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Brownie Points

Charlie Fyffe’s eponymous dessert company is beginning to give off the sweet smell of success 

“WHEN YOU THINK of cookies,” says Charlie Fyffe, “you think of Mrs. Fields or Famous Amos. But when you think of brownies . . . ”

He’s right: Nothing in particular comes to mind. But if Fyffe, 24, has his way, dessert lovers across America will soon fill in that mental blank with the name of his eponymous company, Charlie’s Brownies, which he launched while a student at the University of California at Berkeley. After graduating two years ago, he moved the operation back to his hometown, Los Angeles.

While at Berkeley, he cut his entrepreneurial teeth by partnering with Tully’s Coffee (a prominent chain in the Bay Area) to stock his gourmet bites; he also founded the Baking Club of Berkeley, a community of local pastry chefs. Back in L.A., he has focused more on catering and expanding his product line, which now includes vegan and gluten-free treats.

An unabashed fan of pop-psych business guru Malcolm Gladwell — he can quote sections of The Tipping Point at length — Fyffe has garnered plenty of notice for his delectable confections; in 2010, among other honors, he was named a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar. Now he plans to spend the rest of 2012 broadening his menu, cementing relationships with retailers and continuing to boost his e-commerce capabilities. (Brownies, it turns out, ship cross-country better than you might think.)

Through it all, his treats will remain all-natural, crafted by a self-taught master who now puts business precepts in the service of delicious dessert. “I use no preservatives or artificial flavors,” he says. “Just natural ingredients and home-baked love.” A heady recipe, in other words, for sweet success.

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How have you been moving the company forward since you moved the entire operation back to Los Angeles?
In the Charlie’s Brownies “laboratory” we’re creating new product lines including vegan and gluten-free brownies. We’re also expanding our flavor offerings; Dark Chocolate Truffle, Cheesecake Swirl and Red Velvet Brownies are all coming soon. Right now, most of my business is catering; however, the goal is to [focus] much more on the sales and wholesale side, servicing storefront locations to produce consistent business.

Word of mouth would seem to be a big promotional strategy for you, especially as a relatively new business. How much do you rely on it?
I started my business initially on Facebook, marketing through a fan page for four years before getting a real Web site. As social media has become a societal norm, the popularity of my brand naturally grew with it. I’ve been able to display pictures of all my events, shout out my fans and customers and showcase my product line to thousands of people. The viral power of social media matched with word of mouth has given my brownies the attention they’ve needed.

How has that affected your overall marketing strategy?
Now that I actually have an e-commerce site, marketing has only become easier. My Web address is on my business card, and it’s easy to remember: CharliesBrownies.com. Aside from constantly networking and self-promoting, I also use the power of Twitter for marketing; you can target certain demographics and send out bits of information to them. This strategy has proven highly effective.

Do you do a lot of business online? If you’re shipping far afield, have you figured out a way to keep the product fresh while in transit?
Most of my online business is done during the holidays, and I can freeze-ship expedited boxes of brownies throughout the contiguous United States. The shelf life of sealed brownies is about a week and a half, so a one- to three-day trip in the mail doesn’t make them any less fresh. Also, a distinguishing characteristic of brownies is that they often taste better the next day, as the flavors have time to meld to perfection.

In Berkeley, you had a partnership with Tully’s Coffee. Have you done anything similar in L.A.?
Since leaving Berkeley, I haven’t continued the Tully’s deal. In L.A., I recently did a three-month test run, somewhat of a pop-up shop, inside a boutique in Mid City. I realized that as with the residential real estate, the “location, location, location” of your business determines everything. Having consistent foot traffic is perhaps the most important factor. Being on a college campus while inside Tully’s Coffee was effective because of the sheer number of consumers. Tully’s has locations in Southern California, but not nearly as many as in the Bay Area. But I’m definitely still interested in working with them in the future.

L.A. is your hometown, so you didn’t have to spend any time getting acclimated. Has the move back been a boon, though, or is L.A. just too big to get a good entrepreneurial foothold?
On the contrary, L.A. is tiny! Everybody seems to know everybody. It’s absolutely a friendly environment for entrepreneurs, especially those pursuing their passions in the creative arts and entertainment — food, fashion, film and music. There are always networking events going on, creating environments for fostering new business relationships and meeting new clients. My move back to L.A. has been hands-down a net positive. •