by Iyath Adam
For this month’s interview article, we sit down with Wilee Ali – cookie connoisseur and owner of the first ever cookies-only shop in the Maldives, Cookiss Cookies.
Lonumedhu: First things first, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into cookie making?
Wilee: I’m a mother of two and a homemaker. When my son was very young, I began making cookies with him from a recipe book. Then, my family and friends also ended up really liking it. So, I started reading and learning more about it and baking for family birthdays and all, which is how I started doing this as a business. I first started by selling decorated sugar cookies. That was in 2007.
I don’t have any formal training. I learnt from recipe books, practising, and training myself on my own. I do online trainings on the internet as well.
Lonumedhu: How did Cookiss Cookies come about?
Wilee: Opening a cookie shop has been my dream since the first day I started baking cookies. So now that my kids have grown older and have settled into their lives, I decided that this was the time to open a shop and we opened the Cookiss Cookies.
Currently, we have two outlets, and we do deliveries as well, through an online platform called ‘FihaaraBari.’ The first one was opened on 1st March last year and is a baking studio as well. I bake our products and also conduct cookie-making classes for adults and kids. We also have a camera set up for product photo taking. Our second outlet is at SME Hub, the recently opened space. The shops are very popular.
Since Cookiss opened, we’ve sold over 70 different products at various times. I still make custom, decorated cookies on order – that’s how I started, so whenever I get time, I like to do that.
Lonumedhu: What’s the most challenging part about running a business?
Wilee: Right now, the most challenging thing is that I don’t have a baking assistant. I bake all the products for both outlets on my own with no helper, and that has been very difficult.
The SME Hub outlet is managed by my husband and son. And baking studio outlet is managed by me. It’s a family business and that’s what makes it possible, honestly.
Lonumedhu: What kind of cookies do you offer?
Wilee: We have a lot of different types of cookies, including New York-style. Some flavours include Biscoff, double chocolate, cheesecake, kanamadhu, red velvet – if it’s a cake flavour, I’ll probably have a cookie for it! (laughs) We also offer brownies, cup cakes and cake pots.
Lonumedhu: How do you come up with the flavours for your products? What’s your recipe testing process like?
Wilee: As I mentioned before, a lot of my flavours are from cakes, along with others. I’ve developed these recipes on my own, by substituting ingredients for ones available from Male’. I have so many recipes now, it’s probably enough to publish a book now.
I pay attention to coming up with fun flavours, things which people don’t usually bake. Cookie baking is infinite and there are so many factors you can play around with.
For my recipe testing process, I first evaluate a recipe and make it exactly as it is. Then after tasting it, I know what ingredients or steps I want to change, so I write it down. After that it’s like a Maths problem – measuring ingredients, figuring out what needs to change, accounting for its consistency when baking. My recipes are very precise; everything is weighed.
Lonumedhu: What’s your favourite cookie flavour?
Wilee: I actually have two favourite flavours, Biscoff and walnut milk chocolate.
Lonumedhu: What advice do you have for those aspiring to start a food business?
Wilee: Hold on to your dream from day one and keep working towards it. That is what will carry you through. Opening Cookiss Cookies was my dream since the first day and it’s holding onto that dream which has gotten me to this point.
Lonumedhu: Before we wrap up, what’s your vision for Cookiss Cookies, in the future?
Wilee: I actually didn’t think that there would be a big demand for an only-cookie shop. But I’ve realises that this business is something that you can really expand. So now, I want to move towards mass production, to develop the Cookiss Cookies brand, open a bakery and shop across the Maldives – Hulhumale’ as well as other islands and resorts too.
Lonumedhu: We would like to see that as well, Wilee. A huge kudos to you for the amazing work you are doing now, and we wish you every success for your future endeavours.