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Money & Career

Finding Sweet Success After 50: Jon the Cookie Man

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Heading into the fall of 2008, Jon Piwowarczyk was riding high.

At 51, he “had it all.”  As a financial advisor in New Bedford, MA, he’d built a thriving practice and impressive personal portfolio – on paper, at least. Then came September and, as one Wall Street firm after another collapsed under a failing mortgage market, a financial recession set in that would last for nearly a decade.       

Within two years, financially over-extended, Jon had lost everything – job, savings, home, marriage and, worst of all, his self-esteem.    

“Like most on Wall Street, I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “Everything blew up.”

Telling his children that they were going to lose the home they’d grown up in was especially painful. At his age and with his recent track record, no one would hire him. He spent down his retirement account and sold personal antiques and even a treasured gold watch. One winter, he went without heat and water after his pipes burst and he couldn’t afford to get them repaired. He recalls making popcorn when the oil froze, “like molasses.” 

“I spent several years trying to find myself,” he says. “Day by day, dismantling my life, it was very depressing.”

Then, one day on a whim, he decided to make some chocolate chip cookies. He remembered his mother’s recipe and began adding his own touches. He thought it might offer a diversion. They turned out well, he said, and he started giving them out to friends and acquaintances. “Seeing people smile gave me a tremendous lift,” he recalls. “Then they started suggesting I should sell them.”

He had no idea how to go about it, but one day in the local newspaper, he read about a regular weekly farmer’s market near where he lived. “A light came down from above,” he recalls. “Cookies. Farmer’s market. Do it.” 

Jon rented a booth.  To his surprise, his inventory of cookies sold out within hours. After several weeks, customers began to line up awaiting his arrival.     

“I must have something here,” he thought.

It’s been hard work and a struggle but a labor of love.  Jon named his business Mad Good Cookie and expanded to other markets, festivals and even malls. He even takes online orders for holiday gifts from individuals and corporations. And today, he mans a central concession stand in the Sea Streak Fast Ferry Terminal at the New Bedford State Pier, where ferries churn to and from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. 

Mad Good Cookie, now a local mainstay, is more popular than ever, in no small part due to the popular character behind the counter – Jon.  Parents with children line up to banter with him.  Snapping a cookie in two behind the counter, he leans over and says, “Hi darling, I’ve got a broken cookie, no good to me. Would you like it?”  The kids eat this up; equally delighted, parents buy the “good ones” by the bagful.   

Jon’s grin is a mile wide during these interactions.  He loves seeing his customers, young and old, smile. Taped to his counter is a favorite hand-written note, from a repeat customer.  “Thank you John for the best cookies I have ever had in my 10 years living on this earth.  P.S.  Nicest person ever. Henry.”

Mad Good Cookie is growing.  It will soon feature a total of 13 varieties, including white chocolate with cranberries and cookies n’ cream, recently voted the top two cookies, respectively, at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair.  His dream is to expand throughout New England and beyond.  He’s already plotting new marketing strategies. Capital remains a constraint. He’s baked in kitchens shared by friends and a local church. He’s still learning hard lessons about being an entrepreneur.  But he remains undaunted and even optimistic. And he’s turned his reinvention into a measure of redemption. 

In his darkest hours, Jon wondered if he’d ever “find the bottom.” Today, he says, “I no longer question my self-worth.”

Recently, he reminisced with his daughter, now 26, about the turns in his life – and how good it feels to see his cookie business a burgeoning success. “Daddy,” she said, “the most important thing you’ve taught me is to never give up.”

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