Everyone is welcome at Mei Mei's
There have been many stories and articles written about how an individual had a passion ever since they were a little kid and how they were finally able to reach that goal years later. However, Mei Mei's Cookies & Creamery (pronounced Mimi) owner Melissa Abdouch came to find her passion for baked goods, specifically cookies, through a more roundabout way than most.
"I'd love to say this has been a lifelong dream of mine, but that isn't the case. My background is in accounting and I've been an accountant for just over 20 years. After working at my last company for just over 13 years, they outsourced all of our jobs," said Abdouch, who lives in Cottage Grove. "So I took a year to spend with my children and after that I started looking for a job. I wasn't finding what I wanted to do and I found that while I was going through all of that stuff that I was in the kitchen baking cookies as a way to relax. Once I realized that, I started to think, 'Why can't I do this every day?'"
Mei Mei's Cookies & Creamery, which is located at 113 E. Elm Street in River Falls, will hold a soft opening the week of Aug. 7, and will hold its grand opening on Tuesday, Aug. 15.
"The other great thing about opening this shop will be that it will allow me to work towards my goal of employing those with special needs," Abdouch said. "My daughter, Alex, is 21 and has autism. She has held down a couple of jobs in the past that were very short term. She feels good about herself when she is employed, but it is difficult to find safe and meaningful employment where is it not just emptying trash cans, sweeping floors. She loves being in the kitchen with me and loves making cookies with me. She will be my first employee, period, with special needs or not."
In the first year of business, Abdouch plans to solidify her special needs gainful employment plan. She has worked with the Bridge and other places in River Falls to get their input to put the plan together.
"This is my first time doing something like this, so every day is something new for me," Abdouch said. "So that is why there will be a gap in time before I can bring in more people with special needs. I need to get things in place first so that things are running smoothly before they come in to make it easier on them."
The shop will offer cookies — such as Abdouch's Tavern Cookie, which is made with Swinging Bridge Brewery stout — as well as ice cream, which customers can combine with their favorite cookies to make a custom ice cream sandwich.
"I do enjoy baking, but I really loved baking cookies. I think the fact that you can be a lot more creative when you are baking cookies is why they became my go-to baked good when I need to bake," Abdouch said. "Everyone does cupcakes and cakes, but I think cookies are the next thing. Which is good because I really enjoy making them."
Another of Abdouch's goals for Mei Mei's is to reduce as much waste as possible. In an effort to do that, as many items as possible will be served in reusable coffee cups and there will be no straws for drinks either.
Initially, hours will be 3-10 p.m. during the week, with Friday and Saturday hours extending to 2:30 a.m. Sunday hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Abdouch plans on initially having six employees, but there are plans for expanding her staff in the future. Those interested in applying for a position should email Abdouch their application to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We will also offer student packages. So parents dropping their students off can stop in here and either pick up a care package or have it delivered. We will also offer a monthly care package," Abdouch said. "They can have cookies delivered, but they can also come in here and kick back and relax."
The shop will offer coffee, but they won't be selling it. Mei Mei's will supply the coffee, but there will be a donation jar where the money raised will be donated to a different local organization each week. Abdouch is hoping to have businesses match the Coffee For A Cause fundraiser donations to raise even more funds for local organizations.
"I want to welcome everyone. We are going to great extents to make sure that we have ADA accessible ramps and handicap accessible bathrooms. That is not common place in a lot of downtown buildings because the buildings are so old," Abdouch said. "Having a daughter with special needs and being around that world, you come to really see how much need there is for places that can be accessible to everyone."
Abdouch started looking for a space about nine months to a year ago and signed the lease for the 113 E. Elm St. location in January. Since then, the building has been in a constant state of renovation as Abdouch has been molding the two adjacent spaces that will make up Mei Mei's into one. The shop will be decked out in mid-century decor and features a salute to military veterans from 1970 and earlier with a mural and historical items across one wall.
"We will have a really eclectic look with a mid-century theme. We will have mid-century tables, a big sectional couch and games for people to play," Abdouch said. "You can sit down and enjoy your treats or you can grab something to go."
Although Abdouch isn't from River Falls, she has always loved the town when she has come to visit friends.
"Opening in a college town seemed like a good idea, especially since I'm willing to be open late on the weekends," Abdouch said. "I wanted to be walking distance from campus, since I wanted to get that student population. We are looking to deliver to campus initially and then deliver out to the rest of River Falls from there."
Along with being a mother of three, Abdouch is a cancer survivor and also served in the Air Force as a linguist.
"Although I've done all these things, my entire life has been spent being involved with the community and making sure I'm doing my part by volunteering and fundraising," Abdouch said. "That whole sense of community and that connection to volunteerism is really important."
And for those wondering how Mei Mei's got its name, Abdouch had this to share:
"My name was Missy growing up and my nephew started calling me Mimi when he started speaking because he couldn't say Missy," Abdouch said. "But it was never written down. So when my niece had leukemia I stayed with her for a while and we were drawing pictures back and forth. That was how she spelled my name, but I'm not going to be the one to correct a 6-year-old in the hospital. So that is just the way it is spelled."
Mei Mei's Cookies & Creamery can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @meimeiscookies.