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Updated: October 5, 2020 On the record

On the Record: Leigh Kellis, founder of the Holy Donut, adds another calling

Photo / Jim Neuger Leigh Kellis, founder of the Holy Donut, recently launched a vegan cookie company, Sweet Sea Co., with Portland brand strategist and creative director Chris Kast.

Leigh Kellis, founder of the Holy Donut, recently launched the Sweet Sea Co., a vegan cookie maker she set up with Chris Kast. Mainbiz caught up with the 2015 Mainebiz Next List honoree for the inside scoop on the new venture, which will donate a portion of revenues towards local efforts to reduce plastic use.

Mainebiz: What’s the inspiration behind The Sweet Sea Co.?

Leigh Kellis: I love good food. I love food that makes people feel better about life. Cookies are one of those foods and I also am passionate about a healthy planet. It seemed like a no-brainer to sell something delicious with proceeds towards a cleaner planet.

MB: Why start a business now?

LK: This is mostly an online business, which I think is the best business model in the time of a virus.

MB: What makes your cookies unique?

LK: They are substantial, and hearty, and indulgent, and satisfying and not overly sweet and they taste like grandma made them. But they’re vegan, so they have less environmental impact. And the packaging is also environmentally sound.

MB: At what point did you stop overseeing day-to-day operations at Holy Donut and what was it like to let go of that “baby?”

LK: It’s been several years of “hands off.” It was excruciating at first to let go (just like a child) but now it’s great. It’s in the hands of many capable people, so I can relax and focus on saving the seas.

MB: What’s Sweet Sea’s sales and distribution model?

LK: We hope to be in grocery stores and mostly online.

MB: At what stores can Mainers buy your cookies, and how do ensure that your cookies stand out on the shelves?

LK: TBD! They aren’t on too many shelves yet. Just Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough.

MB: Any plans for a bricks-and-mortar retail spot down the road?

LK: Yes, there is a vision for a cookie retail spot and I’d love to do a cafe too, with light food and definitely cookie ice cream sandwiches.

MB: What’s your price point and how are you positioning yourself vis-a-vis competitors?

LK: Our price per pound is comparable to other high-end, top-quality cookies.

MB: Who is your target consumer?

LK: People who can pay a little extra for a premium cookie who see the value in their dollar doing more than just buying a cookie. The dollar spent has a lot more meaning — helping to create behavior change that will hopefully result in a cleaner planet for our kids.

MB: How will you get the word out about Sweet Sea cookies — traditional advertising, social media or both?

LK: All of the above! Social media is gold.

MB: What lessons are you applying from the Holy Donut?

LK: Many! Mostly: Ask for help. Gather a team. Ask questions. And fail fast, make mistakes, quit bad decisions and pivot quickly. And I sell things that I love and crave — that’s the winning formula.

MB: Anything you are doing differently this time around?

LK: Yes. I built the foundation of this for over a year before launching it. The Holy Donut was started on a whim in my apartment. The donut business was mostly trial and error. It tooks years to understand the donut production as the business grew. The cookie production we figured out before introducing it to the public. Both have their value.

MB: What’s your long-term vision for the Sweet Sea Co.?

LK: I’d like to have cookies in many grocery stores around the country. I’d like people to see the value in business having a bigger purpose. This is not about cookies, it’s about caring for the planet, and making positive change and feeling hope.

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