We sat down (and ate sammiches – green tea cookies with Fruity Pebbles ice cream to be exact) with Claudia Gonzalez, the owner of Chunk-N-Chip, a cookie and ice cream sandwich company, which opened its first brick and mortar location at 4th Street Market in downtown Santa Ana this year. The journey started in 2005 when her younger sister shared her chocolate chip recipe with her. This led to selling cookies to co-workers, opening up pop-up shops, and in 2010, Chunk-N-Chip was on four wheels, with its own food truck. Today, almost 15 years later, Gonzalez’s team grew to 26 people, and along with the food truck, catering events, and opening her first store, she’s just getting started.
Where did this passion for cookies and ice cream come from?
My love of baking and cookies grew from my sister’s chocolate chip cookie recipe; it was easily the most delicious and addictive cookie I have ever tried. Unlike many cookies, it is moist and has tons of texture and spices (in homage to our Colombian taste buds). However, I quickly realized there was more to the recipe than chunks of chocolate and spices. It was how we baked together, and shared the experience of making and eating the oven warm ooey-gooey cookies that was truly memorable. It was then that I started Chunk-N-Chip with her blessing.
What sparked the idea of having your own business?
I’ve always had an entrepreneur spirit since middle school. I was the kid on the block that hosted lemonade stand and baked goods. After I graduated, I moved into Corporate America for fifteen years where I also taught for three. As much as I loved that world, I knew that I wanted to create a world of my own where I could exemplify the community values that I look for as a consumer and express my passion for baking and people. When I decided to start Chunk-N-Chip, it was a heartfelt decision. After I left my job, I got married and became a step mother. Being an instant mom, I found a softer side, and wanted to get into teaching, which I did while also making ice cream and cookies on the side. By 2010, I launched the food truck and decided to make it a full time gig. Instead of making the desserts in my house, I rented kitchen space and it became more legit. It’s been baby steps and a journey of heartaches and pain and happiness.
As much as I loved that world, I knew that I wanted to create a world of my own.
What is advice for someone opening up his or her own business?
Persist. Persist. Persist. All beginnings are hard; don’t let other people’s input stop you from pursuing your dreams. A strong passion, willingness and commitment is more than half the battle. Surround yourself with great mentors, get feedback as much as possible on all facets of running your business, and do not forget to read books on developing and growing a business. Also – leverage free resources like SCORE and SBDC that offer free business advice.
Chunk-N-Chip’s storefront is inside 4th Street Market. How did this location come about?
When Chunk-N-Chip was conceived, I knew that I wanted to open a storefront, but at that time, I wasn’t in a position to invest in all the risks of opening a brick and mortar business. Instead, I realized that I could start a cart and delivery service, which allowed me to build collateral to invest in a food truck, which is like a small roaming restaurant. Knowing someone was key. I came out to speak to Jason [owner of Lime Trick/Playground] who I knew from the food truck scene since we launched around the same time. I was interested in doing a pop up at Playground and he told me about Santa Ana. It was a big challenge coming into this area because there weren’t many restaurants. He introduced me to Ryan Chase and this concept. I wanted an independent store front and he told me about the food hall idea, picturing Ferry Building in San Francisco as an example and I got the idea.
What is the biggest difference (besides location) between the truck and the CNC at 4th Street?
Obviously having a static location is new for us. It is nice to know where to hang a hat up! The first difference is space. We have so much more space than were used to; both live and where we test, develop, and create our products. This space means we can hire more staff, allocate more time to R&D (research and development), and create products people truly love. Our ovens are also brand new and custom build to heat our cookies in a completely unique and trade secret way! Since we opened our doors, we have introduced so many new flavors and concepts. From our waffle cones, made from our original cookie recipes, to a delicious espresso and ice cream affogato collaboration with Portola Coffee Lab, 4th Street Market allows us creative freedom and more kitchen space. Being able to spread our wings has allowed us to try new ideas and reach new markets that we might not have otherwise.
Since we opened our doors, we have introduced so many new flavors and concepts.
We love the Lucky Charms ice cream! How do you come up with the flavors?
My generation grew up with cereal. I probably ate cereal until I was 18. Lucky Charms and Fruity Pebble’s were my favorite ones. The last of when you have the milk and it has all the flavor with a bit of milk and parts of the cereal, that’s what we were going for. The creative process isn’t complete without substantial input from our culinary talent who work behind the scenes in what we affectionately call ‘The Lab;’ is a bubbling hot pot of new ideas and flavor testing.
What are the most popular ice cream sammiches?
Our fans tend to order our classic sammiches by name. A few popular ones are The Elvis (peanut butter cookies with banana foster ice cream topped with warm candied spiced bacon. Drunk Monkey (graham cracker cookies with banana cream pie with bourbon and salted caramel. Horchata, Fruity Pebbles (we put this flavor on the map first – YUM!), and Lavender Blueberry (all available by scoop or pint) regularly sell out quickly.
Plans of opening another CNC in the future?
Yes! Expansion is a big part of our plans.
201 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701