At a newly opened cookie store on York Street, the first days have involved steep learning curves, sweet rewards and welcome surprises.
Moon Rocks Gourmet Cookies, a family-owned local business, opened its second location in Connecticut between Ashley’s Ice Cream and Yorkside Pizza over spring break, serving the sweet tooth of Yale students, New Haven residents and its nationwide online customers. Despite a slight delay in the store’s opening, which was projected to be in the first week of March, Moon Rocks has gotten off to a strong start on a street full of like-minded and welcoming neighbors.
“We’re all about neighborhood,” said Marni Rae-Esposito, co-founder of Moon Rocks. “That response has been amazing. People want to know the story, and it feels like the neighborhood is our vibe. … It’s the right match. It feels like we are home.”
Rae-Esposito and her mother opened their first store in Hamden in October 2015. Since then, the pair’s cookies have earned several accolades in local newspapers and magazines. CTNow’s Best of New Haven Readers’ Poll 2017 named Moon Rocks as one of New Haven County’s top-three dessert providers.
The store’s front counter — where more than a dozen varieties of cookies sit in glass jars — takes up only about a quarter of the retail space. Behind the counter is a spacious and neatly organized workshop for Rae-Esposito and her team to prepare larger orders.
A portion of Moon Rocks’ business is online, and the store ships its products nationwide. Locally, it also sells platters and fills corporate gifting orders.
Beyond the appeal of expanding its physical presence in New Haven, Rae-Esposito stressed that opening a brick-and-mortar store in New Haven also had to do with the growing need for space to fill online and local orders. The Hamden location has a seating area but no back facility, and when larger orders came in, the team worked out of the seating area, crowding the space.
As with any new venture, Moon Rocks New Haven has faced initial challenges. The company’s expansion required hiring new employees to run the storefront and to manage the two locations, as Rae-Esposito now splits her time between Hamden and New Haven. And initially, the stores saw low traffic, as many Yalies had left town for spring break. Though Rae-Esposito was concerned at first, she now believes the softer landing helped better prepare her team to serve customers at full capacity when students returned.
Currently, foot traffic is heaviest in the early to mid-afternoon and in the evening, after dinnertime. The most popular pick in the first two weeks has been the cannoli cookie. While both of the store’s outposts sell the cannoli cookie, its popularity in the Elm City is unprecedented.
“It’s amazing,” said Dana Drost, who works nearby at Blue State on York Street. “I like to eat cookie dough. … [The cookies are] almost like half baked; they’re really, really soft.”
William Ocasio, who, along with his wife, is a minority partner in Moon Rocks, said that the company also faced challenges in navigating the local laws that govern food service and property rental in the Elm City.
“Like anybody opening up a new store, it’s the rules and regulations you have to know,” Ocasio said.
But now that Moon Rocks is past the logistical stage, Ocasio is ready to serve up “the best cookies in town.”
Moon Rocks Gourmet Cookies is located at 286 York St.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org