Sitting at a coffee shop on North Highland Avenue, I’m surrounded by college students, fledgling writers and first and last dates. Other than the latter, most of us have one reason for being here: free Internet access. Unless you want to look even more like a freeloader, you purchase a cup of coffee. Like most shops, they have the typical array of cookies, cakes, muffins and even a quiche that I wouldn’t feed my dog.
The cookies have a sign above them and individual decorative plates that describe the ingredients, flavors and sometimes a brief history lesson. Needless to say, they’re definitely more enticing than the quiche. What might catch your eye though, other than the Butterfinger embedded peanut butter cookie, is the bakery’s mascot. A big ass yellow bear, donning overalls and sporting facial hair that could place in the World Beard and Moustache Championship. If there wasn’t a giant cookie placed behind him, I might be intimidated.
Obviously, I ordered and destroyed the Peanut Butter Candy Cookie.
The bake shop behind this pastry is Bear Maker Bakery. Not only are they native to Atlanta, but they also rep their neighborhood. As the coffee shop sign states, all of their baked goods are, “Hand-crafted in East Atlanta.” If you’re buying local, it doesn’t get much closer than that.
Born out of a love for baking and each other, John Price and Brandon Tidwell have spent the last few years making cookies that a Yelp fan compares to crack, though that might be the most gangsta comparison that they ever get. They’ve been busy making moves, slinging their sugar-based “addictions” all over town and building their dynasty.
Their motivation isn’t Bentleys and bling though, but putting a smile on the faces of their family, friends and coffee fiends looking for an Internet connection.
Purge: When was Bear Maker Bakery conceived?
John: We’ve been doing this for about three and a half years now. We got started because I have an affinity for baking. I’m a hand-measuring baker, Granny-taught. We have a big cookie party every year for Christmas. Two hundred people come over, and we make between four and five thousand cookies.
One of our friends who owns Outwrite came to the party, and he said, “You need to be selling these, and I’d be more than happy to help and sell them in the store.” So Outwrite was our start. That’s how things took off.
Brandon: We really started it as a lark. John and I always joked about how his fantasy was to own a bakery one day.
John: That’s only one of my fantasies.
Brandon: So we decided to try it and got pulled in to it from there. We didn’t really anticipate that it was going to take off and be successful, but it seemed that any coffee shop that we approached became a customer. We felt that there was a really big need in Atlanta for home-baked cookies and hand-held goods. When people ask us what we do we say–
John: Hand-held treats.
Purge: Do you guys do this full-time?
John: Not for me, but this is a full-time job for Brandon.
Brandon: When we first started doing this for Outwrite we only worked about four hours a week, but we just kept adding more and more coffee shops. Before I got laid off from IBM, we would come home from our nine-to-five jobs and work until midnight.
John: Midnight? Try four-thirty in the morning.
Brandon: It was like working two full-time jobs.
Purge: How did you come up with the name Bear Maker Bakery?
John: Well, I actually have a cookie called the “Man Gettin” cookie. It’s the peanut butter cookie with Butterfinger chunks in it. This was before I was married to Brandon. Anytime I took the cookies to a party, I always ended up with a man. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and it’s true. It works every time.
Brandon would always say, “You make bears. You’re a bear maker,” because I made these sweets, and they pile on the weight. So that’s where bear maker came from. I’m a bear maker.
Brandon: After we gave him the Kitchen Aid mixer, every Saturday he was making cookies and cakes. That’s how he fattened me up. I think it was his ultimate intention.
Purge: How long have you guys been together?
Brandon: We met at Pride in 2000, and then we had our commitment ceremony in 2002.
John: We were so busy this summer that it was the first time that I actually forgot our anniversary. I felt horrible. My husband didn’t remind me either, but he shouldn’t have to remind me of stuff like that, and he’ll never have to again. I promise.
Brandon: You’re on the record now.
Purge: I can send you the recording.
Purge: Where do you see Bear Maker going in the next few years?
Brandon: Ultimately, we want our own shop. We want to have a cool place where people can come in for cookie decorating classes, and if you’re there at the right time, you’ll get to lick the beater. That’s how I see it in my mind.
John: We’re in the process of restructuring right now, and hopefully that will lead to us having a place that is open to the public, a community-oriented bakery.
Brandon: Before we started all of this, we had lives. Once we started getting really busy we couldn’t go out anymore, and our friends were telling us that they never see us anymore. But we couldn’t go out because we were baking cookies.
So we told them to come over, and we would just order take-out. They hung out, and we baked cookies. It was really cool because we would be on the oven-side of the island in our kitchen, and they would be on the other side hanging out, drinking and socializing. How awesome would it be if our bakery was a place like that? You could just come in and hang out.
Purge: It sounds a lot better than going on a date to one of those pottery making places.
John: Who the hell wants to do that? Maybe if you’re from another planet. Humans want something sweet.
Purge: Where can people buy Bear Maker treats?
John: The best thing in the world is Zifty.com! That’s where you can get a taste of Bear Maker. You can also order from our website.
Brandon: The coffee shops that carry Bear Maker are Joe’s in EAV, Drip in Glenwood Park, Java Lords in Little Five, Inman Perk in Inman Park, Toscano and Sons in Downtown and At The Collective on Elizabeth Street, which is also our pick-up location for orders from our website.
Photo Credit: Jared du Plooy