In Corktown, self-starter Mary Beth Carolan is turning out sweet treats with a uniquely Detroit name. Over the course of nine years, What Up Dough take-and-bake cookies — named for the local colloquial greeting (see Tone-Tone’s “What Up Doe” for reference) — has slowly grown from a simple idea to a profitable business.
Carolan always had a natural inclination toward baking. For her high school graduation party, she baked 300 cookies. But the take-and-bake idea came to her in the winter of 2006 when a friend tried to persuade her to bake cookies as inexpensive Christmas presents.
Instead of giving cookies as gifts, she opted to give out ready to bake cookie dough. Her brother, an economist who knows a thing or two about working with dough, urged her to consider turning the take-and-bake cookie idea into a business opportunity.
Carolan and a helpful friend began drafting business plans, mission statements, and community surveys, but never sold a single roll of dough. “We were just giving it away, and [doing] what we thought was starting a business,” she says.
After putting the business on hold for a few years to pursue a career as a professor of art and design, she re-launched What Up Dough (WUD) in 2012. The funny and punny moniker was a friend’s suggestion, Carolan says, that served as a stand in for years, and it was so great it became permanent.
After making a batch and selling it, Carolan started with door-to-door deliveries and eventually landed a retail spot at Parker Street Market in West Village.
Business remained that way for almost a year, then Carolan took the leap and made WUD a full-time gig. She expanded availability from one outlet to six, and in the next month, doubled it to 12.
“It was a strange feeling to jump off that cliff,” she says. But the response — and cash flow — has been positive, since day one.
Surprisingly, Carolan doesn’t consider herself a “sweets” person. “If I have a dessert, I want it to be totally over the top,” she says. So she only uses high-quality ingredients to create decadent, wholesome cookies that function as every-once-in-a-while treats.
Carolan’s favorite is Southern Seduction (a take on the classic chocolate chip cookie). It combines milk chocolate chips, dark chocolate shavings, pecans, orange zest, oats, spices, and a hint of bourbon. Other flavors include Mocha Caramel, P’nut Butter S’more, and seasonal specials.
After each batch is made, Carolan rolls the dough in parchment paper specifically sized for a baking sheet. The result is a neatly packaged treat that’s dangerously easy to pop in the oven.
Though WUD operates out of the kitchen at Detroit Institute of Bagels in Corktown, Carolan’s sights are set on expanding into her own neighborhood location.
Until then, however, she’s content to keep the dough business rolling. “It feels like a giant art project,” she says.
WUD has branched out, too. With her brother’s help, she constructed a bike cart to sell “Icebergers” — ice cream sandwiched between two WUD cookies. With these, the pun-loving Carolan has been “pedaling” products at farmers markets, Slow Rolls, and other events.
For more information, visit whatupdough.co.