Once Upon a Time: Fairytale Brownie's Sweet Success Story
ADVISORY WARNING: Chocoholics please avert your eyes and turn the page right now… DO NOT keep reading this article … I take no responsibility for the effect the information contained herein may have if you proceed further … the location of what is akin to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in Phoenix is about to be revealed or more precisely, the new location of Phoenix’s very own Fairytale Brownie Factory.
Growing up, did you have someone in the family who had a signature cookie, cake, pie or brownie recipe? Unfortunately, I didn’t (that would have been so nice) but David Kravetz sure did. His mother’s brownie recipe is the foundation of Fairytale Brownies, an empire that generated sales of $9 million over the last year.
When the Kravetzes sent little David off to kindergarten, they had no idea that he was already networking the playground, where he would meet his business partner and lifelong friend Eileen Spitalny. David and Eileen became great friends and throughout their schooling they often were partners on school projects. Eileen can first remember eating David’s mother’s brownies while in the third grade but realizes that she may have been eating them long before that. She and David used to tell Mrs. Kravetz she should sell the brownies and become the next Mrs. Field’s.
College was next for David and Eileen. David went to Stanford and Eileen attended USC, but despite the distance they kept in close contact and regularly saw each other. Following a few years in the corporate world, in 1992 the two kindergarten friends finally decided to form the business partnership they had always dreamed of, Fairytale Brownies.
The brownie recipe was passed from mother to son, and then Eileen and David started tweaking the recipe’s foundation, using some of Belgium’s finest chocolate by Callebaut as the key ingredient. In the beginning, it was very much a family affair as Eileen’s husband Mike was the baker, Eileen’s mom answered phones and David’s mom made gift baskets. With the addition of Mike’s mom to the mix, all the moms formed what was known as the “Wrap Group,” which individually wrapped all the brownies by hand.
Fairytale Brownies started selling its products in coffeehouses, but they also canvassed farmers’ markets and weekend street fairs to ramp up a grass-roots-style marketing effort to spread the word about the brownies. While at markets and fairs, David and Eileen were often asked by patrons if they shipped the brownies. They soon realized that they would have the most quality control by selling directly to the customer. Soon they launched their first catalog and then in 1995 (yes, 1995) they aggressively incorporated the Internet into their marketing plans.
“We have been online since 1995; we were the first to buy the domain name brownies.com, the first secure site in the city of Phoenix, the first site selling food in Phoenix and some say that we were the first selling food on the Internet anywhere in the world. Back then we had missed out on reserving the 1-800-Brownie thing so we did not want to blow it in case the Internet was big, so we started a few fake companies so we could buy five domain names because back then you could only own one domain name. When we went online, it was not just to show what our brownies looked like … it was a commerce site. We offered a 5 percent discount for all Internet orders and that was kept in effect for five years.”
I ate my first Fairytale Brownies in 1993; this was a good brownie … dense chocolate flavor, almost fudgey, with a moist consistency. This of course led to me ordering a dozen brownies in assorted flavors: original, walnut, chocolate chip, peanut butter (a favorite), toffee crunch (a favorite), raspberry swirl (a favorite), caramel (a favorite), espresso nib (new last year), coconut, mint chocolate, white chocolate and pecan.
There was a period when I kept a stash of Fairytale Brownies in the freezer with the idea that I could take one out, let it defrost or even enjoy it on the colder side if needed. It was a great theory, but in the end it proved too difficult as I was too impatient to battle a bout of late-night munchies by waiting for a brownie to defrost.
I would like to take credit for the idea to send Fairytale Brownies as gifts but the Fairytale catalog was really my inspiration. Fairytale Brownies became my go-to gift and it made me a star. The funny thing is, most of the people that I gifted with Fairytale Brownies started giving them as gifts as well, and still do.
I used to place all my orders at the Fairytale Brownie factory when it was located at Thomas and 68th streets so I could custom-arrange my dozen. (OK, OK, the free samples in the retail store may have had something to do with it.) But after they moved, I simply used their website, brownies.com.
What I did not realize was the explosive growth that has happened at Fairytale Brownies since I last paid a visit. The company has outgrown their second home (a 10,000 square foot facility in Chandler) and has settled into a new 37,000 square foot warehouse built from the ground up at 4610 E. Cotton Center Blvd. in Phoenix.
I entered the new structure by walking into the spiffy retail store with a large window overlooking the baking area. As I found myself drawn to the window, a strange but familiar tune started playing in my head …
I shook my head and tried to clear the Oompa Loompas from my mind but it was too late. I’d already embarked on a specially authorized tour of the factory and was suddenly overcome by a waft of mint from a batch of mint chocolate brownies just out of the oven.
Inside the factory, four industrial chocolate melters coax mountainous blocks of Callebaut chocolate into molten form so they can be mixed with 50-pound blocks of butter and more sugar and eggs that you can possibly imagine. Every movement of the bakers is part of a perfectly syncopated dance. The ingredients go to the melters, then to the mixers, and then the batter is poured out on sheet trays to go into the oven. After baking, the racks are then left to cool and sent over to the cutters.
When cutting the brownies on the sheet tray, all edges are discarded into a bin in addition to some irregular brownies. If I’d been asked, I would have been more than happy to help them with the disposal process for these poor brownie orphans but as the ends and irregulars taste just as good as any of the other brownies, the good folks at Fairytale donate them to St. Vincent de Paul, where they get distributed all over the Valley.
After the brownies are cut, they are loaded onto the wrapping machines to preserve their freshness. As the brownies are all natural with no preservatives added, they are wrapped with a very durable cling film wrapper. The wrapped brownies are then placed in bins according to their respective flavor and are ready to be shipped all over the world.
The bakery is in full swing between the middle of October and the end of December. During this period Fairytale will bake approximately 25,000 brownies a day and ship 1.5 million brownies … that’s right, 1.5 million brownies.
December means big things in Fairytale Brownieland: The first three weeks of December account for half of the company’s annual sales. In December, FedEx’s largest customer in Phoenix is Fairytale Brownies with as many as 15,000 boxes being shipped in one day. Fairytale also sends to APO and FPO boxes (military addresses) for free, and last year sent brownies to Iraq for a Christmas Party.
Back in the retail shop I was surprised to find the brownies are now available in half sizes called “Sprites” as well as quarter-sized “Magic Morsels.” At first, I did not see why anyone would want a half- or quarter-sized brownie. But then it dawned on me: What a perfect way to create my dream brownie: one part caramel, one part peanut butter, one part raspberry swirl and one part toffee crunch.
The ultimate Fairytale Brownie dessert can now be created with “Fairytale Endings,” a new line of dessert sauces that currently come in bittersweet chocolate and caramel. I spy the sauces and have a sudden vision of a hot brownie with a scoop of Arlecchino gelato topped with the bittersweet chocolate sauce.
But my vision is interrupted when I realize I have not tried two new Fairytale flavors: Blondie Chocolate Chunk and Blondie Pecan—oh, what must be done in the name of research.
END OF ADVISORY WARNING: Chocoholics, you may now return to your regular reading.