Cookie Project, a recipient of FIT2021 support, aims to create a society where people with and without disabilities, office workers, students, part-time workers, adults, and children can all live in harmony through cookies. In 2020, following the existing “Okashiya Marble”, a new cafe “Marble Terrace” opened in Saitama City. We interviewed representative director Ms. Akiko Wakao and director Ms. Yuriko Hamamoto.
Ms. Wakao, Representative Director (left); Ms. Hamamoto, Director (right)
Please tell us about your background and why you started your organization.
After working for a general company, I was working for an NPO, an intermediate support organization, and I felt that it was difficult to get many people to actually take action just by talking about "contribution to society." I felt that some kind of tool for achieving this was missing. Through the NPO, I happened to have many opportunities to witness the sale of cookies made by people at welfare workshops, and I felt that there were points that could be improved in terms of the taste and wrapping. I wanted to make cookies that people would buy because they were delicious, not because they were made by people with disabilities, and I thought that these cookies could be the tool needed to pursue a society where diversity is valued.
I used to work for another NPO and, at first, I was a customer who bought cookies as souvenirs for business trips. Little by little, I began to help out with events such as cookie sales, and as my cookies began to receive good reviews, my desire to have a permanent store where everyone could come and buy them at any time became stronger. At that time, the Saitama Children's Medical Center was looking for a store in relation to welfare workshops, and we applied. We were given the chance to set up a permanent store called "Okashiya Marble". I have been the store manager since it opened in 2017.
What led up to opening your second store, Marble Terrace, in 2020?
The first store, Okashiya Marble, is located in the Children's Medical Center, so the customers who visit the store, business days and hours, etc. depend on the medical center. This is great for the children there, who need advanced medical care, but a letter of introduction is needed to use the hospital, the number of customers is quite limited. We have always had a strong desire to deliver cookies to a wider range of customers so that we can realize our philosophy of "mazekoze", which means to jumble things together. While we were waiting for that opportunity, we were fortunate enough to meet a property owner who understood our philosophy, enabling us to open our cafe.
Cookies on sale at Marble Terrace
What was the most difficult part? And the best part?
Marble Terrace opened in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began, and we did not have any know-how about running a cafe; even now, we have yet to get entirely settled. Most of the cafe staff are volunteers, but each of them has a problem that makes it difficult to live in society. Being attentive to them while keeping the café running requires a different kind of management ability than before, and I'm struggling every day. Also, the number of visitors and sales decreased considerably due to COVID-19, so we started an online shop. The size of cookies and the wrapping of the 40 or so workshops we deal with are different, so it is very difficult to fit them in one box. Therefore, we launched the "Box Project" and are considering handmade boxes that can respect the diversity of "mazekoze"; however, given the issues with cost, durability, and hygiene, it’s still a little hit-and-miss.
The best part is that the cookies make people feel encouraged. In particular, they have the power to make a child who is enduring painful treatment at the medical center smile, and we are truly happy when we hear from parents that they are able to keep commuting to the hospital because of those cookies. Also, when we were in trouble due to a drop in sales, the staff of the medical center came up with a new business model where cookies are delivered to each medical office once a month and we were delighted that more people could eat our cookies.
How do you use the funds from FIT?
We bought an oven to use in "Marble Terrace". With this oven, the menu that can be served at the cafe has expanded considerably, and it’s easier to control the temperature when baking cookies, which is really helpful. We are also working on a project to create an introduction video about our activities. After that, we used the money to renew the system for the online shop and hold a seminar on PR for the online shop, which also gave information about wrapping.
Kitchen of marble terrace
What are your plans for the future?
The first goal is to get the operation of Marble Terrace on track. It's really difficult to create a system that generates a certain amount of income from a cafe while also being attentive to those who have difficulties with living in society. We think it would be nice to open a third store someday, but first we want to create a foundation that will allow us to continue our current activities.
It has been five years since we opened the permanent store in the medical center and in these five years we have strongly felt the potential of welfare workshops' cookies. Together with cookies, I would like to continue to provide a place for people who have difficulties with living in society while sharing with everyone the potential of workshops that can create things that encourage people.
What kind of support can we provide?
One thing you can do is to leave cookies in your company's café. In addition, we would like you to experience “mazekoze” by interacting with people who have disabilities or who feel that it is difficult to live in society, such as those who work in workshops and Marble Terrace. In Japan, children with special characteristics are often separated from other children at an early stage, and we feel that they have few opportunities to interact with each other. We think that there are things that you can only understand when you actually get involved with such people, so we hope that the day will come when various people can realize “mazekoze” and make cookies and hold sales events together.
Cookie Project Directors and FIT2022 Organizing Committee Members
Cookie Project, Certified NPO (Nintei NPO)