If John Piermarini wasn’t making cookies and selling them from his bicycle, he’d be sitting at a desk putting his computer science degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology to use. How does one go from a career in computers to one involving baking and bike riding? Well, like many great stories, it all started with a girl.
During Piermarini’s sophomore year in college, a group of “stunning” girls moved into a nearby apartment and he decided a great way to meet them would be to host a dinner party. The evening was a success and a love of cooking was born.
“That’s how I really started to get into cooking,” said Piermarini, who received a KitchenAid Mixer for his birthday a short time later. “Then I was baking all the time.”
He hosted another party for which he baked 300 cookies and within a few hours, the mountain of sweet treats was gone.
“I started to think, ‘maybe I’m sort of good at this,'” Piermarini said.
And so during his senior year, he started baking more cookies and selling them on his bike around campus. At the time, you could place orders via text message and the cookies were two for $1. While he found great success on campus and really enjoyed the venture, Piermarini had a job lined up with IBM.
But after a year-and-a-half of playing it safe at his desk job, he decided the corporate world wasn’t really for him. So he took a leap and started Sweet Idea, his bike delivery cookie business.
“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Piermarini said. “I’m a completely different person now. I’ve learned so much and done so much.”
It’s been nearly a year since he launched Sweet Idea and in that time, he’s become something of a celebrity at Tufts University, his first delivery area in Boston. He dons an orange jumpsuit, which makes him easy to spot as he speeds around the campus, and has been tapped by an all-female a capella group at the university to perform a skit with them. One of Piermarini’s best customers even proposed with a ring made out of money (to pay for his cookies) while wearing a tuxedo.
“The response has been crazy,” Piermarini said. “That’s the magic of what’s happening.”
Piermarini, who grew up in Acton, chose Tufts to be his first delivery area in Boston because he really liked Somerville and wanted a small campus with the right amount of people.
“People [at Tufts] are open to fresh ideas,” Piermarini said. “They’re a fun bunch. It just seemed right.”
Piermarini clearly chose well because his cookies have been a hit on campus, often selling out on the weekend nights he delivers. Though some things he has learned the hard way, like the fact that Tufts is a hilly campus. Piermarini often logs 25-30 miles a night on his bike, so he’s gotten adept at taking the most efficient and least steep routes around campus.
When he’s not out delivering cookies, Piermarini can often by found at CropCircle Kitchen in Jamaica Plain, where he bakes up batches of chocolate chip and snickerdoodle by the dozen. He’s also been learning a lot from the other businesses that use the kitchen, like Roxy’s Grilled Cheese Food Truck, Staff Meal Food Truck and Seta’s Mediterranean Foods.
“I occassionally have help in the kitchen, but it’s mostly me only,” Piermarini said. “But it’s cool getting to work with all these people. It’s raw and I learn on the fly. It’s been super valuable.”
Piermarini’s engineering background has helped him immensely with employing efficient systems that allow him to bake lots of delicious cookies at once without wasting time or ingredients. This has allowed him to branch out beyond the bike delivery business into the world of catering. Once he baked 2,000 cookies in a week for an event at Tufts and he hopes to do more larger-scale projects like this in the future.
“People say, ‘your cookies are awesome,'” Piermarini said. “I think it’s awesome that I help bring people happiness. I like how food can have that effect on people.”
With school out for the summer, Piermarini has been popping up all over town with his cookies, including a weekly appearance at the Swirl & Slice market in Union Square on Thursdays from 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
He also plans to expand his delivery services to Boston University in the fall. He’s looking forward to tapping a new market and even hiring some students to help him complete all the deliveries.
Beyond cookies, Piermarini hopes to broaden his scope to include more baked goods in the future. He may also start sourcing some of his ingredients locally, like using Taza Chocolate in his ganache. Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure, Piermarini has big dreams and the drive and vision to accomplish them.
“One of the reasons I started this was someone asked me, ‘what’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?'” Piermarini said. “I thought, ‘I need answer.’ This is my answer.”