Cookie trays go viral
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It was the slight heard around the 'Burgh last week -- presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney openly snickered at cookies from the legendary Bethel Bakery, comparing them to baked goods from a convenience store.
But, the remark -- still a hot topic among bloggers and national media outlets nine days later -- has ended up benefiting local food pantries and the bakery.
A local institution for 57 years, Bethel Bakery fielded so many phone calls and tweets from insulted fans who wanted to order cookie trays, the owners decided to donate cookie trays to the South Hills Interfaith Ministries.
"For us, it's been kinda nice," said Kate Snyder, the community relations manager for the Ministries, a local, nonprofit, human services organization that feeds more than 300 families every month through its food pantries in Bethel Park and Whitehall.
Julie Lytle, the bakery's sales and marketing assistant, said the response has been overwhelming since former Massachusetts governor Romney's disparaging comments, which came at a roundtable meeting with several local couples at the Bethel Park Community Center April 17.
"Hundreds of people have called from all over the country wondering if we would ship our cookie trays," said Ms. Lytle, who said the bakery ships only its Terrible Towel cookie.
So many people called -- from as far away as California, Georgia and Maine -- that Ms. Lytle said the bakery decided to give them the option of purchasing cookie trays that would be donated to the Ministries' pantries.
"Dozens of trays are going to be donated," said Ms. Lytle, who said the bakery is still taking phone calls from fans interested in purchasing trays similar to the one the bakery sent to Mr. Romney's event, an assortment of five dozen cookies.
The incident, nicknamed "Cookiegate" by some in reference to the historic Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration, also prompted the bakery to offer a special sale on cookies last week. Owner John Walsh was featured in national publications and news shows.
When the mini media frenzy continued this week, Ms. Lytle said the bakery began offering a new special, called the "CookieGate Sampler," for $4.25. It features one each of the 10 varieties of cookies that were presented to Mr. Romney.
"We've had a lot of people asking for them so we'll probably keep them in the store for awhile," Ms. Lytle said.
They are also considering printing "CookieGate" T-shirts for employees and possibly for sale.
"It's crazy," said Ms. Lytle. Bakery sales also increased by more than 132 percent since the incident, she said.
"It's definitely helped business," she said. "That's great for us."
While cookies may not be the healthiest snack, Ms. Snyder said everyone, no matter their socio-economic status, enjoys dessert once in a while.
"We absolutely try to stock our shelves with healthy stuff, but everybody deserves a treat now and then, and Bethel Bakery is definitely a treat," she said. "Families that use a food pantry are no different from other families."
Ms. Snyder said the organization is expecting to take delivery of the fresh cookies next week, for the next scheduled food distribution in Bethel Park on May 4.
About 180 families will be served at the pantry, and Ms. Snyder said she hopes the unexpected message of Cookiegate will encourage families to apply for services if they are struggling.
"We would welcome more families," said Ms. Snyder, who said services from the organization have increased in recent years with the economic downturn. "There are families who could be using the pantry but aren't."
As for the bakery, the staff still hopes to make a fan of Mr. Romney, Ms. Lytle said.
"Maybe the next time he's in town," she said. "We'd love to have him come in."
Bethel Bakery cookie orders may be made by calling 412-835-6658. For more about South Hills Interfaith Ministries' programs, call 412-854-9120 or visit www.shim-center.org.
First Published April 26, 2012 7:29 am