BROOKE AND TOMAS Perez know something about the taste of nostalgia.
For some people, it’s chocolate chip cookies; for others, red velvet. For Tomas, it’s the arepas you might find at a Colombian roadside stand.
All those and more show up sweetly at the couple’s Bell’s Cookie Co., baked and sold at their year-old Green Lake shop, shipped nationwide through Goldbelly, and also distributed from a separate production facility to first-class passengers on Delta Air Lines. The treats quickly won an enthusiastic audience, with honors as institutional as Yelp naming Bell’s the best cookies in Washington state (unscientific, but still), and as individual as a Wisconsin Goldbelly customer writing online, “I am 77 years old and have eaten lots and lots of different recipe chocolate chip cookies, and these are without question THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES I’VE EVER EATEN!” (also unscientific, but convincing).
Nostalgia might be the official focus (plus chewiness and gooeyness), but the cookies are just the latest move for a determined couple constantly moving forward.
“We don’t like to stay stagnant,” Brooke says in a chat at their Green Lake cafe, as sunbathers stop by for snack breaks and delivery drivers pick up stacks of packed boxes. “I guess we always look for the next way to learn and grow and be better, and take the next step and do something more.”
Brooke was raised in Redmond and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, with an externship at the 5-star Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville. Tomas was raised in Santa Marta, Colombia, with a family in the coffee trade, co-founding and marketing his own coffee company.
A school mentor connected Brooke with a bakery in Colombia that needed an on-site chef to oversee its line of pastries. Tomas was working on getting his coffee beans into stores. They met weeks after Brooke arrived.
“I don’t want to say the rest is history,” Brooke says, but it kind of was.
The couple started their own Colombian cafe, featuring his coffee and her pastries. When she longed to return to the Northwest, they started over here.
The international move was a big step, but Tomas says there was nothing to lose. “We knew we had a passion for building something … It was just, we feel driven by what we want to accomplish together. So let’s do it.”
Working “entry-level” jobs at an Eastside bakery, he recalls, they donated dinners for 10 as an auction prize to a children’s nonprofit they support, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) USA. “What’s your catering company?” diners asked after the meal. So they founded Table Catering Co., working weddings and other events.
Then came daughter Isabella. They’d scoop dough for their company’s signature cookies with her in a carrier on their backs.
Soon after that, less delightfully, came COVID-19. Catering businesses crashed.
A friend told them, “I know you make great cookies. I want to send a box of cookies to 15 relatives around the country to say, ‘I’m thinking of you.’ ”
That accelerated an earlier thought they’d had about a separate cookie business, and that grew into a popular little storefront window out of their catering kitchen.
As the industry started to recover, though, they realized there wouldn’t be space for both projects.
“Should we turn this kind of dream off and make it a good memory of what the pandemic was for us? Or should we go all out?” Tomas asked.
The Green Lake shop opened last summer. (Table is still operating, too.)
Touring their open kitchen, which is visible to lake passersby through big glass windows, Tomas points out the standard KitchenAid mixer that started their endeavor. Now the 80-quart Hobart model anchoring the room is their go-to machine. “We used to hand-scoop a whole batch, which is roughly 500 cookies,” he says. Now onlookers can see a machine portion out dough, reducing both time and wrist strain.
It’s a bonus to have a recipe developer for a parent. The business is named for Isabella, now 3, and a cookie is named after her: “The Bells,” with toffee chips, potato chips, pecans and chocolate. Customers benefit, too: A crunchy mix-in for their “confetti” cookie got even more seductive the day they ran short on vanilla, and Brooke substituted toasted marshmallow syrup.
Corn cookies are the most unusual standouts; Brooke developed them with three types of corn flour.
“To a Colombian, I won’t say, ‘Oh, try that cookie; it is an arepa,’ but it definitely brings to (mind) an arepa that Brooke and I love that has cheese inside, and you eat it when you’re by the road, when you’re going to a farm, (for instance), to ride a horse,” Tomas says.
The goal is a cookie “that gives you a smile or brings back a happy memory,” he says.
What’s significant for them overall, he adds, is that they built the shop “with intention.”
The railings were made by Brooke’s father. They brought in lamps from Colombia instead of going with the contractor’s stock lighting. A namesake bell in the shop is rung when a customer buys two dozen cookies.
“That, for a 10-year-old kid, is going to stick in their mind positively, right?” says Tomas.
If it all goes the way they hope, then they’ll specialize in something more than nostalgia — they’ll be the spot where new memories are made.