Brad Kaplan's delivery-only business is embarking on a retail bakery in Grandview.
Lion Cub’s didn’t invent the uber-thick cookie. Manhattan’s Levain Bakery is probably the best known exemplar of the genre: stupefyingly stout cookies, crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle, that miraculously don’t spread out once hitting the heat of the oven.
Nor was the Lion Cub’s recipe handed down from past generations. It was instead born from founder Brad Kaplan’s penchant for warm cookies straight from the oven, Google searching and near-obsessive tinkering with ingredients and methods—possibly the result of his civil engineering background. No matter how they were conceived, these are some wonderful cookies.
A graduate of OSU’s Fisher College of Business, Kaplan says he “started baking out of nowhere” as a hobby while in grad school. Desiring a huge, gooey cookie, Kaplan says he began running controlled experiments—removing an ingredient here, adding another there—until the result was something delicious and unique to Columbus. Naming his company Lion Cub’s after the nickname his father gave to him (he had a wild head of hair as a kid), Kaplan sold his first cookie in late December 2019.
“There was no one doing cookies the way we were doing it, like big and warm,” Kaplan says. Insomnia Cookies, a national chain that specializes in warm cookie delivery, is the closest competitor, but its cookies are thinner and targeted at college students with the 2 a.m. munchies.
Before the pandemic, Kaplan planned to ease into the business through a series of pop-ups that would reach 20- to 30-something year-old women (and their kids). That plan worked out splendidly at first: Kaplan was seeing long lines during pop-ups every other week at the North Market, and the cookies went viral on Columbus Instagram feeds.
“Social media is really what catapulted it, because you have this product that's very, very photogenic and very unique. So, everyone's taking photos of it and sharing it and even still to this day, it's not easy to get your hands on our cookies,” Kaplan says. "It was like an exclusive club.”
Then, as the coronavirus outbreak began to spread in March, the pop-ups ceased. Kaplan had no plan for delivery until two of his part-time employees lost their other jobs. Kaplan says they came to him soon after the shutdown began. “You're our only source of employment,” he recalls them saying. “If there's anything you can do to keep us busy, that would be great.” Kaplan couldn’t simply schedule more pop-ups to give them hours, so he set to work creating the delivery model that is now at the heart of his business.
“It taught me a lesson that if you do the right thing, especially, in life and in business, that good things will happen,” he says. “And the fact that we have been able to take advantage of what's been a crappy situation with COVID-19 all stemmed from doing something for the right reason.”
Less than a year after selling its first cookies, Lion Cub’s is running out of room to grow, producing a maximum 2,000 cookies a week from an incubator kitchen. In October, Kaplan announced that he has leased his own space in Grandview. (A crowdfunding campaign for equipment has already surpassed its $40,000 goal.) The new location, a former stationery store at 1261 Grandview Ave., will house all of Lion Cub’s operations under one roof: a retail bakery, production space and delivery hub.
“You step outside and you're like, ‘OK, we’ve got Stauf's like two doors down. We’ve got Jeni's three doors down. There's a kid's store [Cub Shrub] right next door,’ ” Kaplan says. “You put all those things together, you throw a cookie company in the mix, and you have four brands that complement each other extremely well. So, we're all going to benefit from that.”
The new shop, which is expected to open in spring 2021, will allow Lion Cub’s to quadruple its current cookie production and offer a broader range of flavors to complement its already popular varieties such as puppy chow, cookies and cream, and chocolate chip.
For now, you can have Lion Cub’s Cookies delivered warm by ordering at lioncubscookies.com. Current delivery areas include Hillard, Dublin, Easton, Gahanna, New Albany, Westerville, Worthington, Downtown, Short North, Grandview, German Village, Campus, Franklinton, Bexley, Near East Side, and parts of Upper Arlington and Clintonville.
To read more about local bakers, pick up a copy of Columbus Monthly's December issue, now on newsstands. For our cover story, we talked with Central Ohio retail bakers and home bakers alike about technique, inspiration and baking through the pandemic.