Roopa Shankar and Alina Wong love food. They love to make it, and, of course, consume it. And they’re not the only ones that enjoy eating their own baked goods. So many other people love the food Shankar and Wong bake that they’re willing to pay $2.75 for each mouth-watering gourmet desert the University of Pennsylvania duo can serve. And the amount of baked goods the two are serving has grown so much, they both decided to drop their course loads from full-time to part-time as they grow and scale their business, NOMsense Bakery.
“We’ve definitely prioritized NOMsense over school-work at times,” admits Wong. It might not be what their parents want to hear, but it seems to be paying off. The duo has grown NOMsense, which sells gourmet cookie sandwiches, from a hobby and passion to a full-fledged wholesale and catering company with multiple contracts and a team of eight freshman and sophomores from the University of Pennsylvania.
AN INSTAGRAM-WORTHY DESERT
Shankar and Wong have been perfecting their gourmet cookie sandwiches since February of 2014 as sophomores, when they baked in the kitchen of the Harnwell College House, the high-rise dormitory on Penn. Now, they use a commercial kitchen a few blocks away from the downtown Philadelphia campus to frantically attempt to keep supply more in line with the growing demand.
“Our demand is exceeding our supply right now,” says Shankar, noting they are “supply constrained” and the added order pressures has led to multiple middle-of-the-night text message chains and rushes to the kitchen to bake. “Our product is a very intricate product,” continues Shankar. “It takes a long time to bake each batch of cookies–we’re making two cookies for each product with the sandwich model. We also make the filling and hand stuff each cookie sandwich and the topping.”
Currently, NOMsense has four options on its Spring 2016 menu, which rotates by season. The mainstay is the Classic, which is two snickerdoodle cookies wrapped around eggless, non-cook chocolate chip cookie dough and topped with chocolate drizzle and crushed toffee pieces. Other current menu items include the cutie pie, nut job and n003. Wong and Shankar, along with co-founder Rachel Stewart who is no longer with NOMsense, decided on the cookie sandwich model because of its uniqueness and “share-ability.”
“We wanted to make sure our product was attractive, sharable and coveted,” says Shankar, noting millennials’ obsession with sharing food via social media. “It’s our take on a chocolate chip cookie, but it’s a NOMwich,” adds Wong.
THE DORM ROOM DEMAND
And the two would know, as the mutual interest of sharing food is what led to the creation of NOMsense. Wong, of La Jolla, California, an affluent community within San Diego, came to Penn with a desire for change. With a deep interest in fashion and retail, Shankar grew up in the epicenter of Silicon Valley, San Jose, and decided to attend The Wharton School because of its closer proximity to New York City and fashion and retail.
The two 21-year-olds met in the Wharton Retail Club and were both student representatives for Rent The Runway, a designer dress and accessory rental platform founded by two Harvard MBAs. Shankar and Wong bonded over a mutual adoration for food and baking and soon were spending their free time in the kitchen of the Harnwell College House with Stewart, who was Wong’s roommate at the time.
When they finished baking, they almost always had leftovers and would take the sweets to other dorm rooms. “It got to the point where people were telling us it was so good they’d pay us to bake products for them,” recalls Shankar. “That was when we realized, maybe we could take this passion and love we have for baking and turn it into a business on campus.”