Sometimes the sweetest things in life are born from the most trying circumstances.
When Morgantown resident Lauren Collins’ grandfather was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease that is the result of abnormal protein build-up in organs which interferes with their normal function, she was fortunate to take time off from her job as a restaurant manager to help care for him.
“I was able to go back to Virginia, back to the country to help with his care because he was in hospice at home,” she said. “During that time, there wasn’t really a whole lot going on outside of his care so I got back into baking.”
With the help of a vintage mustard yellow Sunbeam Mixmaster passed down from her great grandmother, Collins took to baking as a form of self-care during a difficult time.
“I was baking every single day,” she said. “And, it was helping me because if you’ve ever had a loved one in that situation, it’s super stressful and it’s said, but you’re focused on keeping them as comfortable as possible.”
Collins’ grandfather passed away, but she continued to hone her skills and, eventually, Love LC, a Morgantown-based cookie bake shop was born.
Her first big break as a business owner arrived via a partnership with Clutch Wing Shop, a sister store to Tailpipes that specialized in chicken wings.
“When Clutch Wing Shop came downtown, they wanted something kind of cool that would be comparable to the Tailpipes milkshakes. The owners asked if I would be down to bake cookies so we could do ice cream cookie sandwiches and sundaes,” Collins said.
Of course, she said, “Yes.”
“They bought all the equipment that we needed, and part of the deal was that as long as I was doing that, I was able to use that space as a commercial kitchen for my own business,” she said.
Collins said having access to that space really helped her business grow.
“It’s kind of hard-working out of your house,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot more trust involved in a commercial kitchen space, and people were being exposed to the cookies more often than being at Clutch. The orders started coming in a lot more quickly. I was doing bigger orders and getting more consistent ordering.”
Although Clutch Wing Shop and Tailpipes have since closed their doors, Collins’ dedication to both restaurants didn’t go unnoticed by the owners
“They actually gave me the twenty-quart mixer that I was using at the shop along with a lot of small wares. And, they set me up in Fat Daddy’s kitchen, which is where I'm baking now,” she explained.
Although Collins thoroughly enjoys the science behind baking and manipulating ingredients to fit her vision, one of the driving forces behind her cookie business is helping people reconnect with happy memories.
“I think that everybody wants to be happy and everybody longs for warm memories, and I think that food and taste are really strongly connected to some of those emotions. Cookies just make you feel good,” she said. “With so much crazy in the world, sometimes it’s nice to offer people a little bit of normalcy and a little bit of a memory. That's part of the reason that I actually don't do decorated sugar cookies. I think they're beautiful, but they don't make me think of a whole lot. Whereas my style of cookie is more of a home-style with a twist.”
With flavors like Banana Pudding, Fruity Pebbles, Minty Mojito and the s’mores-inspired Campfire, it’s easy to understand why people are flocking to order the hand-crafted cookies.
Milk and Cookies, a white chocolate chip cookie with an Oreo crumble, is currently her bestseller; however, which creation is her favorite?
“Oh man,” she said. “They're like my children. I'm not supposed to tell you which one's my favorite.”
She actually loves them all but for different reasons.
“The Campfire cookie is always going to have a special place in my heart; it’s the first cookie I made and sold,” Collins said. “Milk and Cookies was the first one where I felt like I really branched out and tried something different.”
Having worked for Tailpipes, a business known for its savvy social media presence, for almost 10 years, she’s been able to employ some of that same strategy to Love, LC.
“I think that our company [Tailpipes], in general, was one of the first in Morgantown to really hop on the social media train with our Twitter and our Instagram,” she said. “I just kind of learned what works, like how you want your page to look and how you want to engage with your customers. I feel like I've just been able to move into a different company, obviously, but keep a lot of the same strategy and feelings about it.”
She readily admits she doesn’t have the largest following, but her audience is very engaged.
“It's not really worth much to me to have 10,000 followers that never want to talk to me. Whereas I feel like I get to go on my page and ask questions and ask for feedback, people really do respond” she said. “The majority of my followers are from around here so that translates directly into sales more often than not, and then the word spreads.”
In fact, Love, LC is growing fast enough Collins will soon hire her first employee. And, Collins is looking forward to taking on a mentor role.
“To be somebody's employer is a big deal. You're responsible for them in a different way. And you don't know what you're going to do or say, or what opportunity you're going to give that's going to set somebody else on their path,” she said. “Part of the reason that I'm even able to have this business right now is because my previous employers saw something in me that encouraged me to go forth and do my thing. And they gave me some of the resources to do that. And if I can help somebody else reach that goal one day too, that'll be great.”