Munchies After Midnight 

Dylan Fiesel turns late-night snack attacks into a growing business venture.

Dylan Fiesel is a wiry 22-year-old who wears fleece-lined sweatshirts and keeps his hair cut short. He has the look of a first-year law student and the unhurried drawl of someone who clocks six hours of sleep a night. Fiesel could have been a short order cook, had he not gone the businessman's route. A North Bay native, he relocated to Berkeley after graduating from the film and entrepreneurship programs at Indiana University, and now spends most days studying for the GMAT. Most nights he's up baking cookies in Emeryville's Co-Op Kitchens, a large industrial building where roughly twenty to thirty local mom-and-pops do their food preparation and cooking. There, Fiesel runs Mrs. Munchies, a late-night cookie delivery enterprise that's likely the only one of its kind in the East Bay.

Come to Co-Op Kitchens after witching hour, and nine times out of ten you'll find Fiesel manning a laptop while other Co-Op tenants scurry around washing pots or chopping vegetables. He usually gets home some time after 3:30 a.m., once the kitchen is cleaned and the dough is repackaged, and dozens of bleary-eyed college students are munching cookies contentedly in their dorms.

Fiesel got the idea for Mrs. Munchies during his last semester of college. He was living in Bloomington, which he describes as a typical college town, about the same size as Berkeley. The big difference was Berkeley's surprising dearth of after-hours snack joints. "Bloomington was notorious for having all these different food restaurants and these late-night delivery things going on," Fiesel said. "My friends in Berkeley would call me drunk; it would be like 1:30 here and they'd be walking down to 7-11 because they couldn't get anything else."

Once he graduated and moved back to the Bay Area, he started approaching local bakeries, asking if he could rent out a corner of their space during the hours they weren't there. "The only ones who said yes were asking for twice as much as I pay here," he said. Fiesel learned about Co-op Kitchens from a restaurateur friend and found it had most of the amenities he needed: several commercial ovens and giant electric mixers, plus a large fridge to stockpile dough and caffeinated drinks for the workers. He quickly bonded with owner Jonas Bernstein, since they went through Mill Valley schools, and shared the same heady, entrepreneurial spirit. After Fiesel decided to set up shop there, he developed a business plan, web site, and Mrs. Munchies Facebook page. He now has a staff of roughly eight bakers who also answer phones and deliver cookies, plus six marketing girls who run around the Cal campus with cookie samples and Mrs. Munchies T-shirts.

The laws of supply and demand worked in his favor. Now, just four months since launching, he already is talking about expansion to UC Davis and eventually, San Francisco's Haight district. He might have to put the grad school application on hold for a while.

At 10 p.m. on a recent Tuesday night, Fiesel is holding court at Mrs. Munchies while employees Aaron Solan and Emoru Obbanya crack eggs and scoop identical balls of double chocolate cookie dough. A recipe binder with tabulated plastic folders sits neatly on the counter, and a purple banner hanging across the wall says "Fresh baked cookies and stuff." ("I guess the milk would be 'stuff,'" said Solan, a fourth-year Cal engineering student who started working at Mrs. Munchies the same night another baker quit mid-shift.) Fiesel leans over the kitchen counter tracking orders on his laptop. Since Co-Op Kitchens doesn't have Wi-Fi, he's connected the computer to his Verizon LG phone. Most of the orders for Mrs. Munchies are completed online, and whenever a customer checks out, a little receipt pops out of a thermal printer affixed to the wall. It's a cost-effective system, and overhead is low because the storefront is a web site.

The kitchen smells of vanilla and feels oppressively hot. But the cookies are divine: ginger, sugar, and peanut butter with a cursive "M" scrolled on top or a Hershey's Kiss planted in the middle; hearty oatmeal raisin cookies; chocolate chip cookies with chewy centers; and double chocolate cookies that taste like rich candy bars. Mrs. Munchies also sells skim, 2 percent, or chocolate milk — Fiesel said he'll eventually add soy but hasn't gotten any requests for fat milk — along with coffee, brownies, and "mini" bite-sized cookies that can be mixed and matched. Customers can even order gift packages with personalized love notes inside. In fact, Fiesel's creative aspirations seem endless: He eventually wants to package and sell the dough, too, and to add more complicated items like elephant ears, which are a swirl-shaped cookie with a spiral of cinnamon and sugar. For now, though, the small menu gives him plenty to work with — especially since a lot of his personnel have to be taken back to square one of cookie-making when they first sign on.

The Mrs. Munchies brand identity — with its grandmotherly, Mother's Cookies-ish logo and quality assertions from the fictitious "Mrs. M." — can seem disarmingly wholesome — in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kinda way. But Fiesel says the 4:20 (i.e. weedsmoking) references are there "for those in the know": "In the late '60s, when I was in college, baking brownies was a rite of passage," Mrs. M. writes on the home page of Fiesel's web site. "My brownies and cookies became so popular my fellow students started referring to me as Mrs. Munchies. And the nickname stuck." Fiesel said he tried to develop a character that would catch on with the after-party crowd, but also have wider appeal.

Fittingly, April 20 was the apex of Fiesel's career, and he offered a special 4:20 promotion of 20 percent off mini munchies. The orders started coming in around 4:45 that afternoon, and didn't stop until closing time at 2:30 a.m.; Fiesel said there were about 55 orders total. The typical order consists of a dozen cookies and drinks, running to about $15. Since then, Mrs. Munchies has remained strong, and Fiesel is cautiously optimistic. He's delivered cookies for one corporate client during office hours, catered a couple parties, and managed to grow the business enough that he can take a couple nights off a week, and let his staff pick up the slack. He still gets to bed around 3:30 or 4 a.m. most nights, wakes up at 10 the following morning, and hits the books by early afternoon. He's hoping that if Mrs. Munchies goes belly up, it will at least land him in a good business school.

Then again, you never know. "Just like any other kid, I didn't want to join the corporate world," he explained, adding that he didn't intend to trade his film studies degree from some mid-level production assistant job, either. "'Do something you love' was the basis of this whole thing," said the young entrepreneur. "And I love cookies."

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