by Wiley Henry
Mary Nelson calls her cookie baking business “Mary’s Homemade Butterlicious Cookies.” Butterlicious is an apt description for the sweet, savory, butter-flavored cookies that she launched from her home 10 years ago with a recipe from her niece.
“If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be called ‘The Cookie Lady.’ The butter cookies started with her,” said Nelson, who tweaked the recipe to enhance the flavor of the cookie to make it her own delectable treat.
Then she tested the market by allowing potential customers to sample her growing product line: strawberry, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, German chocolate, red velvet, lemon, lemon butter, lemon berry, Snickerdoodles, and peanut butter rice crispy treats with a dribble of chocolate.
“Butter cookies are my specialty, my No. 1 seller,” she said.
Nelson started getting repeat orders for her cookies about five years ago. “I get teary-eyed when they want to order again,” she said. “I’m amazed. I’m in awe of what God is doing.”
She makes repeated deliveries to Antonia’s Full Glamour Salon in the Hickory Hill community, where several loyal customers can’t seem to get enough of her cookies. Many of them, she said, convince others to purchase a batch or more.
“They say, ‘Man, you got to get these cookies.’”
Like a politician stumping for votes, Nelson canvases the community for customers. She also uses social media. “Before I go into a place of business, I talk to the owner to make sure it’s OK,” she said. “Reno, my son’s barber, says it’s OK and encourages people to try my cookies.”
Nelson loves baking cookies. However, the love of baking isn’t enough. “What got me into it was my way of getting out of debt. I have to provide for my son,” said Nelson, who was married to Robert Nelson Jr.’s father when she first started baking cookies.
Divorced for two years, Nelson uses the money from her cookie sales to supplement her income as a dental lab technician. Her son, now 10 years old, gives her a helping hand sometimes when he gets home from STAR Academy, a charter school at Golden Gate Cathedral.
“He has a lot of wisdom for his age,” she said. “He keeps me going.”
Nelson works fulltime at her day job and fills cookie orders when she returns home in the afternoon. “I cut the oven off at midnight depending on what I have to accomplish,” she said. “One time I stayed up all night.”
The cookie business is not yet self-sustaining. But the goal, she said, is to come off the job and bake cookies fulltime. “It is my desire to do this on my own…to own my own business. That’s what I want to do. It’s an avenue to bless people – and my cookies will do that.”
Baking cookies was not Nelson’s first career choice, however. After graduating from Hillcrest High School in 1986, she studied cosmetology, but failed the state board twice. Then she got a job at Big Lots on Winchester to pay her bills.
Still searching for a career, Nelson enrolled at Tennessee Technology Center of Memphis and completed six months of an 18-month course, which enabled her to obtain her current job. Later on she took a course from financial author, radio host and motivational speaker Dave Ramsey, “so I can get out of debt.”
Nelson is farther along in business than when she first started baking cookies. A large hanging calendar is filled with orders for various days of the month, and she continues to write in others. Although baking is her forte, she gives her mother kudos for her culinary skills.
“I always wanted to cook like my mom,” said Nelson, who has three sisters and a brother. “I tried to get her to open up a restaurant; she wouldn’t.”
Right now Nelson is focused on establishing her own business, “Mary’s Homemade Butterlicious Cookies.”
(For more information, contact Mary Nelson at 901-288-9694.)