When Kristen Tomlan opened DŌ, her raw cookie-dough store in New York City in January, she hoped people would be curious enough about her gourmet, nostalgic desserts to come in for a taste.
She was shocked when, during the first week of business, two-hour lines had formed around the block. “We were unprepared for how popular it was going to be,” Tomlan, 29, tells PEOPLE in the latest issue, on newsstands now. “We were turning people away!”
She quickly enlisted her husband, Chris, 31, and her parents, her sister, her brother and her brother-in-law to do everything from scoop dough to wash dishes.
Today the shop sells up to 1,800 lbs. of raw dough a day, as well as dough milkshakes, dough pies and fully baked treats. “Our dough is different from a cupcake or a scoop of ice cream,” Tomlan says of her recipes, made with pasteurized eggs and heat-treated flour. “It can be eaten raw, baked or made into other treats.”
Tomlan may seem like an overnight success, but the entrepreneur turned pastry chef was laying the groundwork for years. As a kid in St. Louis, “I had a sweet tooth,” she says. “I grew up baking and loved experimenting and making a big mess.”
That interest continued when she relocated to Manhattan after college to work as a brand-strategy consultant. But she didn’t fully embrace it until she found herself in the burn unit of New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center for 21 days with a near-fatal reaction to an antibiotic. “After all that happened to me,” she says, “I thought why not do something I really enjoy?”
WATCH THIS: DŌ Founder, Kristen Tomlan, Shows Us How to Make Unicorn Cookies!
Tomlan began to mention to coworkers her idea for a cookie-dough shop. “I knew nothing about starting a business, but I knew how to bake and I knew about branding and design,” she says, and created preliminary plans and a poppy logo for her dream business. She tested recipes in her tiny 450-sq.-ft. Brooklyn apartment, got a food handler’s license, moved in two industrial freezers and launched an online business, selling tubs of dough in classic base flavors like chocolate chip and sugar cookie.
For more on Tomlan and an exclusive recipe from DŌ, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.
“I’d come home from work and make dough until 4 a.m. every night,” she says.
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Thanks to social media and word of mouth, business “snowballed so quickly” that she quit her day job and set her sights on a brick-and-mortar location.
Although running a small business can be difficult with 15-hour days, “it doesn’t feel like work!” she insists. “This isn’t just my job; this is my life.”