In the fall of 2010 in a tiny kitchen in Shanghai, Alexandra A. Comstock ’10 concocted a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Although she baked them to satisfy a personal craving, the batch marked the launch of an unexpected business enterprise in the blossoming market for home-baked goods in China.
Selling old-time favorites like classic chocolate chip, sweet sugar, and hearty oatmeal raisin cookies, Comstock has built a loyal customer base of Chinese natives and foreigners alike.
Her company, Strictly Cookies, might evoke memories of homemade baked goods for many Americans, but it is a novel business venture in Shanghai.
In August 2010, Comstock landed in Shanghai, where she had lined up a job in marketing. At the time, cookies were the last thing on her mind, she says. Two months into her stay, the absence of quality cookies from the shelves of Chinese stores left Comstock with an empty stomach and a sweet tooth.
According to Comstock, the traditional Chinese mooncake is the dessert that bears the closest resemblance to cookies in China.
“I couldn’t find a cookie that I was excited about, basically,” Comstock says.
Her hankering for home-style cookies led her to start whipping up batches in her apartment to distribute to friends and bring to parties.
“I started doing some research. China has thin, crisp, somewhat flavorless biscuits, but I couldn’t find hearty cookies. That’s when I thought maybe this idea has legs.”
Initially, Strictly Cookies was run out of Comstock’s apartment. Her business was a one-woman show, with Comstock taking orders, baking cookies, and running deliveries.
“She started by almost going door-to-door and asking people, ‘Do you want to try my product,’” says friend Charlotte B. Winthrop ’08. “She built Cookies at the grassroots level.”
Soon after, Comstock quit her job and devoted herself full-time to filling the cookie void in the Chinese market.
An East Asian Studies concentrator at Harvard, Comstock used her passion for China to define her academic path in college. Now, she devotes her time to delivering the highest quality cookies to an international set of customers and to running her burgeoning business abroad.
Raised in suburban Connecticut, Comstock has no apparent connections to China. But in overcoming the challenges of establishing a business, Comstock says that the country has become her home.
Comstock first become enamored with China when she traveled there for the first time with her parents as a child. Since then, “it’s always been China,” she says.