Phyl Newbeck, Contributor

Matt Bonoma’s wife, Maggie, grew up in Vermont and he grew up in Massachusetts. “She wanted to raise our kids here and she worked on me for 15 years,” Bonoma said. “In 2019, the timing was right and so far it’s been wonderful. Charlotte is fantastic and the area offers everything we’ve been looking for.”

Matt Bonoma. Photo contributed.

Matt Bonoma. Photo contributed.

Bonoma is the new owner of Vermont Cookie Love in Ferrisburgh. Although he had never worked directly in the food industry, he believes the purchase isn’t as much of a departure from his previous work as one might think. For 10 years, Bonoma worked for Red Idea Partners in Colorado, which he described as “a consulting and early-stage venture capitalist business that worked almost exclusively in the food and beverage industry.” In 2016, BizWest Media named Bonoma one of their 40 under 40 honorees. “That was a fun honor to get,” he said. “I like to think it was part of being useful, helping businesses grow, and helping entrepreneurs. Now that I’m one myself, I know that there are more balls up in the air than you might think.”

Vermont Cookie Love differs from the companies Bonoma worked with in that it’s a well-established business. “That makes it easier and harder,” he said. “It’s easier because the business has a foundation, so we don’t have to struggle to gain traction with consumers.” Bonoma praised previous owner Paul Seyler for his work in developing the company. “We bought a foundation and now we can start building in areas where I see opportunities,” he said. “The nice thing about being the owner is we can build things that are interesting to me.”

Matt Bonoma. Photo contributed.

Photo contributed.

Among those areas Bonoma finds interesting are gift boxes and ecommerce. “Right now that’s a small part of what we do,” he said. “But who doesn’t love getting a big box of cookies in the mail?” Bonoma gave the example of sending someone a housewarming gift. “A lot of things will just get stuck in a drawer,” he said, “but sending cookies is an experience rather than just another ice cream scoop.” Bonoma also sees a future in business gifting. “A realtor is a good example,” he said. “Instead of a bottle of champagne you might not drink, why not send cookies, which say ‘home and comfort’ and feel like a natural fit?”

Bonoma is also intrigued by the thought of additional physical locations for Vermont Cookie Love. “Just seeing how passionately people are connected as a summertime tradition in Addison and Chittenden County,” he said, “I think we could have one in Burlington or Williston and Middlebury to increase the footprint and keep people from having to drive far for a cookie or a creemee.”

Bonoma is particularly fond of Vermont Cookie Love’s mocha milkshake and a chocolate creemee made with in-house chocolate sauce. On the cookie front, he’s partial to their oatmeal cookie, which he finds interesting because he had never been a fan of that product before. “In the past I wouldn’t have paid for one,” he said, “but it’s rich and buttery and reminds you of childhood. It’s my favorite, but you still can’t go wrong with classic chocolate chip.”

For now, Bonoma is trying to understand every part of the business. “I’ve spent time in the office, with customers, on the creemee window, ordering, baking and everything else,” he said. “You can’t have just one person who knows how to do particular tasks, like order ingredients.” Bonoma feels that the information he gets from interfacing with his employees and customers is invaluable. “You don’t get that information other than from experience,” he said.

Vermont Cookie Love currently has a mix of eight part-time and full-time employees with roughly double that number in the summer. “One of my priorities,” Bonoma said, “is to keep the business open during what is traditionally the off-season to stay connected to the community and our customers and offer secure and stable full-time employment.”

Although Bonoma wants to keep the things that have made Vermont Cookie Love popular, he also wants to add new cookie flavors and winter-based products like homemade hot chocolate and other baked goods. “I’m hoping to keep everything that’s great in place, but over time, incrementally add new things that people will love,” he said. “I love the experience of going to a favorite store or restaurant and seeing something new. I want people to have a little bit of that experience. What you love is still on the menu but you might find a new favorite.”