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For Kathleen King, The Proof Is In The Cookie Dough

Originally Posted: June 15, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Kathleen King, founder and owner of Tate's Bake Shop on North Sea Road in Southampton attracts crowds every day, and according to King, "The opportunity of being in the Hamptons is important. You never know who is going to come through the door." Photos by Douglas Harrington

Southampton - Montauk may have its lobsters and the North Fork its wine, but Southampton can claim the cookie, chocolate chip to be precise, in the familiar and favorite East End edibles of Kathleen King and her Tate's Cookies. In anticipation of an upcoming book talk at the Amagansett Free Library on June 23, Hamptons.com sat down with cookie entrepreneur and author of the best-selling "Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook" to find out how it all began and find out what's cooking, or should we say baking, these days.

Many may remember King from her original bake shop and nationally known cookies, eponymously named Kathleen's Cookies. After 21 years and a self-described "bad business decision," the Kathleen's brand of cookies no longer exists, replaced nine years ago by Tate's, named after her father. "When he was young he worked on a farm picking potatoes and he got the nickname, 'Little Tater' because he was five-foot tall. It eventually was shortened to Tate and it stuck with him. Everyone calls him Tate, my brother is called Tate."

King's baking career started in high school, as she baked homemade chocolate chip cookies and sold them at her grandfather's family farm stand, a farm her family still runs today. Originally wanting to be a veterinarian, her self-admitted lack of science skills soon made it obvious she needed to think of something else. "I knew I had something going with my cookies, so I went to school for restaurant management." After graduating from SUNY Cobbleskill, King returned home in need of a job. Rather than finding a job, she created one and a business to go along with it. "I needed a job and there was a fully equipped bakery for rent near where the Clam Man fish shop is now. I said to myself, 'I need a job, so I'll take it.' I was 20 at the time." After renting as a tenant for three years at the original location, the building that is now the home for Tate's Bake Shop came up for sale and at 23 she bought the property at 43 North Sea Road.

A favorite of local Hamptonians, it wasn't long before King had a national brand on her hands. She admits that her location in the Hamptons had a lot to do with her success. "I've often said that if I had started my bakery in a middle-class town I would still probably be a small, successful local bake shop. The opportunity of being in the Hamptons is important. You never know who is going to come through the door. The press, the media - celebrities - I have been very blessed. The media attention just came to me and that doesn't happen everywhere."

The Engelson family, weekend regulars, enjoy the coffee as much as the cookies.

King herself is amazed at the phenomenon of her cookies' success and is hard pressed to put her finger on what exactly happened. "I think we have a very consistent product, we have built a lot of trust with our customers. It's thin and crisp, buttery with just enough salt to make you want to have another one. It is an all-natural product, it tastes like it is homemade. It is a dying art now, scratch baking." She admits that in the beginning the chocolate chip cookies, "the signature product," branded themselves, but these days, with a national brand, there is marketing support for Tate's. "We have to drive the car now, whereas in the beginning I was running after the car." Tate's Cookies are sold all across the country and in Japan and St. Bart's. Her wholesale bake plant is located in Moriches.

King's first book, now discontinued, was called "Kathleen's Bake Shop Cookbook." With the business name change and continued interest in her recipes and scratch baking methods, St. Martin's Press brought out "Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook" a few years ago. "Just 25 recipes from the first book are included in this book. All the rest are new." As with her bake shop, the cookbook includes more than just cookies. "We specialize in basic Americana. It is a go-to book. 'I need to make brownies, I need to make a muffin.' It is not the most unique kind of recipes, but I think it is the best recipes featuring the best, all natural ingredients. I don't include specialty ingredients that you have to go searching for. It is all about keeping things simple and doing them well."

King says she enjoys the book talks and signings, but is modestly surprised by the popularity of them. "I am always amazed, people really seem to like them, they always show up. The community has been very good to me, I love this community. So when they ask, I always say yes. I am always glad to do it."

As King loves her faithful, so too her fans love her bake shop - and it is not just about the cookies. According to Tate's regular Larry Engelson, who was surrounded by his whole clan, "If you want real coffee, there is no other place but Tate's. It is unbelievable! The pastries, the cookies, they are all great. Every weekend I am here."

I asked King if there would be cookies at the book talk, "Of course, I always have to bring goodies with me." So find your way to The Amaganstt Free Library between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23 for great talk and delicious cookies, but you have to bring your own milk.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

Updated: June 22, 2009, 3:23 pm
Appeared In: food and wine >> main articles