SAN DIEGO – With Black History Month well underway, many San Diego businesses have looked to incorporate ways to honor African-American trailblazers and changemakers, including one shop that is doing so through delicious cookies.
Maya’s Cookies in Mission Valley launched a collection of Black History Month cookies earlier this month to pay tribute to important Black figures, using unique flavors inspired by those individuals to honor their contributions to their field.
“Cookies make people happy, so it was an opener to maybe show people or teach them some alternative Black history and to highlight Black excellence,” owner Maya Madsen said to FOX5SanDiego.com.
Madsen founded Maya’s Cookies back in 2015. It started out as a “side hustle” – a way to supplement her income to support her two children in college.
A vegan herself, she wanted to fill a void that many with dietary restrictions like that have when it comes to sweets, so she started selling her cookies at farmer’s markets and later settled into a storefront in Mission Valley.
The Black History Month collection came along a little later, Madsen said. She came up with the first collection in 2021, finding inspiration from Debbie Allen’s “Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” in Los Angeles, baseball star Hank Aaron’s passing and Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb.”
The cookies in the Black History Collection are designed around the stories of their inspiration, featuring ingredients sourced from Black-owned vendors and businesses.
The flavors of this year’s line, Madsen said, are centered around changemakers within the arts: ballet dancer Misty Copeland, singer Patti Labelle and author Britt Bennet.
Madsen takes months of planning for these cookies, pulling inspiration from what is going on in the world – from pop culture to sports to current events. Once she nails down a flavor based on whatever strikes inspiration, she’ll build the final product cookie around that.
“It’s an art,” Madsen said of her cookie making process. “I really have to turn off the business side of my brain and turn on my creative side”
“The Prodigy,” which is the cookie based on dancer Misty Copeland and her mentor Raven Wilkinson, combines notes of champagne, strawberries and sparkle sugar as an homage to Black women making history in ballet and the dance world.
Misty Copeland was the first African-American woman to become a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theater in its 75-year history.
“The Chart-Topper” is the second cookie in this year’s collection based on “Godmother of Soul,” Patti Labelle, specifically drawing inspiration from her lesser known baking talents to make a peach cobbler-inspired cookie.
The last cookie in the Black History Month collection is an ode to literary arts, “The Best Seller,” based around Britt Bennett’s novel, “The Vanishing Half.” Bennett’s novel is centered around twin sisters who choose to live in different worlds: one black and one white.
Madsen’s cookie marbles together several flavors as a nod to the duality of the book’s main characters, using red velvet, brown sugar chocolate chunk and salted caramel fudge.
“Every year, I wonder if I’m going to be able to do it and every year it comes together beautifully,” she said.
While Madsen enjoys channeling her creativity into creating these cookies, she is especially proud of what her business and this line means to other Black families in the community.
“Representation is really important,” Madsen said. “I love seeing the joy when I see my customers come in with their daughters, (wanting) to meet me and say hi to show their daughters a Black founder doing exciting, fun creative things.”
But, being a Black entrepreneur, she said she still gets a handful of negative comments about her work and this collection – an experience she explained is unique to minority owned businesses.
“We have received comments and messages and emails from people that don’t like that we’re highlighting Black history and Black businesses,” she said. “One of the comments I received was, ‘I don’t support this woke agenda,’ and that’s not what I’m trying to do…I’m just trying to share delicious cookies with the world and highlight other female and Black-owned founders.”
Nevertheless, Madsen strives to continue using her work as a baker in a way that supports her community and other businesses like hers.
“Cookies make people happy,” Madsen continued. “It blows me away that I was able to come up with something delicious and meaningful.”