Pastry chef Michael Savino is as cute as his colorful creations, with his cookies often putting a smile on anyone's face who needs a pick-me-up. His decorated cut-outs, biscotti, tea pastries and soft bars turned his West University bakery on Weslayan Street into a popular destination for shoppers looking for gifts and personal treats.
Now Savino is expanding the Michael's Cookie Jar territory into downtown with the opening of a new location in the tunnel beneath Pennzoil Place, located on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets. The new shop, set to open in October, takes over the space formerly leased by Soup Cowboy.
"I've been wanting to have a presence downtown since I started my business," Savino tells CultureMap. "There aren't enough options for special desserts there. Pennzoil Place is iconic in the city in my mind. I'll be surrounded by premium tenants and cater to the hardworking office crowd."
Savino developed his business plan with the help of Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. After filling a complicated application and going through a rigorous interview process, Michael's Cookie Jar was chosen for a 10-week program that helps entrepreneurs refine their growth strategies. The venture requires 90-hours of classwork in addition to follow-up assignments that prepare established operations for expansion.
Sherry Eichberger, formerly the owner of One Green Street, has been hired as the store manager.
For the time being, the cookies will still be baked at the flagship Weslayan location, although Savino has plans to apply for a permit that will allow the installation of a small oven in the 630-square-foot downtown locale. Warm chocolate cookies, straight out of the oven, will be available once the paperwork has been approved.
Sherry Eichberger, formerly the owner of One Green Street, has been hired as the store manager. Savino chose her because of her marketing savvy and her commitment to the local economy. Together, they will also make shelf space for a curated selection of products from local purveyors.
Savino is also looking to add customer service staff and pastry cooks for both locations, in addition to a second store manager for the Weslayan bakery.
"I think the number one reason I've enjoyed success in Houston is that our product tastes great," he says. "I don't have to explain what we do. You see it, it's beautiful. You eat it, it's delicious."
When Savino started his business in 2006 followed by the opening of his first retail store in 2010, being "local" wasn't part of any grand plan. But it's certainly paid off. Michael's Cookie Jar is part of a growing trend in which consumers demand to know where their money is going.
"People enjoy coming to the shop, talking to my friendly staff and getting comforting service," Savino says. "It's like going to your favorite aunty's house."