The Rise Of Crumbl: How Six Cookies Became A National Phenomenon (2024)

The Rise Of Crumbl: How Six Cookies Became A National Phenomenon (1)

The story behind America's fastest-growing dessert brand, from the kitchen table to global expansion.

By Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton

Visions of picture-perfect cookies tucked into iconic pink boxes danced in my head when I visited a Crumbl Cookies store for the first time. America had fallen head over heels for the cookie brand long before I decided to try it for myself. For months, the company's eye-catching baked goods flooded my Instagram feed. Still, I dismissed it as another social media trend and firmly resisted. Finally, the time had come to see what the fuss was about when a friend told me about her wedding-reception plans, which included a catering order of Crumbl cookies.

So, on a Monday afternoon in Denver, I joined three other customers waiting patiently for their orders. Employees bustled through the open-concept kitchen. On the gleaming countertop, the cookie flavors of the week sat on display in short rows. I recognized classics like semi-sweet chocolate chunk, but its dazzling neighbor, guava cake, piqued my interest. Then a nearby flavor unexpectedly pulled at my heartstrings: the brown sugar cinnamon cookie topped with crumbled Pop-Tarts transported me back to after-school snacks from my childhood pantry.

The Rise Of Crumbl: How Six Cookies Became A National Phenomenon (2)

Source: Crumbl Cookies

"Lisa?" an employee called. A woman stepped forward to claim her box, saying that she bought it for a special occasion: her eldest child was leaving for college. Another customer admitted, "I come here almost every day." He works for a pharmacy and often brings Crumbl cookies when he visits doctor's offices.

Then it hit me. Crumbl's popularity and swift takeover of the U.S.—with over 900 locations across 50 states in under six years—wasn't solely tied to the brand's cookies. Crumbl offers a treat that marks an experience: The celebration of newlywed bliss. The bittersweet departure of a loved one. The nostalgia of adolescence. Even the brightening of an average workday.

The cookies are meant to “bring people together,” says Crumbl co-founder and CEO Jason McGowan.

Crumbl began with a dream shared by McGowan and his cousin Sawyer Hemsley of creating their own cookie business. The dream went way back to childhood: Hemsley’s mother Laurie had always loved to bake cookies using recipes from her own mother's cookbook. Hemsley and Laurie would spend many hours baking cookies together and taking them to friends, family, and school and community events.

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McGowan and Hemsley didn’t hail from professional baking backgrounds; McGowan had technology-industry experience and Hemsley was pursuing a degree at Utah State University when they started working on Crumbl.

When they came across a storefront in Logan, Utah, set for demolition, they took a chance. Before ironing out crucial details like a recipe or a business plan, they secured the property and baking equipment—the first big steps toward making Crumbl a reality. Then they put their minds toward figuring out their actual product.

"We did all the things backward," McGowan said. "We don't ever recommend that to people."

Starting with a single flavor, their quest for "the perfect chocolate chip cookie" began in Hemsley's family kitchen. "We always said we want to do the world's best if we're going to put our name behind it," McGowan said. The cousins tried different recipes and switched out ingredients. They solicited family members and strangers at gas stations to taste-test their baked goods.

Once they landed on the perfect recipe, the pair opened the first Crumbl store in 2017, offering only chocolate chip cookies. "All of a sudden, the line just came out the door," McGowan said. "It's kind of been crazy ever since."

The co-founders soon brainstormed more flavors and baked around 11, but it quickly proved challenging to keep up with the daily demand for the different types of cookies. The solution (which became their calling card): To rotate the menu weekly and only feature six flavors at a time.

The Rise Of Crumbl: How Six Cookies Became A National Phenomenon (4)

Source: Crumbl Cookies

As the business grew, the idea of franchising Crumbl initially emerged as a way to bring relatives into the company and let them run their own stores. Like perfecting the cookie recipe, the co-founders were, and still are, very selective about who they work with.

Hemsley’s mother initially wanted to join the business in its early stages, but backed out with a few concerns shared by her husband. He called the pair later to say, “She is so mad I convinced her not to do this,” and offered to buy a share of the company. But by that point, the cousins had envisioned a brand built without the help of investors. As a self-funded business, “we’ve never actually had investors, even to this day,” McGowan said.

Crumbl’s first franchise location was in Bountiful, Utah. Before it opened, McGowan knew that the company’s future success hinged on the franchises working out. He worried about the launch and wanted to help them in any way he could, so he ended up building the store’s counter himself. Business in Bountiful boomed, outperforming their existing two stores. “And we were like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this thing might actually work,’” McGowan said.

To franchise with Crumbl, prospective owners find out information through a nondescript link on the company’s website, not through marketing. And that’s purposeful. “We never once have advertised that our franchise was for sale,” McGowan said. “We only wanted our franchise partners to be people who had actually tasted the product, enjoyed it, and wanted to bring it to where they are from.”

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Even now, the emphasis on family ties remains strong. Crumbl locations shutter on Sundays to let in-store team members spend time with loved ones, and corporate employees get Fridays off during the summer.

Brelynn Bromley, the operating owner of the Latham, NY, Crumbl store, started her career at the company's headquarters in 2020, right before what she describes as "the Crumbl boom." She attributes that explosion in popularity to more than just the cookies, with the pandemic leaving Americans hungry for new, accessible experiences. Bromley worked for around three years as vice president of support before deciding to take the plunge into franchise ownership. She moved across the country by herself to open the Latham store in early 2023.

The night before launch, she felt butterflies in her stomach. Bromley's fear: "No one's gonna show up," she said. "I will be the first Crumbl Cookies that gets no sales on their opening day."

Thirty seconds after she opened, her first customer entered the front door. The rest of opening week culminated in a whirl of emotions, with patrons waiting in line for hours for cookies. "You have so many feelings," Bromley said. "You're crying, you're laughing."

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She remembers that the introductory menu included the s'mores cookie, which Bromley described as "one of our more difficult cookies.” Little did Bromley know it would become the store's most popular flavor. Bromley now employs 60 staffers at her Latham location and is excited to open her second store in Clifton Park, NY, in early October.

“We are a Crumbl family,” she said. “There’s definitely a level of authenticity that I’d never really seen in a corporate world.”

But for the fans, it’s all about the ever-growing list of rotating cookies flavors. "What's special about Crumbl is the menu's the same across the country," McGowan said. So, even if loved ones are separated physically, they can share the hype over the constantly changing cookies.

The newest flavors on the menu include pink velvet cake, banana cream pie, and pumpkin cheesecake. And patrons can always take a chance on the mystery cookie one week out of every month. McGowan's longtime favorite, brownie batter, was recently usurped by the cowboy cookie.

Out of a whopping 257 total flavors sold in stores, the chocolate crumb cake with Oreo cookie reigns supreme as the bestseller. The everything bagel cookie is the lowest selling.

The cousins credit their success to a commitment to perfecting their product, word-of-mouth, and social media. The company doesn’t pay influencers for advertisem*nts. “It’s all just natural and organic growth that just happened from people really loving the product and wanting to share it online,” McGowan said.

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The brand's TikTok account, which walks viewers through the baking process, their ingredients, and the best and worst performing flavors of the month, has cultivated 7 million followers. By comparison, 4.5 million users follow Nike, and McDonald's has 4 million. According to the New York Times, Crumbl is now the country's fastest-growing dessert chain, with 915 locations. Its closest competitor, Insomnia Cookies, has opened around 250 stores since its establishment in 2003.

Crumbl's next goal is to become a global brand, and there are five locations in Canada already. Bromley wholeheartedly believes in the brand’s power and future potential. “I want to be everything that Crumbl is as a brand. If they can do it, I can do it,” she said. “It truly is something special.”

Photography by Philip Friedman | Food styling by Taylor Ann Spencer | Visuals by Cindy Roblero | Art direction by Carlos Dominguez

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The Rise Of Crumbl: How Six Cookies Became A National Phenomenon (2024)
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