Since the beginning of quarantine, the smell of warm, gooey Dough Re Mi cookies has encompassed the kitchens of two highschool students as they package each fresh cookie with care for the Austin community.
“During quarantine, everyone was obviously getting to know their kitchen,” says Alice Huang, baker and co-founder of Dough Re Mi. “We made a lot of things at home like crab cheese omelets, cinnamon rolls, whipped coffee and cookies, obviously. They stood out to us because they were quick, delicious, fairly easy to transfer and full of possibilities for creative flavors. So we decided on those, and everyone loves cookies, right?”
High school students Alice Huang and Sarah Zeng launched their business journey of Dough Re Mi on May 20 as a way to use their time to help the city of Austin. As of the end of September, the girls have raised $3,471 for the All Together ATX COVID-19 relief fund and donated 80% of their proceeds. Starting in October, 80% of their proceeds are going to United Way for Greater Austin to fight poverty.
“We found out about All Together ATX; it was an umbrella fund that distributed funds to a lot of different nonprofits to aid them in COVID-19 relief,” says Zeng, a student at Westwood High School. “We thought it would be a good charity to donate to because it kind of covered everything.”
Huang and Zeng met in sixth grade, instantly clicked and continued their friendship throughout the years, even through obstacles, such as Huang moving to a different school in seventh grade and not being able to attend the same high school together. After spending time baking and cooking for fun during the beginning of COVID-19, the pair realized a lot of summer activities such as camps and vacations in the summer were likely to be canceled — so Huang and Zeng came up with the idea to start a cookie business.
“We’ve always had our eyes on a career in the medical field, like healthcare, which is one of the reasons why we thought that donating to this COVID-19 relief fund would be relevant,” says Huang, a student at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. “But Dough Re Mi as a business has shown us that maybe there are other things in our future that we can enjoy as well.”
The co-founders do their own baking, cleaning, packaging and planning for the company. They take orders on their website until Thursday night, bake the cookies on Friday afternoon and then deliver on Saturday.
“Both of us can’t drive yet, so our parents have to drive us around every Saturday all over the city to deliver,” Huang says.
To make the deliveries easier, Huang takes the South Austin deliveries while Zeng does the north. Huang delivered as far as Bastrop once, while Zeng has gone all the way to Georgetown.
“We have a delivery zone, because obviously we can’t drive everywhere,” Huang says. “If people live outside of our delivery zone, we offer a pickup option.”
Huang and Zeng find most of their recipes online and alter them to their preferred taste. They offer classic cookies at $8 a dozen, which are available as gluten-free and vegan. In addition, the girls also do themed rotations of specialty cookies for $10 a dozen. Once, the pair had an ice cream themed rotation, which included mint chocolate chip and butter pecan.
Their fall rotation has included a caramel apple oatmeal cookie topped with salted caramel drizzle (Apple-y Ever After), a cakey pumpkin spice cookie with spiced vanilla drizzle (Pump It Up) and a brown sugar maple cookie with pecans and maple icing (Call Me Maple). They will also try to fulfill any ingredient substitutions upon request.
“We definitely have a vision for what we want our cookies, especially our specialty cookies, to be for the month,” Huang says. “I know Sarah and I are both very hyped up about fall, so we’ve had many ideas about fall-themed cookies.”
Huang and Zeng also sell two types of all-natural dog treats, Sweet Puptatos and Peanut Puppers, which only cost $12 for 24 treats. In addition, all of their items come with a gift option for an extra $2, which comes with a customizable card the girls type and print along with a bow. The gifts can then be delivered to whoever desired.
Sanitation is a priority for Huang and Zeng. The girls make sure to wear gloves all the time, keeping supplies clean and avoiding cross-contamination. For deliveries, they wear masks and also offer contactless delivery upon request.
“We did a little bit of research and found out about the Texas Cottage Food Laws, which authorizes home businesses to make food products as long as they’re certain products, as long as you don’t make over $50,000 a year and a couple of other rules,” Zeng says. “But one of the main certifications we had to get was our Texas Food Handlers Card, so we took a course on that, and we took a test. So, both of us have that.”
Along with attending high school and extracurriculars, the girls have to balance their time managing all the ins and outs of their business to keep it flourishing, such as maintaining the website and updating social media.
“I think the most time-consuming thing is coming out with new flavors,” says Zeng, who is also a Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) member, “since we have specialty flavor rotations that rotate out every month. So every month, we have to test our new recipes and then come out with our new flavors.”
The Dough Re Mi co-founders want to continue their business and hope in the future to have their cookies ordered as refreshments for parties, corporate meetings or local businesses.
“We’ve become a lot more proactive, you could say, or outspoken,” says Huang, who found a shared love for baking and cooking with her mom at a young age. “I feel like it’s definitely given me a lot more confidence, because growing up, I wasn’t always the most extroverted at school. Now, I feel like Dough Re Mi and its success has given me a feeling that I can do things, so I feel really empowered.”