Jon O’Keefe’s journey to becoming chief cookie officer of his own company, Woke Baking, started two years ago. At age 36, he developed Bell’s palsy on a family trip to Hood River, Ore.
“I was overworked, exhausted and about 60 pounds heavier than I am now and I needed a change,” he explained.
He tried a vegan diet for 30 days and lost about 13 pounds. This change conflicted with co-owning a retail baking business (Cake Happy in downtown Camas). “The healthier I got, I just didn’t want to be in the retail baking business anymore. It didn’t really suit my lifestyle.”
He decided to develop a vegan cookie that tasted good — not just among vegan cookies, but compared with any cookie. A nutritionist friend encouraged him to make low-glycemic vegan cookies, so he experimented with alternative sweeteners such as organic coconut sugar and organic maple syrup.
After a lot of tweaking, he had recipes for three cookies — gingersnap, snickerdoodle and a gluten-free chocolate chip coconut. The business quickly expanded when a high school friend, Doug Gillespie (who owns all the Freshii franchises in Vancouver and Portland), tasted the cookies and ordered them for all his stores. Gillespie put him in touch with another Mountain View High School alumnus, Jonah Barnes, who had recently purchased the Sunrise Bagels bakery in downtown Vancouver.
“Jonah said, ‘These are the best cookies I’ve ever had. People are going to build statues of you,’ ” O’Keefe said. Barnes agreed to let O’Keefe use Sunrise Bagels’ large commercial kitchen in exchange for a small percentage of cookie sales.
O’Keefe has a background in sales, but he’s surprised that buyers love them so much that they order them without asking the price. He feels it’s because he’s selling something special. “Most people in sales will just sell anything, but this is different because this is something I’ve gradually been pulled toward doing.”
I’m not surprised, because I tried two of his three cookies (snickerdoodle and gingersnap) with a friend who was skeptical that a vegan cookie could be delicious. We couldn’t decide on a favorite because each were amazing in their own ways, but we agreed that O’Keefe has reached his goal — they’re good compared with any type of cookie. My friend didn’t taste the gluten-free chocolate chip coconut because I ate the whole thing on the way to meet her.
The company is called Woke, O’Keefe said, because, “It’s about waking up to your life, your health and nutrition.”
O’Keefe wants to use proceeds from his company to help others. “The cookies are great, but I want to use this business to build community and help people on their journey to health and wellness.”
Woke Baking donates a percentage of proceeds to the Vibration Dance Project at Dance Evolution in Camas. This project helps girls ages 9 to 15 going through a challenging time in their lives by using dance to connect with their emotions and find healing.
Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook @couveeats.