With the long-term effects of the COIVD-19 pandemic still unknown and the normal rhythms of life still out of reach for many, the need for comfort food has possibly never been greater.
Luckily, in what can only be described as an act of good timing, West Point Market’s signature Killer Brownies have returned to Akron. And if successful, they may prove to be merely the first West Point Market treat to be resurrected.
West Point Market was an Akron staple until their retail store closed in 2018 after 82 years of operation. But the closing of the physical West Point store did little to deter demand for the retailer’s signature products, particularly their brownies. The triple-layer brownies were uniquely dense and flavourful and one of the original store’s most popular items.
This demand, coupled with a still-loyal West Point customer base, allowed owner Rick Vernon to attempt an all-online model for West Point’s signature products.
“I wanted to start with the brownies. That was the most obvious choice for me, especially online,” Rick says.
West Point Market had offered brownies and a few other items online before, but Rick thought that the store could have done more. “I always wanted to do a larger presence online, even when the retail store was involved. I thought, with what we do with food, it really lends itself to online sales with signature recipes.”
According to Rick, between regular and seasonal items, West Point Market has more than 400 unique recipes, including almost 100 from cheese spreads alone.
Additionally, the brownies made a good candidate for online sales because they can be shipped frozen and their dense texture proves perfect for long-term storage, lasting four weeks in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer.
With the store now closed and the bakery equipment gone, Rick had to restart the process of making the Killer Brownies completely from scratch. Adjusting a recipe developed for a large in-store bakery down to something suited for his new cottage industry took months.
“It took me about six months to convert the recipe down to an amount I could handle,” Rick says. “We tried out the flavors and taste-tested them and we came up with what we thought was as good as the triple-layer brownie we had.”
This time at home also proved to be a good space to learn e-commerce. “The postal service has been great,” Rick says. “They support small businesses in a big way.”
As more requests for brownies came in, Rick transitioned to more of a “ghost kitchen”-style model with a local bakery.
For now, though, the operation remains small, consisting of just his family and one other helper. “We got our systems down pretty good right now. We can do quite a lot of volume with just a few people, Rick says.
Rick’s family is selling every brownie they can make, not just in Northeast Ohio but in every corner of the United States. “I have shipped to every state but Hawaii,” Rick says, including regular orders to Florida, California, and New York. And to his surprise, it’s the largest boxes of brownies that he sells the most of, speculating that people like to keep them frozen and pull them out a few at a time.
As for changes to the brownies, they are a bit bigger than they were in the past — about a third of a pound, enough to serve two people. They also have new flavors in addition to the classic. Currently available are eight flavors: original, no-nut, ruby red raspberry, peanut butter, brown sugar blondie, creme de menthe, cherry amaretto, and Rick’s personal favorite, bourbon pecan. Brownies can be bought individually or in packs of four, eight, or 10. Classic West Point Market-style gift wrapping is also available for brownie packs.
“Holidays are big for me, and I usually try to release a new flavor once a month. The new flavor right now is cherry amaretto,” Rick says. He is currently working on flavors influenced by Meyer lemons, Grand Marnier, and Kahlua Coffee Liqueur. Rick explains that the liquor/liqueur based flavors have been well received and were inspired by the popularity of the liquor/liqueur chocolates that West Point Market sold every Christmas.
“I am just planning for the future and taking one step at a time,” Rick says. “We have a lot of great support from the customers we have, and I want to thank them especially.”
He admits he would be pleased to see an eventual revival of West Point Market, but for now, he is focused on the brownies and the possible return of some of West Point’s signature cheese spreads. This attitude goes beyond him just sticking to what he knows — Rick believes that signature local products, if done right, are basically “Amazon-proof.”
While the exact start date is yet to be announced, West Point brownies will soon be available at Pandora’s Cupcakes in Montrose. This will not only help brownie fans save on shipping but will allow Rick to enjoy a treat he has been looking forward to for some time — interacting with his customers again.