Boise baker Mary Cogswell is only half-joking when she says the reason her husband fell for her was because she smelled like tomato basil bread.
“She used to set me up with that (bread) all of the time,” recalled Grant Beebe, who was impressed with all the baked goods that Cogswell made for him and fellow smokejumpers. “It was certainly part of the appeal.”
Cogswell’s Wildflour Bakery has won legions of fans over the past two decades – primarily through sales at the Boise Co-op but also more recently through Whole Foods – and now the bakery is finally getting a home of its own. The business will soon be moving into a new, nearly 2,000-square-foot building in Garden City that was designed to be a bakery.
Wildflour has long operated in a renovated, enlarged garage at Cogswell’s North End home. It’s not a huge space – just 500 square feet – but that’s much bigger than her home kitchen, which is where she launched the business in 1992.
The wholesale bakery’s three-person fulltime crew, including Cogswell, produces thousands of hand-made cookies, cakes, breads and other delectables each week. The ovens are fired up seven days a week. Baking starts at 5 a.m., and the first delivery is out the door by 9 a.m.
“My superpower is efficiency and busting ass,” said the 47-year-old Montana native, whose family moved from Great Falls to Boise when she was 13. She graduated from Boise High School in 1986.
Cogswell’s baked goods range from hearty-and-healthy (containing whole wheat, millet, flax, oats, and/or seeds) to simple decadence (salted chocolate chip cookie, anyone?). Cookies are her specialty – that’s 80 percent of her business – but she also makes cakes, muffins, scones, baked doughnuts and granola. They do not contain any preservatives.
Wildflour’s sales have nearly outstripped the capacity of the garage kitchen, and Cogswell will have to increase production to stock the shelves of the new Boise Co-op in the Village at Meridian (set to open this summer). She’ll also have to ramp up production when Whole Foods opens a second location in the Treasure Valley.
But capacity wasn’t the only reason for moving the bakery. Cogswell and Beebe, who have two children – daughter Charley, 9, and son Henry, 7 – want to return the family garage to traditional uses and to create some separation between work and home.
“Can you imagine never leaving the office?” Cogswell said. “I live at my job. It’s always there.”
REVITALIZING A NEIGHBORHOOD
The new building won’t just offer more space for baking and a proper business office. It will also allow Wildflour to expand into new things. The front of the bakery will feature a grab-and-go retail shop, offering coffee, espresso and baked goods.
Cogswell had been casually looking for a new location for the bakery for several years – but she stepped up the effort in recent months.
She couldn’t find any existing buildings close to her home that wouldn’t require $50,000 to $100,000 in upgrades to meet health codes (new plumbing, electrical, etc.) – and she didn’t want to sink that much money into a building she didn’t own. The buildings available for sale were $450,000 or more, and still needed upgrades. That’s why she decided to consider building the bakery from the ground up.
Cogswell’s private about Wildflour’s financials, but she said the business has been profitable from the get-go. She has obtained a loan and is tapping her savings to build the new bakery. She’s hoping to keep the entire budget for the project at under $250,000.
In March, she was driving around Garden City when she passed a “for sale by owner” sign on a vacant, weedy lot on 42nd Street, just south of Adams Street. The .17 acre lot was just the right size – not too big, not too small – and less than a 10-minute drive from her Boise North End home.
The lot at 304 E. 42nd St. is sandwiched between mobile homes and a storage facility. It’s close to Anser Charter School and a short walking distance from other businesses and residences, including Grasmick Produce, the UPS Customer Center, and the 64-unit Trailwinds apartment complex under construction at 42nd and Adams.
City officials were enthusiastic to hear that Cogswell’s proposal for the site – approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission in April – includes a retail component.
“We’re looking for uses that are going to start to engage people in that area,” Garden City Planner Jeff Lowe said.
The area south of Adams is zoned mixed-use commercial, while the area north of Adams is mixed-use residential. City officials want the 42nd and Adams area to be as pedestrian-friendly as possible, Lowe said.
Once the final plans for the bakery are submitted to the city and building permits are issued, Cogswell can break ground. She’s hopeful that will happen this summer, and if all goes well, the new bakery may be open by this fall.
Dan Spindler, owner of Gym Outfitters, is one of Wildflour’s devotees. He buys cookies once a week, and every Christmas gives his clients gift bags with a dozen assorted cookies.
“She makes excellent cookies, and they’re as healthy as a cookie can be,” he said.
Wildflour Bakery cookies are oversized, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Anyone who has ever baked more than one batch of cookies knows that consistency – getting them to come out the same way each time – is not easy.
“I think Mary takes for granted how dialed in she has her baking, how consistent her product really is,” said Mindy Haws, who worked for Wildflour for a couple of years before starting her own bakery, Sugar Whipped. “Sometimes the weather alone, or the humidity, can affect things.”
Cogswell perfected her recipes over the years, but hadn’t committed them to paper. Haws made her a laminated recipe book as a parting gift.
Cogswell’s first experiences baking were when she was just 8 years old. She’d help her grandma, Eloise, who would bake German chocolate cake to go with a meal of pork chops, apple sauce and asparagus.
“I learned to bake with her,” said Cogswell, who felt right at home working at bakeries in Ketchum during the summers before and after a year studying at the University of Oregon. She decided not to return to rainy Eugene.
She studied less than a year at the University of Montana before following a good friend’s suggestion that she try a year teaching English at a university in South-Central China (Hunan province). That was such an exhilarating experience that, after returning to Boise for nine months, she decided to do a second stint teaching in China, this time in southern China (Guangdong province).
“I became a much better person,” she said of what she gained by working in the most populated country in the world. “I figured out who I didn’t want to be ... so self-absorbed.”
When she returned to Boise, the then-22-year-old rented a small house in the North End and enrolled in an art class at Boise State University. She decided to see if she could make some money by selling fresh-baked goods at the Boise Co-op. Ken Kavanagh, the general manager at the time, was receptive and supportive of her efforts, Cogswell said.
“I got a high-profile space – a big space. That has made all the difference in the world,” Cogswell said. She made about $40 a day when she first started.
She got a roommate to help cover rent. Through her roommate, she met some local smokejumpers and brought them cookies. That’s how she met her husband, Grant Beebe.
“I was impressed that she was her own boss and ran her own show. I don’t think either of us envisioned it being as big as it is now,” said Beebe, who along with a friend, helped Cogswell convert the garage into a kitchen for Wildflour.
Cogswell’s business was solid when she shut it down in 1997, just five years after launching it. She and Beebe moved to Borneo, where he trained fire crews and she taught English. At that point, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life.
But the couple’s year abroad was a clarifying experience, and they couldn’t wait to return to the lives they’d left behind in Boise. They picked up where they left off, and Cogswell hasn’t looked back.
“Ever since then, I’ve never had any doubts. I’ve been super grateful,” she said.