Small business life is not foreign to Vaughn Hill. Not too long ago, he spent his days self-employed as a freelance technology consultant, and established a couple of non-profit performing arts organizations in Pennsylvania. Hill realized that steering a company was natural for him; it was just a matter of finding the right niche. Little did he know, he wouldn’t have to look far. The opening of his bakery in November 2020 was a full-circle moment for the owner of yAAAs Cookies!
Hill started his journey as baker, dabbling with his grandmother Myrtle Hill’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, as a preteen.
“I did not discover the recipe until many years after my grandmother’s passing,” he said. “She passed when I was 9, and I did not find the recipe until my early teen years. It had always been there in my household, but I was the one who took it and used it the most.”
Enterprising from the beginning, he began selling his fresh-baked cookies during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays—a service he figured would be a welcome reprieve for cooks, planning large meals. Hill was correct, and his customer base grew to prove it.
As his entrepreneurial savvy increased, so did his product inventory, and he expanded his menu beyond the signature chocolate chip cookies, adding white chocolate chip, oatmeal, vegan, skinny cookies and gluten-free. His first foray as an online vendor began under the name “VaughnChris Cookies.” However, a few setbacks, including two relocations and finishing an Information Sciences and Technology degree, delayed Hill’s dream of one day owning a storefront. But he wasn’t deterred, not even by the pandemic, which was in full swing as he was preparing for an official launch.
“We started our business during the pandemic, and I didn’t have anything to compare to once the pandemic happened,” he explained. “So, I had no choice but to learn how to operate during the pandemic. Now, I feel as though, if I can operate during these crazy times, I can make it through anything.”
The years of fine-tuning his family recipe to make it his own and building a loyal customer base as the launching pad for the company have made his life-long dream a thriving reality.
“When I was about 24, I added different ingredients to the recipe to divert from the original and create a signature cookie for myself,” explained Hill. “Once I had ‘my’ recipe the way I wanted it, I started adding different toppings and building off of that original recipe to create different flavors. Now I have over 40 flavors at the bakery.”
Every batch of cookies is individually hand-scooped with real ingredients and freshly baked-to-order. An Invest Atlanta loan funded all the equipment that Hill would need to outfit his East Atlanta bakery and shop.
“It started out as a late-night activity because we were movie watchers back in the day,” Hill said. “It was all about popcorn, some sweets, and I was always ready to whip up some cookies real quick. Originally, it was only something to do at the house for my immediate family, and then it grew to cousins, neighbors, friends, friends of friends and now the world.”