Brayden Pleasants (B.S.’13/B) craved sweets during his late-night study sessions as an undergraduate at Virginia Commonwealth University. But unless he had a candy bar or stash of cookies tucked away, he couldn’t get his sugar fix. Pleasants, a business major, recognized a potential market and, in March 2014, opened the late-night cookie delivery service Red Eye Cookie Co. to satisfy the sweet-tooth cravings of other night owls in Richmond.
Red Eye shares space with Sally Bell’s kitchen, just north of VCU’s campus. To create a buzz and future fan base before opening, Pleasants and his team handed out cookie samples at VCU’s James Cabell Branch Library, passed out business cards on campus and in bars, and cultivated a strong social media presence. Red Eye quickly garnered 4,000 likes on Facebook before it even sold its first cookie. That online following doubled within a few months.
“From the beginning, the concept had a lot of excitement about it. We said ‘late-night cookie delivery’ and people’s ears kind of perked up,” Pleasants says.
Red Eye continues to find innovative ways to market its made-from-scratch cookies, including cross-promotions with local restaurants through giveaways on Facebook. The tactics are working as the company has catered all kinds of events from weddings to corporate outings (including a donation of several hundred cookies baked for VCU’s resident assistants as they moved back onto campus this month), and their goodies can be found in local grocers such as Union Market, Urban Farmhouse and Harvest Grocery & Supply.
“We’ve been lucky, and we’re really grateful that we’ve been able to have such overwhelmingly positive experiences and reactions from Richmond,” Pleasants says of interactions with customers and other Richmond-based businesses.
Pleasants also expressed his gratitude toward the professors and classes that inspired him as he double majored in marketing and business administration at VCU.
“The curriculum itself and the professors really seemed borne out of real-world experience,” he says. “A lot of professors who had an impact on me were translating not just textbooks but their experience in marketing and branding and entrepreneurship. Those definitely had an impact on inspiring me to do something for myself and have that kind of ownership.”
Pleasants started the company with his own collection of recipes, and since then, the Red Eye team has had a hand in developing new flavors. In just over a year, Red Eye has expanded delivery zones, developed an app available for easier ordering and added flavors such as Andes Mint Chocolate Chip and vegan Maple Apple Walnut. And, Pleasants says, Red Eye fans can look forward to even more new cookie flavors in the coming months.
Pleasants also has active plans to open a second Red Eye location outside of Richmond. The company will continue to grow, but Pleasants says it will always connect with the city it calls home. “We couldn’t have picked a better place to start.”