Being in the cookie business isn’t always sweet, according to Van Teamer, the owner of Heights bakery Pudgy’s Fine Cookies. The Heights shop, which initially launched as a pop-up around two years ago, has been slinging small batches of cookies from North Shepherd since late July and has earned a reputation for dense palm-sized, cleverly-named treats that are gooey in the middle and shareable, because as Teamer puts it, “What’s the point of eating alone?”
There are warm butter Sugar Babies with sprinkles, PB Sensation cookies packed with peanut butter, and Against the Grain gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Top-sellers include a pastry creme-filled Bananza Brule cookie that’s bruleed on top, the Wild Campfire s’mores cookie, and then undeniable Thickerdoodle, an edgy name for the bakery’s version of a snickerdoodle, plus a rotation of seasonal flavors, like the recent pecan-loaded Turtle Power, and the What’s Poppin Pop-Tart-inspired cookie with strawberry rhubarb jam.
“We keep a lot of the traditional flavors, but we try to reach a wide, broad range of people of all ages, from older to younger,” she says. This often means striving to make the cookies tasty, but not too sugary. Still, Teamer emphasizes, the quality of the cookie all comes down to preference — her and her family’s preference — which just so happens to be “thick AF.”
Though the cookies have been met with praise and devout fanfare, like any small business, Teamer says she has experienced some critiques while sparking some curiosity in others.
Some have taken issue with the cheeky “thick AF” slogan or the cookies’ soft texture, which is emphasized in Pudgy’s “a little bit of crunch, a lot of bit of chewy gooey” tagline. Others have criticized the shop’s model, which freshly bakes small batches of cookies daily, selling them during limited hours or until sell-out. But Teamer stands by her model. “It’s just like, ‘I’m sorry. This is just the way we like it, and we hope you like it, too,’” she says.
Creating a business she’s proud of and cookies that have the perfect texture, taste, and appearance is already a laborious process on its own — one full of scientific-like experiments and days of taste-testing, she says.
“If it’s not right, we make the same cookie over and over again until we get it,” she says. “Then, we think about the flavor, and we think of a weird, fun name for it.”
Teamer’s successful foray into the dessert world is an unconventional one, particularly considering that she’s had no culinary or real cookie experience prior to Pudgy’s.
Growing up in a Vietnamese household, Van Teamer says dessert was typically less sweet than most American treats, often made with a combination of beans, rice, and coconut. The only cookies she ate were baked from pre-made cookie dough from the grocery store or purchased at the chain bakery Great American Cookies.
Teamer, who worked as a dental hygienist, says knowing the grind and hustle involved, she also never wanted to own a business of her own, but her husband encouraged her. “I just see you doing so much more,” she remembers him saying.
The married couple began looking for something for their family to do together, and when COVID hit, they decided to launch a business that would focus on cookies. And after researching bakeries and cookie franchises, but not seeing one that she or her family could align with, Teamer resorted to launching a cookie company of her own.
Teamer and her sister Ann Ngyuen quickly began experimenting with recipes with an emphasis on fresh ingredients — meaning no preservatives, additives, or artificial ingredients; the standard being, that all cookies had to be baked the same day they were served. “We do it how we like it to taste, and we hope everyone else likes the taste, too,” Teamer says.
They also branded the cookies with a memorable face — the retro-looking, hipster cartoon boy, Pudgy, who Teamer says represents everyone’s inner “pudgy” child and inhabits a playful, happy vibe that she wanted for her shop.
Eventually, the cookies became a hit within their friends and family circle, and in November 2020, Teamer’s family began to hustle — hosting pop-ups at various local markets, restaurants, and bars, including Kicking Kombucha, Teaspresso, Railway Heights, and Tenfold Coffee. “We were pretty desperate,” she says. “Anybody who allowed us to be [at their establishment], we were there.”
Pudgy’s soon began taking online orders and wholesaling its cookies to different establishments while baking out of the Teamer family’s home garage. Eventually, “people were tired of chasing Pudgy’s around,” Teamer says, and growing weary of people coming to her home, Teamer decided to look for a space of her own. After hearing about a location in the Heights, across from what is reportedly the largest Kroger in Houston, Teamer jumped at the opportunity, opening the 1010 North Shepherd Drive storefront in conjunction with her friend Josh Delon’s ice cream company Underground Creamery. (The two now share a kitchen space.)
Since then, Teamer says the bakery has received great support. The July 31 grand opening had people lining up an hour ahead of the event, which felt like a big party. And in many ways, Pudgy’s is still a festive, family affair. Her daughter Taylor helps run the front of the bakery, Teamer still runs the shop’s marketing and social media, and her sister Ngyuen can often be found in the back of the shop helping concoct cookie recipes that Teamer’s husband still taste-tests. And though Teamer has thoughts on expanding her cookie empire, she’s still on set on making cookies her way.
Quality, above all, she says, is still her focus.
Pudgy’s is open from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The bakery is closed on Mondays. Available for delivery.