DEBORAH TUGGLE’S NAME never was a household word before, even as her cookies became beloved in households nationwide.
At her commercial bakery in Pierce County, Tuggle produces a lot of cookies — up to 14,000 per hour. Dessert fans probably have eaten her sweets, from decorated whole wheat shortbreads to paleo-friendly almond rounds, labeled under one of her company’s brands or under one of the private labels she works with.
The creation that’s brought her name recognition after decades in the business is a supersized sweet treat, “The True OG Cookie,” packed with Belgian chocolate and toasted walnuts. It drew record fan responses from people (myself included) who ordered a Seattle Solidarity Box supporting Black-owned businesses earlier this year from Savor Seattle, a company that had pivoted from food tours to boxes of signature local foods. Tuggle’s cookie dough was in the box, along with other delectables, from Donna Moodie’s steel drum plantains to Edouardo Jordan’s granola to pot pies from Logan Niles.
The cookie, according to Savor Seattle’s order, was the original recipe used for Metropolitan Market’s “The Cookie,” a rich chocolate-chunk-nut cookie that’s big enough to share but good enough that you won’t. That locally famous sweet ranks high on best-of-baked-goods lists in Seattle (again, mine included), so I was super-intrigued to hide the Solidarity box from my children — I mean, test Tuggle’s cookie out in the name of research.
Tuggle’s imposing five-ounce baseballs of dough were slipped from the freezer to the oven and baked to a heavenly mix of melt and crunch (with a sprinkle of sea salt for added spark). Indeed, they were the cookie equivalent of a luxury spa visit.
Tuggle said the dough’s origins go back to when Metropolitan Market asked her to develop a cookie in the same vein as a well-loved version at a New York bakery, and that she produced it for the market for about five years before they started baking a different recipe on-site. (Metropolitan Market, which credits Tristan Ambrose on its website, wouldn’t comment on The Cookie’s path, but calls Tuggle “an incredible partner to work with.”) The cookie Tuggle sells online through bitemeinc.cc and GrubHub is now labeled as “The Original-Bake at Home OG Dough Balls.”
Savor Seattle owner Angela Shen, who met Tuggle when they were in a program together at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, knew the “life-changing” cookies belonged in the Solidarity box. It was no surprise to hear they sold out in a flash, and were the top item requested by return customers.
But I was nonplused to hear how long Tuggle has been baking in the area, and how many cookies I’ve admired at various shops are connected to her business.
“My family’s here, and I love the Pacific Northwest. There’s no place that’s more beautiful than this place,” she says. “I travel for work, because I’m in grocery stores all over the country, but I’m always so happy to come back home.”
Baking, as it turns out, was far from her original career plan. But it’s been part of any number of leaps of faith.
“Even through the hardships, the doors kept opening,” she says.
A Washington native, Tuggle grew up in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, graduating from Stadium High School and attending Washington State University.
She came home to raise her young son — who is now 34 — and baked cookies to help pay her way through school as a court stenographer.
A friend of hers who made “the best cookies I’d ever had” shared tips, including this valuable one: If the recipe calls for two cups of chocolate chips, make it four.
Her work eventually took her to the legal field and corporate America, which she learned was not for her. “Lord, what do you want me to do?” she remembers thinking.
“Someone said, ‘Why don’t you make cookies?’ I knew I didn’t have a baking background. I didn’t have a business background. But I knew people liked them, and I was naive enough to believe that because people liked them, I could really have a business.”
Tacoma connections who had bought her cookies in the past asked whether she was interested in a ground-floor space in their new development. It was 1,700 square feet.
“So they’re building out this space for me, and I’m using a KitchenAid mixer!” she says, laughing.
Success didn’t come easily, or overnight. Shoppers in the 1990s were as likely to buy budget cookies at the Subway next door than premium desserts. She added on “cotton candy, breakfast sandwiches, anything that kept the lights on.”
Ultimately, the cookies won their place. She moved forward with Friday’s Cookies, the company she had founded, and eventually acquired the Bite Me cookie company in 2004. She’s added others since, like a “Bite Free” line of gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, keto-friendly cookies, as well as manufacturing for other companies.
“I’ve always kept my eyes open to the industry, the trends,” she says.
“My success is based on a couple of things. One is the grace of God, number one. Number two is, I hired people that are smart, because I don’t know it all … I just surround myself with people who love their jobs and love what they’re doing, love being around cookies.”