After school on weekdays, as dusk falls over Waldoboro, Medomak Valley High School senior Landen Stewart puts on some rock music, sits down at the table in his family’s kitchen, and gets to work filling orders of homemade dog cookies.
Though his business, K-9 Kookies LLC, has only been in development since July, Stewart’s specially formulated cookies are already a hit, rapidly selling out at the local shops where they’re stocked.
His parents hope that running the business will help Stewart, who has autism and Fragile X syndrome and who is functionally nonverbal, develop business and life skills and prepare him for a bright future.
Dog cookies were a natural choice for Stewart’s business, said his mom, Danielle Stewart, who noted that her son has long been an animal lover.
“He’s always had this connection with animals,” she said.
Starting in July, the Stewarts began to experiment with different recipes, choosing ingredients carefully and weighing factors like taste, shelf life, and nutritional benefits in order to achieve the perfect cookie.
Dogs belonging to the Stewarts’ friends and family were more than willing to taste-test as the family worked to formulate the cookie recipe. By the end of summer, they had a winning recipe that features simple, healthy ingredients and has proven to be a hit even with the most finicky of pups, according to Danielle Stewart.
After developing the dog cookies, in August the Stewarts registered K-9 Kookies as an LLC and began selling the treats at local shops. When the K-9 Kookies Facebook page went live, Danielle Stewart said, demand skyrocketed.
That pace has only grown since, with K-9 Kookies now regularly selling out at several local shops. Soon, the cookies will be available at even more locations, Danielle Stewart said.
Expanding the K-9 Kookies operation has been possible with support from friends and family, Danielle Stewart noted. The Stewarts’ daughter, Baylee Stewart, helps with social media from Washington, where she is stationed with the Air Force. Their eldest son, Tyeler Stewart, has a business degree and assists with the more technical aspects of running the LLC.
Assistance with streamlining the baking process was provided by Landen Stewart’s uncle Tony Poulin, professor of culinary arts at Southern Maine Community College. Utilizing efficient baking techniques is essential to the Stewarts’ ability to produce enough cookies to meet demand, said Danielle Stewart.
“It’s been great to have family help out and support,” said Danielle Stewart, who also noted that the entire Waldoboro community has been supportive of Landen Stewart and his growing business.
“We have always felt love from the community for Landen,” she said.
Running a business in addition to being a full-time student can be tiring for Landen Stewart, Danielle Stewart said, and keeping up with demand is challenging at times. But though the road to success for K-9 Kookies has not always been easy, the family is thrilled at the business’ success thus far, she said.
The family hopes to use the proceeds from K-9 Kookies to fund a service dog for Landen Stewart, his mom said. Getting a fully trained and certified service dog for their son was one of the family’s “ultimate goals,” said father Jason Stewart, but such dogs come with a high price tag.
The dog would provide companionship and comfort for Landen Stewart while helping with his anxiety and keeping him safe, according to his dad.
For now, the Stewarts’ two cats keep Landen Stewart company as he works. Bolstered by his favorite music – lately, he has been into Eminem, Metallica, Nickelback, and AC/DC, among others – Landen Stewart enjoys filling orders after school.
The process of building and running the business has already been a rich opportunity for Landen Stewart to develop business skills and connect with people and pups alike throughout the county, said Danielle Stewart.
K-9 Kookies are currently sold at Moody’s Gifts, Good Things Thrift and Craft, Tenants Harbor General Store, Laugh Loud Smile Big, King Ro Market, and Delano Seafood Market. For more information, find K-9 Kookies on Facebook.