cookies Bakery and Schmackary’s — bakeries producing products such as maple bacon and key lime pie cookies.

Peralta and fellow freshman Jobelle Mesa, 18, of South River, N.J., ordered “Gooey Louie” cookies at Cookies & Milk on a recent Friday afternoon. The Belgian cocoa flats contain caramel chocolate in the center.

“It’s very, very appealing,” Mesa said of the cookie store concept. “Because cookies taste good.”

 
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