WHEATON – When she was a child, friends of Rochel Melka knew that if they were coming over to her house, they were in for a fresh-baked, gooey treat.
"Baking cookies is just one of those things that I've always done," she said. "I can't put my finger on why. But I guess I do love the taste of them."
That passion stayed with Melka well into adulthood, as she baked cookies for her four children after they came home from school.
She has a history of being entrepreneurial, she said, having opened a business called Distinctive Gift Ideas that caters to customer appreciation gifts.
But she never pulled the trigger on turning her love of baking into a profit-driven venture.
Until inspiration struck in 2009.
The idea came to her in Cabo.
"I was coming home from a girlfriend's daughter's wedding, and I was sitting in the airport with a bunch of my friends," she said. "And I just decided that I was ready to start this cookie company I was talking about."
Right then and there, she said, she and her friends came up with the name for her business: MelkandCookies.
Four months later, the Wheaton grandmother was churning out bags of frozen, hand-scooped, all-natural chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookie dough for area retailers.
The various ingredients sound more like a grocery list than a chemistry set, which was important to Melka, she said. She believes that emphasis on natural ingredients will help consumers change the way they eat baked goods at home.
"It's a good, solid cookie," she said. "My goal is to change the way people enjoy their cookies in the same way that Starbucks showed us to enjoy one cup of coffee at a time. I want people to buy a couple of high quality cookies, rather than buy a package of store bought cookies."
Melka began by selling her products at the Wheaton French Market.
Brett Joseph of Wheaton Meat Company, the first store to carry MelkandCookies products, said Melka's commitment to quality is what drew him in.
"We tried them and they tasted like homemade cookies, like the ones your grandma would make," he said. "If you buy a fairly expensive cookie dough cluster, it better be pretty darn good, and it's the best you're going to find."
Joseph said that once people try MelkandCookies, they usually come back for more. There aren't many options "someone could bring home and their family would think they were from scratch," he said.
Toda, the brand has spread.
While Melka still makes her own deliveries, she now has several full-time employees, though she still relies on two of her daughters to help out on occasion. More than 30 grocery stores now carry her products, including all but two Whole Foods stores in Illinois and Wheaton's new Mariano's location.
Melka said that her story is one for all to model.
"I am all about inspiring women to let them know anything is possible. I'm not the best baker and not the smartest person in the world," she said. "I started this company just before my 50th birthday. Find your passion."
For more information, visit www.melkandcookies.com.