Galveston-born, Bellaire-based Ella Russell is 36 years old. She has two boys, 14 and 9, and works full-time at AT&T as a service rep. She is also studying at the Art Institute. (She's going back in January after taking the fall quarter off to spend more time with her kids.)
There is something else that she does: She makes cookies that make you feel life is worth living.
If you have not tasted any of Russell's cookies, Jesus H. Christ, you're missing out. Russell has launched her own business, titled E-dub-a-licious Treats, along with a website where you can get all her homemade goodies: Amazin' Craisin, Dub-a-Chocolate Chip Pecan, Peanut Butter -- oh dear Lord.
We just had to talk to Russell about these cookies and how it feels being the Mrs. Fields of the Houston area.EOW:
Okay, it's safe to say that I'm hooked on your cookies. They make me feel all warm and gooey inside. I gave some to my co-workers and they're sprung too. Where the hell did the cookie baking begin?
ER: I have been baking for about five-and-a-half years. I am a single parent and one holiday, both of the boys needed to take treats to school for a party and I just couldn't afford to go out and buy anything for both classes. I thought about making cookies since it seemed pretty easy, and I already had everything that I need in my pantry -- flour, sugar, baking soda, vanilla and eggs -- but I didn't have any chocolate chips.
So I went to the store and spent about $2.50 on a bag of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips, then went home and baked up a batch for each son to take to school. I took the leftovers to work with me. Everybody loved them and started asking me to bring cookies when we had office potlucks. One of my co-workers said, "Girl! You should sell these!"
So I started making cookies and taking them to church and to the Eb5 Art Gallery with me. My church community, Awakenings Movement, really supported me and bought a lot of cookies from me out of my trunk every Sunday and told everybody about them. So it became an expectation for me to always have cookies.
EOW: How and when did this business get off the ground?
ER: I started advertising/posting on Facebook about two years ago and Twitter about 10 months ago. The social networking catapulted me into the business that you know now as E-dub-a-licious.
EOW: Do you bake everything yourself, or do you have a crew?
ER: I do all my own baking. I make all my dough from scratch. I do have an assistant who does my correspondence, accounting, some local deliveries, most of my shipping and my grocery shopping.
EOW: You've mentioned church and the now-defunct Eb5 Art Gallery. Apart from the website, are there other spots where people can find you and your cookies?
ER: I don't have my cookies in any shops yet, but you can find E-dub-a-licious treats wherever I am.
EOW: As far as mail-order batches go, have there been any orders from locations you never expected?
ER: Well, as far as shipping, I never really expected to be outside of the Houston/Galveston area. But, in the last year or so, I have actually shipped to about 13-15 different states and to Iraq. Now that was a shocker for me!
EOW: I know you have the vegan cookies and the no-nut cookies, but are most of your ingredients natural? You know white people don't like to eat anything with gluten these days.
ER: I wouldn't say that all my ingredients are "all natural," but I do use products that are known for their exceptional quality.
EOW: How long did it take to perfect the recipes?
ER: It took me about two-and-a-half years to perfect my standard recipes. I create new cookies on a regular basis, but it doesn't take as long to perfect those. Sometimes a few hours or sometimes a few days.
EOW: And where did most of them come from? I'm particularly intrigued with the Zion cookie, which is an interesting thing to call a strawberry and chocolate cookie.
ER: Most of these cookies just come to me based on something I saw, heard or tasted. In reference to Zion, that cookie is named after a couple of good friends of mine's son, K'monte and Diedre Allen. They had a blessing for him at their house, and I decided to bring cookies for dessert. I thought it would be funny to combine the two parents into one cookie. K'monte is a dark-skinned brother and he calls his wife "Shortcake" because of her naturally red hair. So I made strawberry cookies and put chocolate icing in the middle to create a cookie to represent their son, Zion. It was really suppose to be a joke but everybody loved the combination, so I decided to add it to my menu. But instead of using icing, I used chocolate chips.
I also have a cookie called "Juices and Berries" which was inspired by a poet named Michael Kahlil Taylor. He is also a dark-skinned brother, and he has locks that always smell like juices and berries. When I hosted open mike, I would always introduce him as "Juices and Berries." Well one day he was coming to buy some cookies from me, and I said, "Boy, you should be a cookie!" I told him I would go home and let him know what I came up with. Well, I made a chocolate cookie, with craisins, cherries, blueberries and pecans and brought it to him and said, "If you were a cookie, this is what you would be!" I just like to have fun and create cookies that make people open up and talk. My cookies are truly conversation pieces.
EOW: Any pluses and minuses you've dealt with while running your business?
ER: I went into this baking business blindly, no plan, no goals, just something to do and because of that I wasted time, lost money and missed out on opportunities. However, this is a learning experience, and I am learning a lot about branding, marketing and good customer service. I have made a lot of friends and business connects, and I've gotten to meet several of my favorite music artists through living out this new-found passion.
EOW: I feel that E-dub-a-licious Treats is a dirty little secret among Houston cookie lovers. Do you plan to expand your empire?
ER: Actually, E-dub-a-licious is not just a Houston secret. I have several repeat customers in the Dallas area, San Antonio and Austin. I will eventually have shops or my treats in shops in those cities.
EOW: Any new cookies on the horizon?
ER: The latest cookie that I made and am trying to tweak is a cookie that was inspired by Nicki Minaj's album entitled Pink Friday. The cookie is called "Cookie Minaj." It's three of my E-dub-a-licious treats made in to one cookie -- and yes, it's pink!
EOW: Let's end this on the Barbara Walters question. What do you want people to take with them, what do you want embedded in people's heads the most, after eating your cookies?
ER: I always want people to know that I love what I do. But not just because of the money it brings but because of the smiles that my cookies put on people's faces, and that's why I do it! My tag line is, "A Baked on Smile in Every Bite!" and I feel like it's a hug in there too. This is hard work, and I have to constantly make a lot of sacrifices, but brightening one person's day by providing them with a delicious treat and putting a smile on their face makes it all worth it.
Click here to see an interview Ella Russell did.