Firefighters from the Rivers Park Fire Station had only one question for Casey Dyson as they sampled home-baked cookies from her fledgling delivery service: Does she pack cold milk on her scooter?
Dyson, a Columbia resident who launched CookieRide in August after four months of paperwork and preparation, carries six varieties of cookies — but no beverages.
The firefighters at the Old Columbia Road station gave their approval to her quarter-pound chocolate chip cookies and smaller Power Bites — an original recipe made of nuts, flax seed, and dried blueberries and cherries that was inspired by a physical therapist seeking a snack high in antioxidants.
Other October varieties available in what Dyson calls her "mobile cookie jar" included caramel pecan smash, peanut butter, pumpkin, spice and sugar. November's offerings, which sell for $2 apiece, will vary.
Dylan Murray said the freshly made cookies were a real treat since the firefighters work long shifts and are often interrupted during meal preparation when duty calls.
Convenience and the absence of preservatives are draws for Dyson's unusual service, which she operates from a kitchen in her Kings Contrivance home. After failing to locate a bakery willing to deliver cookie trays, the Chicago native decided to deliver cookies via a shiny red 150-cc scooter.
"One of the advantages of cookies is their [single-serve] convenience," she said, noting the recent success of cupcake trucks. "I think cookies are the wave of the future."
Dyson said she wanted to serve as a role model for her two daughters and two stepdaughters, and had searched for a job that would be challenging while allowing her the flexibility to take care of her family.
After her elder sister died three years ago of ovarian cancer at age 50 — the same disease that had also killed her mother at that age — Dyson, 48, said she realized that it was time to make a move.
"Their passing away definitely propelled me to decide to finally do this," she said. She has fond memories of learning to bake with her mom. Dyson also formerly worked at Touche Touchet Bakery on Shaker Drive. She found she missed it.
"My husband, Craig, is very supportive of CookieRide, and my girls, Columbia and Isabelle, think it's so cool," said Dyson, whose family relocated to Howard County 10 years ago when her husband accepted a job as a program manager at Fort Meade.
After deciding against operating a van or a food truck, and after briefly considering riding a bicycle with an attached trailer, as is done on the West Coast, she chose the scooter for its energy efficiency and small carbon footprint.
After receiving her county peddler's license and satisfying health department requirements as a food handler under the state's cottage food law, Dyson started appearing at the three Columbia Association pools in MacGill's Common, Huntington and Hopewell.
The association requires no special permit or license as long as Dyson operates curbside from a public road and not on private property, she said. She also avoided selling at pools that have a snack bar to avoid stealing customers.
"I'm regarded just like the ice cream man," she said. "Yet I'm offering families an alternative. When you read my nutrition label, you can pronounce all the ingredients listed on it."
The Soccer Association of Columbia fields at Oakland Mills Middle School are a popular Saturday sales spot, where young athletes and their families have learned to watch for her scooter — a Stella, manufactured the Genuine Scooter Co. — which is nearly as much of an attraction as the cookies, she said.
"People ask me a lot of questions about Stella," she said. "My daughter Columbia, who is 14, can't wait to drive it."
She encourages anyone with a cookie craving to "honk if you're hungry" when they spy her on the road, and she'll pull into the nearest parking lot.
Dyson also frequents the Columbia lakefront and Howard Community College. To alert fans and prospective buyers to her whereabouts, she provides a daily itinerary on Facebook and then sends tweets from her Twitter account as she moves throughout the area.
And with the holiday season around the corner, gingerbread house-making parties will be added to office parties and birthday parties, among other services.
Dyson's neighbor, Laurie Bokulic, describes her as "a person who wants to make an impact on her community." She said she was impressed when Dyson "took her idea and just went with it."
"She's a great baker, but she's also a friendly, fun person with a smile on her face, and I think that's needed to be successful," Bokulic said. "She has persevered, and now her business is taking off."
Jennifer Stott, a former neighbor and science professor at Howard Community College, says she uses Dyson's cookies as a reward for her two elementary school-age daughters.
"Casey did her research and test-marketing," she said, and Dyson often tested her products on the Stotts. "I think she will be successful at whatever she puts her mind to."
Dyson is dreaming of the day when she can add more drivers on scooters as her business expands.
"I was nervous about launching a business and some days I still am," she said, "but I like that I'm blazing a trail."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun