Biz Buzz: Ray of national attention for cookie creators

Rachael Ray may have mangled the pronunciation of Cayucos (ky-YOU-cos, as in coast) on Thursday during her talk show’s 30-second “snack of the day” mini-segment. But that didn’t faze the owners of The Brown Butter Cookie Co., whose Half Dome-shaped shortbread cookies were featured on the popular TV show.

Sisters and partners Traci Nickson and Christa Hozie had sent 150 boxes of cookies for Ray to share.

Each cookie is hand-rolled like a meatball and topped with a soupçon of sea salt for contrast. “It’s a little sweet, a little salty,” Ray described.

The cookies — available in the original caramelized butter and brown sugar, as well as cocoa — cost about $1 each at the store or online at

Other products are available only at the 900-square-foot shop.

While Ray’s brief mention triggered 20 or 30 orders from new buyers, the show also “created lots of excitement for our current customers,” Nickson said. “We’ve gotten calls (and orders) from all over.”

Hozie promoted the Ray segment on the shop’s Web site, which also produced interest and orders.

How did a cookie from Cayucos wind up on national TV? Last year, a couple from Los Angeles fell in love with the cookies while making wedding arrangements at the Cass House next door to Brown Butter. They bought some as holiday gifts for their family in New York.

The bride’s sister is one of Ray’s show producers.

Nickson and Hozie moved to Cayucos a few years ago from Southern California to open a small gourmet deli.

The enterprise succeeded, but neither sister could envision herself making gourmet sandwiches for the rest of her life.

Instead, they chose to launch the cookie that had become the deli’s signature product. By May 2009, The Little Market had morphed into a fulltime cookie company. Now Brown Butter has a dozen employees, a growing list of customers and about 30 commercial accounts, primarily from San Francisco to San Diego.

The cookies have been written up in a Gourmet magazine online newsletter, The New York Times (twice) and other publications.

Nickson estimated they are now rolling “about 10,000 browned-butter cookies a week.”

“We’ve exceeded our sales projections,” Hozie said, although they declined to disclose annual sales or profits.

What’s next? The sisters are stirring up formulas for two new cookies. The newest flavor might be green tea, Nickson said. They’re also experimenting with a gluten-free cookie. The store is located at 250 N. Ocean Ave.

— Kathe Tanner

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The Quality Suites hotel of San Luis Obispo was recently announced as a recipient of a 2010 Gold Hospitality Award from Choice Hotels International, Inc., franchisor of the Quality brand.

The San Luis Obispo location at 1631 Monterey St. is one of 20 hotels within California and one of 60 within the 1,336 Quality-brand hotels to receive Gold Award status for showing a focus on service and guest satisfaction.

— Julia Hickey