Night Owl baked 750,000 cookies last year.
Night Owl baked 750,000 cookies last year.
Courtesy of Night Owl Cookie Co.

Night Owl, Phenomenom, and Cindy Lou's Bring Cookies to Miami

Around midnight on a humid summer night in 2017, about 60 customers — some drunk, some sober, some college students, some senior citizens — swirled around the Southwest Miami-Dade storefront of Night Owl Cookie Co. (10534 SW Eighth St., Miami; nightowlcookieco.com). The line had been moving steadily all evening as 27-year-old owner Andrew Gonzalez sold the 3,000 cookies he had baked that day.

Among the first to go were the Ave Marias, made with guava dough, white chocolate chips, and cream cheese frosting. Also out of stock, with four hours left till the posted closing time of 4 a.m., were the s'mores cookies. Gone too were the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cookies.

In fact, as a middle-aged man and woman who had driven up from the Keys finally reached the front of the line, Gonzalez looked down to realize he was completely sold out.

"How do you tell someone that waited for almost 40 minutes that you've run out of everything?" he remembers. "It isn't easy."

On the corner of Coral Way and SW 107th Avenue near Florida International University, Night Owl's tiny, 700-square-foot store churned out more than 750,000 cookies in 2017, averaging about 2,000 per day and ringing up more than $1.5 million in sales.

This past June, Gonzalez expanded into a 2,000-square-foot space located a mile north, potentially breaking the record for the largest cookie shop in the nation. (Guinness World Records will send Gonzalez a certificate in the next few months, he says.) By 2019, he plans to debut a third store, in Wynwood.

Through Night Owl, Gonzalez has built a multimillion-dollar business by selling $2 doughnut-size cookies. Other bake shops offering similarly embellished cookies, such as Phenomenom in South Beach and Cindy Lou's in Little Haiti, have followed suit.

"There were cookie shops all over the country, but [not in] Miami," Gonzalez says. "So I dropped out of college, and here I am. It's me and my abuela baking 15,000 cookies a week and delivering them all over the city."

Phenomenom owner Chuck Woodard
Phenomenom owner Chuck Woodard
Courtesy of OnBrand Communication

The cookie — derived from the Dutch word koekje, which means "small cake" — has been a staple in American pantries since the dawn of the Oreo in the early 1900s. In the late '70s, Mrs. Fields debuted in California with chocolate chip and white chocolate macadamia varieties. They proved to be a sensation, transforming a small company into a $450 million business with more than 700 locations in 33 countries, according to the financial planning company LearnVest.

Then, in 2003, came Insomnia Cookies. Born in a college dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania, the company built a massive following through late-night cookie delivery. It has since grown to more than 100 locations, including one in South Beach that opened in early 2014. Other smaller artisanal shops are spread across the nation, from Milk Jar Cookies in Los Angeles to Levain Bakery in New York City.

One of South Florida's most interesting cookie meccas is located in Miami's Little River neighborhood. Cindy Kruse offers more than 30 kinds of cookies, from salted double chocolate filled with Nutella to guava coconut, cheesecake, and lemon. All are made in her namesake shop, Cindy Lou's (7320 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-456-8585; cindylouscookies.com). Kruse, a local baker and former pastry chef at the Fontainebleau and Barton G, left the corporate world five years ago, swapping high-tech kitchens for a small oven stashed in her garage. With more than 25 years of experience, Kruse developed a budding wholesale business selling to popular spots such as Jimmy'z Kitchen, Organic Bites, and Vice City Bean.

Her shop, which opened in April 2017, offers a mix of traditional and experimental flavors. The seven-layer cookie combines pretzels, potato chips, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, oats, graham crackers, and marshmallows, while the loaded peanut butter calls for a Kit Kat bar, Reese's peanut butter cups, peanuts, toffee, and peanut butter chips. Each wide, flat cookie weighs around five ounces and sells for about $3.50.

"We didn't invent the wheel when it comes to cookies," she says. "Everyone has their own twist."

Phenomenom lures diners via enormous cookies that are available until the wee hours of the morning. The company began in Davie with third-pound cookies paired with nitrogen ice cream. After expanding to Boca Raton and Pinecrest, Phenomenom arrived in South Beach (413 15th St., Miami Beach; 786-216-3478; phenomenom320.com) in March 2018. This location ditched the ice cream for a cookies-only concept.

Created by 26-year-old Chuck Woodard, best known for conceptualizing Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream in Pinecrest in 2012, Phenomenom makes six-ounce cookies, comparable in size to a doughnut. Priced at $4 each, they have a distinctly moist and gooey texture and a soft center. Unlike Cindy Lou's cookies, Phenomenom's are a mouthful, with a thicker and heavier exterior. They are available in flavors such as M&M's, Oreo, s'mores, half-and-half, and sugar sprinkle.

"For a long time, cookies were an untapped market," Woodard says. "It's funny because cookies are a lot more complicated than making ice cream. We're not talking Pillsbury cookies that are an ounce and a half. We're making them four times the size and garnishing each one by hand."

Back on Eighth Street, Night Owl is the biggest cookie shop Miami has ever seen. Since changing locations, Gonzalez has doubled production to about 30,000 cookies per week. "We'll definitely be using larger mixers," he says with a chuckle.

Phenomenom's cookies
Phenomenom's cookies
Courtesy of OnBrand Communication

In late 2013, with six credits left until graduation, Gonzalez, a Cuban-American with a perfectly trimmed beard and a well-padded head of hair, dropped out of Miami Dade College. He also quit his job and spent hours baking in his mother's house in West Kendall. He built a steady home business, personally delivering hundreds of cookies per night throughout the area.

By 2016, Gonzalez had rented a small storefront near Florida International University and asked his 66-year-old Cuban grandmother, Olga Vega, to quit her job cleaning houses to bake at Night Owl. Since then, the two have run Night Owl's entire production, in which a secret recipe is mixed, divided, and rolled into five-ounce pieces for baking. "Even as we grow, it's still just my grandmother and I," he says.

Inside Night Owl's new and larger cotton-candy-colored location on SW Eighth Street, the walls are splashed with Miami-inspired images such as pink flamingos, blue palm trees, and a hot-pink skyline with an orange sunset. The space offers about 1,000 square feet of seating and a clear-case bar filled with sprinkles.

In the back, Night Owl's production has moved into a 1,000-square-foot kitchen. Prep for a day's worth of cookies begins around 5 a.m., not long after the lights out front shut off at 2 a.m. weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends. While a staff of about 30 does the late-night selling, Gonzalez and his grandmother prepare five base doughs — plain, lemon, guava, dark chocolate, and plantain — and then cook them throughout the day. After each cookie is baked for eight minutes, a small team adds rainbow sprinkles, frosting, gooey marshmallows, and/or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The cookies are a middle ground between Cindy Lou's and Phenomenom: not as thick but just as warm and gooey.

Sometime this summer, Gonzalez's original store on Coral Way will transform into Rolled by Andrew, a new dessert shop specializing in warm cinnamon rolls. They'll be available day and night for pickup and delivery in a range of flavors, from Nutella to Oreo and guava.

"Night Owl will always be my number one," he says, "but baking cookies was never just about me. It's about bringing something to Miami that hasn't been done before."

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