- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Yeng Yang’s had tremendous success recently with the Yummee cookies he began selling at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, and now he’s opening a storefront on Madison’s Far West Side.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Yeng sold most of his baked goods at farmers’ markets, but sales suffered when the Capitol Square market couldn’t operate in its usual location this year.

Through Facebook, Yeng’s been able to sell and deliver thousands of cookies throughout the state and as far as St. Paul, Minnesota, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Yeng is keeping his membership at FEED Kitchens on Madison’s North Side, but is opening a shop at 5510 University Ave., next to the Original Pancake House, in what last housed the Mexican restaurant Lalo’s.

At the shop he’ll have his Ooey Gooey chocolate chip cookies and three other varieties — peanut butter chip, sea salt macadamia and caramel pecan — available at all times. He’ll also offer weekly specials “to keep things interesting.”

He intends to add “funfetti” cookies, covered with a strawberry cream cheese frosting and sprinkles, and Christmas cookies. He’ll sell milk and coffee with the cookies, and plans to add hot food, sandwiches and bubble tea. He said he’s working with friends in the restaurant industry to develop his menu.

Yummee’s grand opening will be Sept 26. Yeng said he gutted the former restaurant and made the interior welcoming. “People love the vibe,” he said. “We’re the only people in the state doing cookies like we do.”

He describes his 6-ounce cookies as “crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.” They’re huge, he said. “Tall, not flat.”

As his website says: “Yum” is “used to express pleasure at eating, or at the prospect of eating, a particular food,” and Mee is Yeng’s mother’s maiden name.

For 17 years, Yeng, 35, sold vegetables with his mother at the Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Square under Yang’s Fresh Produce. He broke off from his mother and was able to get his own market membership two years ago to sell cookies and cinnamon rolls.

On a typical summer Saturday at the market in 2019, Yeng said he’d sell as many as 1,000 of his chocolate chip cookies. After COVID-19 hit and the market moved to drive-thru service at Garver Feed Mill and then drive-through — now with walk-up service — at the Alliant Energy Center, sales suffered. He sells at Alliant every Wednesday. He doesn’t do Saturdays because he’s busy delivering cookies out of town. He said he intends to sell at the market on Saturdays in the future.

He also sells at the Fitchburg farmers’ market, and the Middleton and Monroe Street markets.

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Yeng changed his business model in the past six months and has largely turned Yummee into a cookie delivery business, promoting it through Facebook.

He’s been focused on e-commerce, taking orders online and shipping cookies across the country. “When COVID hit, we had so many customers reach out to us and say they wanted to ship cookies to a friend,” Yeng said, noting he often includes messages in the orders.

Yeng also drives a truckload of cookie orders to a pick-up location in a different city each week, promoting it on Facebook: Milwaukee, Wausau, Appleton, Green Bay, Sheboygan, La Crosse, and St. Paul, Minnesota. He may include Minneapolis in the future. Pickups are done mainly in stores.

Yeng said he’s been averaging about 550 cookies just for Minnesota. For Milwaukee, he’s had record days of 3,000.

He wanted his own place, he said, because it’s not easy sharing kitchen space, especially when he has online orders that needed to be baked, packaged and shipped. With his own shop, he can have stations designed for shipping. “We will no longer have to constantly work around other people’s schedule and work odd hours,” he said.

On average, Yeng has five employees who bake with him and one employee who helps with deliveries. He has as many as eight employees some days, he said, based on the amount of orders he receives.

Online, cookies are $27 for eight. At the market, they’re $4 each, with a price break for six to a dozen cookies.

Facebook has been “a game changer,” Yeng said. “It’s completely changed my business. When COVID hit, we were like, ‘Oh my God, this is it. Our business is gone.’ Because we relied on the farmers’ market.”

Yeng said the market accounted for about 95% of his income. Then, one day he made a funfetti cookie, posted it online, and got dozens of orders and people telling him he had to come to their town. “And we’re like, ‘Okay, let’s try it.’ And all of a sudden we’re selling out everywhere.”

Now the script has flipped and the markets account for 5% of his income, he said.

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