You may not know Karen Derenbecker Davis by name, but if you get out and about town, for example to festivals and the Tuesday afternoon Cash and Carry Farmers’ Market, you’ve likely seen this civic-minded Lake Charles transplant. She’s the vendor selling the tempting giant cookies in irresistible varieties like The Original (her secret recipe cookie dough filled with premium white, semi-sweet, and milk chocolate chips), Snickerdoodle (with an unexpected twist, and trust me, you’ll love it), Coffee and Cream Cheese (a crowd favorite), and the Stuffed Enuffs, filled with whole brownies, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Oreos, Almond Joys, and more.
Davis started her Yes Me Cookie business last January. Unlike most entrepreneurs, her business objective is not to make a personal profit. She calls Yes Me Cookie a "social enterprise,” defined as a business whose primary purpose is to benefit the community. Davis sells her cookies for $4.00 each. (Considering their humongous size, this is a reasonable price.) A dollar from every cookie Davis sells goes to charity. She also sells cookie trays for corporate meetings or parties and donates $5.00 from every tray sold to charity. Since January, she has chosen a different non-profit group each month and has donated to organizations such as Abraham’s Tent, St. Nicholas Center for Children, the Arts and Humanities Council, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). To date, Davis has donated approximately $2500.00 to local charities.
Driven to Donate
Davis lives by the motto, "You Get, You Give.” This New Orleans native first started baking cookies as a fundraiser for the ballet school her daughters attended in the early 2000s. "People couldn’t get enough of them,” she says.
In 2012, she read Blake Mycoskie’s (founder of Tom’s Shoes) book "Start Something that Matters.” For every pair of shoes Mycoskie sells, he donates a pair of shoes to a needy child in an underprivileged country. His book and his philosophy resonated with Davis.
"I thought what he does is wonderful,” says Davis. "I wanted to wake up every day and do more than just make money. I wanted to make a difference.”
After being displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Davis family moved around a bit -- Madison, Wis., San Antonio, and Austin, Tx. But she was homesick. "Louisiana never left me,” she says. In November 2014, Davis moved to Lake Charles with her husband, who works for Saltgrass Steak House at the Golden Nugget. She fell in love with southwest Louisiana immediately. After she settled into her new home, she sought an outlet to serve the lake area community. "I looked in my own backyard and saw there are people in need. I believe God has given us gifts that we’re to use. We all have our talents to tap into to benefit the community. There are so many organizations out there who are working hard to help others. I knew I couldn’t be everywhere, so I decided to help organizations financially by selling my cookies. I knew I had a good product.”
Compassion from the Kitchen
Davis creates her own recipes, saying she has a "feel for ingredients.” Interestingly, she prefers cooking over baking, saying "Cooking is creative; baking is a science.” But the baking is for a good cause. She makes approximately 5-6 dozen cookies a day; some days up to 10 dozen. Currently she does it on her own, (with a hand-held mixer!) but she is looking into soliciting some help from volunteer organizations. Her cookie making technique for the thick chewy confections is a guarded secret, so only she and her husband can make the dough and form them into balls. But they could use some help with the baking, events, and deliveries. Davis hopes her own example will inspire other small business owners to start a social enterprise, and give back with every sale. "It can be done,” she says.
Through the summer months, Davis plans to collect money and purchase needed items for charities that benefit children. Because of the heat and the fact that chocolate melts, she can’t sell her cookies at outdoor festivals through the summer. They can be purchased at Cotton’s Downtown, LeBleu’s Landing, 171 Junction Roadhouse (who sponsored a cookie tray raffle to help the autism group), and the Tuesday afternoon Cash and Carry Farmer’s Market. She also hopes to sell them in Golden Nugget’s Employee Dining Room (thousands of employees) soon.
Davis recently had a conversation with Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach. She says he likened the community to a patchwork quilt made of tiny fabric squares, each unique. Every individual is part of a larger whole. Davis concurs and asks, "What does your block represent?”