News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 26, 2012

‘Sharks’ TV show has an appetite for Blondie’s

TERRE HAUTE — Blondie’s Cookies founder and CEO Brenda Coffman has “wonderful memories” of her years in Terre Haute, when she attended Indiana State University and her husband attended Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Married right after high school, the couple lived in ISU’s Married Student Housing, where Blondie’s Cookies got its start.

But back then, during her sophomore year at ISU around 1984, she called it Mrs. C’s Cookie Cabin. “I had a little tiny oven that only baked 12 cookies at a time, and I would bake all day Friday and Saturday. I’d sell them at my husband’s fraternity house Friday and Saturday nights.”

She sold to students and faculty from both colleges as well as a café in West Terre Haute.

“I had lots of volunteer tasters” at the fraternity house, she said.

In 1985, Coffman opened her first retail store, called Blondie’s Cookies, at Markland Mall in Kokomo, her hometown. Today, Blondie’s has nine locations in Indiana — including Honey Creek Mall in Terre Haute — and four stores in Florida.

Based in Greentown, it also operates a mail order and fundraising division. She proudly notes that Blondie’s made more than 3,000 cookies for a Superbowl VIP Tailgate party hosted by the NFL on Feb. 5.

Now, Coffman is pitching her cookies to some real “Sharks.”

Coffman will appear on the hit ABC series “Shark Tank” on April 13; the program will air from 8 to 9 p.m. (ET).

Shark Tank is a reality show that premiered in 2009. Wealthy investors  — the “sharks “— consider pitches by entrepreneurs who are seeking investors for their business or product.

Season Three of the show includes “sharks” Mark Cuban, billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks; real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran; technology innovator Robert Herjavec; fashion and branding expert Daymond John; and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary.

Coffman said her office manager, Lisa Downs, “loves the show” and kept telling her, “You need to do this.” Downs contacted the show, and there were several interviews.

Finally, “They flew us out to Los Angeles and we filmed in September,” Coffman said. She can’t provide details about what happened or the outcome. Eighty-eight businesses made a pitch for 54 slots this season.

The goal is to gain one or more investors “and have the backing of their expertise, their leverage and their capital,” Coffman said.

The overall experience was “fabulous,” she said. “I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Asked if the “sharks” lived up to the show’s name, she said, “They are what they are … They don’t call them sharks for no reason.”

While she can’t comment on what happens in the show, her goals for Blondie’s Cookies are “to continue to expand,” taking her cookies and other products into stadiums, amusement parks and shopping networks such as QVC.

Corporate clients have included the NFL and Reebok.

“We know our product is the best and we want to get it to as many people as we can,” she said. “We can’t always do it with brick-and-mortar locations,” which can be costly.

She sees a “great need” for Blondie’s Cookies at amusement parks — cookies don’t melt in hot weather, she said. “We see a great opportunity to align ourselves with those types of venues,” she said.

Coffman, 48, fell nine hours short of completing a bachelor’s degree at ISU — she returned to Kokomo to take advantage of an opportunity and opened the first Blondie’s retail store while her husband finished his degree at Rose-Hulman.

But she has good memories of her college years. “It kind of fashioned the course of our lives,” she said. “Terre Haute has always been near and dear to us.”

She said she always tells her daughter, who is a college senior, “to enjoy every moment of that time. It’s fun. You have an opportunity to explore things and learn things and apply them without a lot of day-to-day responsibility.”

The couple also has a 17-year-old son.

Coffman said she used to come back to Terre Haute a lot, although not as much lately. She praised her staff at the Terre Haute store, including manager Barbie Fox and assistant manager Blair Shelton.

Blondie’s Cookies has had a store at Honey Creek Mall for 221⁄2 years. “We have a wonderful relationship with the city of Terre Haute,” she said.

The business has weathered some difficult economic times, both after9⁄11 and in 2009. But one thing the business hasn’t done is sacrifice the quality of its product, she said.

By maintaining high quality, customers keep coming back for Blondie’s Cookies, which Coffman says “are the best in the country, hands down.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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