Kathleen King, Tates Cookies, Woman Entrepreneur

Kathleen King Author image
I always check out unique cookies at any store.  I have watched Tates pop into more and more stores over the past ten years.  As one point I realized that the cookies were made out in the Hamptons and since we have a home out there I even liked them more.  Many of the local vegetables stands carry Tates cookies.  So when someone from Tates reached out to me to speak to Kathleen there was no way I could say no. 

Kathleens story is one of hard work, old fashioned parenting and home town girl done good.  She grew up in South Hampton on North Sea Farms.  They were a family of chicken and dairy farmers and by the time high school ended they had become a flower and vegetable farm.  Working on the farm taught her the value of a dollar.  You always had to wonder where the next dollar was coming from and you had to make it yourself.  Her father was the farmer.  Her mother was a registered nurse who worked outside the home and as Kathleen says she was ahead of her time. 

Kathleen was the youngest of four, two brothers and one sister.  There were no gender roles in her household.  They all did what they had to do to get the work done.  If the boys had kitchen duty they had kitchen duty.  No discussions and no thank yous.  Your job was your job.  Looking back Kathleen says it was pretty awesome and empowering for everyone. They were all taught to be self-sufficient. 

When she was eleven she was told that she was old enough to figure out how to make money so she could buy her own clothes for school.  She began baking cookies and sold them at the farm.  Once she began to drive she would sell her wares to other farmstands around the Hamptons.  By the time Kathleen graduated from high school she had built herself quite a business.  With that money she was able to put herself through two years at SUNY. 

Kathleen returned home after those two years to expand her business.  Her mother told her that there was a bakery in town available to rent.  She rented it out for three years until her business started to outgrow the space.  Once again her mother told her about a building down the street that was for sale.  She pushed her to make the call to the man who owned the building.  The guy that owned the building was willing to hold her mortgage.  She put made a down-payment and bought the building.  She knew she would have to double her business to pay for the mortgage but she went for it.  Her mother always pushed the kids saying that the whole world is open to you and it was purely up to them on how hard they wanted to work to achieve their goals.

She was 23 when she bought the building.  Her business was built step by step.  Soon she had doubled the revenues and was able to cover her costs.  At this point the business was called Kathleens Bake Shop.  Fast forward and at 40 years old she decides to take on some partners.  Her thought was if she took on partners it with be less stressful as she could share the insanity of the business with someone else.  Unfortunately she got into bed with really bad partners and she had to spend a lot of money to get out of the partnership.  By the time the divorce from her business partners was over she her lost the name Kathleens Bake Shop and was $200K in debt. It was January 2000.

Kathleen took a step back and thought about the future.  She had spent her entire youth building her business.  She touched every aspect of it and then took a wrong turn getting into business with bad people.  What she knew was the cookie business.  The good news is that Kathleen still owned the building and she still had the retail shop in South Hampton.  She remortgaged the building, paid down the debt and relaunched the brand under Tates Bake Shop in August 2000.

Tates is less emotional.  Her biggest advice to others is you have to figure out how to take your emotions out of the business or you will have a lot of suffering.  Taking her name off the front door changed her head.  She was able to build up the business very quickly and pay off the debt.  It took her two years to pay it off.  She has rejiggered her work organization chart so that she is running the place but not physically involved in every single aspect.  This move literally changed her life. 

Tates puts out 1.7 million cookies and over 5000 wholesale accounts in the US, Canada, Hong Kong and the Caribbean.  They also have an online business. The store in South Hampton also sells cakes, pies, muffins and brownies.  She started her first business at 20 years old.  It was the real estate investment that saved her because it allowed her to start another business. She had saved all that money growing up because she grew up in a season oriented community.  Everyone knows you have to make all your money in the summer but then you are afraid to spend a dime in the winter. 

Kathleen says that her roots taught her that being a victim is not part of her vocabulary.  She got into a bad situation and picked her self up and moved on.  She fell back into something she knew how to do.  The second time around she knew how to do things differently.  She hired the right people so she could slowly get out of the constant day to day.  Now she has an amazing business without a noose around her neck.  Those were her goals coming back for round two and she has achieved them.  At 45 Kathleen got married. It was something she was finally able to do with Tates as her business not Kathleens.  Being behind the business instead of the front makes a huge difference.  Not having her name on the door was the life changer. 

And btw the cookies taste great. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. JLM

    .Great………………………………………..story!Well played.One has to love any story that has at its core ………. cookies.JLM.

    1. Gotham Gal


  2. Christine

    Who knew Tates was owned by a woman, one with so much gumption who grew up on a farm in Southampton, no less. I have been able to resist the cookies until now but will definitely support Tates when I see the cookies at a farm stand this summer. Thanks for shining a light on this terrific company. Great lessons to learn from this story.

    1. Gotham Gal

      great lessons

  3. ag

    A Hamptons classic, and though I’ve never been one for a crispy cookie, the story behind the cookie may turn me into a supporter.

    1. Gotham Gal

      so true, a very crisp cookie.