Photos by Justin Fox Burks
Collins Tuohy and Laurie Suriff sample a little Whimsy at their retail bakery on Poplar Avenue.
Playing sous chef was simply a hobby for young Laurie Suriff. As a child in Dallas, she honed her culinary skills alongside her mother, baking cookies in their kitchen with a top-secret recipe – the same one that would help build her business, Whimsy Cookie Co., into today’s signature pink brick bungalow on Poplar Avenue.
The frosted sugar cookies, available in a colorful array of fanciful shapes, first gained popularity with her husband’s coworkers. At the time, baking a dozen or so cookies each week didn’t seem like much work for a stay-at-home mom, but more orders began pouring in. Soon Collins Tuohy, a Whimsy Cookie enthusiast, jumped in to help, and the women became business partners.
Success came quickly, and Whimsy soon outgrew its original space. In early 2014, the partners uprooted the business to the current high-profile spot on Poplar. “The move really set us on another level,” says Suriff, who fills dozens of orders each week for an array of special events ranging from football tailgates at Ole Miss (Tuohy’s alma mater) to birthday parties in Dallas.
The bakery’s signature bubble-gum pink dominates the store – from the walls and furniture to the custom-made cookie boxes – and may take first-timers by surprise. “Our biggest challenge,” jokes Suriff, “is trying to make men feel comfortable when they walk in here.”
Thankfully, there is no gender bias in a sweet tooth, easily satisfied with almost anything inside the store’s tastefully arranged glass case: classics like chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cream pies and artfully decorated sugar cookie shaped into footballs, unicorns or bright green frogs.
Suriff and Tuohy receive new franchising offers daily, from local husbands who want to open their Whimsy bakeries for their wives to businessmen who want to take the company national. However, the co-owners want Whimsy “running like a smooth ship” before expanding. In the meantime, Suriff and Tuohy can still be found behind the store’s kitchen, getting down in the dough while testing new creations.
For both women, uniting food and family is a favorite by-product of Whimsy’s success. They recall a customer who insisted that Whimsy cookies be present at all her daughter’s major life events. “It’s not just sweets,” Tuohy says. “It’s growing up with Whimsy.” ─ Eric Bourgeois
MM: What’s busy season at Whimsy look like?
Tuohy: It’s like that airport scene from Home Alone where everyone’s running around to frantic music.
What should be the biggest takeaway for Whimsy?
Suriff: If you’re not as happy here as you are at Disneyworld, we’re not doing something right.
4704 Poplar Ave. (901-343-0709)
(Editor’s Note: The profile above on Laurie Suriff and Collins Tuohy is part of a longer series on women culinary entrepreneurs published initially in the October issue of Memphis magazine.) You can read the entire story here.