Don’t try to make them at home. Crunchy on the outside, gooey mouth-watering on the inside, Jalal Audi’s cookies are a guilty pleasure, the secret recipe for which is well kept behind the stove of the family house in Hammana, a Lebanese village in the Metn region of Mount Lebanon.
Officially launched in spring 2022, after two challenging years due to the crisis, CookieBae is now another Lebanese business that combines all the ingredients for success: simple, family-friendly and delicious.
“I love to cook,” said the 19-year-old who is now the head chef of the business that he thought of creating in late summer 2020 and then co-founded with his brother Jawad Audi, an entrepreneur at heart.
Although Jawad has since emigrated to the US for work, he continues to oversee the business’ management, while his wife Nour manages the marketing and communications service from Lebanon, and their mother Hala helps Jalal with the cooking and packaging.
This small business, founded with pocket money and the support of others, has succeeded in making its way to the shelves of a dozen shops, mainly located in the capital and in the Baabda and Metn regions.
Fitness centers, coffee shops, mini-markets and supermarkets: the more people lick their chops, the longer the list grows.
Yet, it took patience for the young Lebanese, who is now a student of culinary arts and hospitality management at Saint-Joseph University (USJ) in Beirut, to concoct his first batches at the age of 16, “with only a bowl and a wooden spatula.”
24 flavors and one recipe
It all began on Aug. 12, 2020, when Jawad challenged his little brother to make New York-style cookies. Inspired by recipes found online, it took Jalal a few days to offer the family the first batch of the famous American Red Velvet cookies.
At the table, the taste was so good that the desire to do it again quickly took a completely different turn: “Why don’t we sell them?” said Jawad’s fiancée.
The idea caught on, and the housewife agreed, provided that “the production cost is carefully calculated,” recalled the pastry chef, at a time when the country’s economic and financial crisis had just entered its second year and was sparing no one.
While Jawad was in charge of the logistics, his younger brother ended his vacation in the family kitchen. But the teenager did not get tired despite the start of the new school year, and the family ended up “investing in an electric mixer.”
In two months, and despite the daily commute between Hammana and the Élysée high school in Hazmieh, he concocted 15 types of cookies. He added nine more in the following two months, making a total of 24 sweet flavors a la carte, plus a recipe he created. Despite having an Instagram account, CookieBae’s January 2021 launch did not work.
He held an event here and an event there, of course. But the outbreak of COVID-19 combined with the Lebanese lira’s depreciation, complicated the new product’s pricing and demand.
“We had to juggle with the constant fluctuations of the dollar-lira rate on the market, while keeping the price in lira affordable, although we pay in dollars for the raw materials used in making the cookies,” said Jalal.
Knafeh, speculoos and peanut butter truffle
Given the difficulties, CookieBae pause momentarily in the spring of 2021 There was another priority: Jalal had to graduate from school. It’s only a year later that the two brothers relaunched their business project, along with a website and participation in events.
“At a party on Valentine's Day, held in a gymnasium, almost 90 of the 130 cookies I had prepared for the occasion were sold,” said Jalal.
Hope and desire were revived. “Between February and May 2022, we worked with a graphic designer to redesign our brand image, and with an accountant to prepare the launch and canvass various businesses to sell our products,” said the young chef.
At the end of May 2022, CookieBae had its own stand in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh neighborhood, catching the passersby’s eyes and making them salivate. “It really started to take shape at that moment,” he said.
Since then, Jalal’s cookies have been a great success, giving a delicious taste in the mouth and becoming highly desirable on the shelves, where they are sold for just a few dollars. Also sold online on the company’s website and through social media, CookieBae’s sweet flavors include peanut butter truffle, knafeh, dark or white chocolate, and speculoos.
With an investment, since Jalal’s first batch, of around $3,000, the family business thinks big: “The ultimate goal would be to open bakeries across Lebanon,” Jalal said, “while exporting our production abroad.”
But the young man knows how to be patient: “Of course, everything will depend on how the situation evolves in Lebanon,” he said.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
Don’t try to make them at home. Crunchy on the outside, gooey mouth-watering on the inside, Jalal Audi’s cookies are a guilty pleasure, the secret recipe for which is well kept behind the stove of the family house in Hammana, a Lebanese village in the Metn region of Mount Lebanon.Officially launched in spring 2022, after two challenging years due to the crisis, CookieBae is now another...