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Delivering cookies in the night

Remember when you were in college, pulling an all-nighter and craving a snack long after the dining hall had closed? Your options used to be limited to late-night pizza delivery or stale chips from the vending machine.

Now, students cramming for exams at the University of Maryland, College Park can have warm, fresh-baked cookies - with a side of milk - delivered to their dorms weekdays from 8:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends. (Pssst, locals who live within a few miles of campus can, too - no student IDs required.)

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The school is the newest site of Insomnia Cookies, a dessert-delivery service and store that's the brainchild of recent University of Pennsylvania graduate Seth Berkowitz, 24.

The Maryland store opened a few weeks ago and, despite minimal advertising, business has been good. "I'm very enthusiastic about the response," said store manager Mark Moore.

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Berkowitz was clearly on to something when he cooked up the idea for Insomnia Cookies in 2002. As a junior economics major at Penn, he was in a long-distance relationship that left him with a lot of time on his hands. At night he would get bored - and hungry.

"I always want cookies at night," he says. "I used to bake them on my own sometimes."

While visiting his girlfriend in Boston, he heard about a baked-goods delivery service and an idea took root: What if you could get fresh-from-the-oven cookies delivered at all hours of the night?

Berkowitz decided to give it a shot from his off-campus apartment. "I had one oven. I answered phones, baked the product, delivered it - I did everything," he says.

Word spread and before long, Berkowitz's phone was ringing off the hook and the cookie-craving callers were more than he could handle on his own. So he brought on his Penn classmate and business partner, Jared Barnett, 23, and rented commercial space.

Insomnia Cookies has become a full-time venture for Barnett and Berkowitz, who now live in Manhattan. The company has grown to five locations at the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Syracuse University, the University of Illinois and the University of Maryland.

"Real estate, especially retail, on college campuses is really desirable," says Berkowitz.

Just under 35,000 students are enrolled at Maryland. And college students, with their parents' credit cards, all-hours schedules and voracious appetites, are a food retailer's dream.

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Last June, Insomnia Cookies inked a deal with Tasti D-Lite, a New York-based chain that sells low-calorie frozen desserts. In College Park, Tasti D-Lite will operate out of the storefront during the day - where walk-in customers also can purchase cookies for 85 cents a piece - and Insomnia Cookies will use the space at night for baking and deliveries.

"We sell a lot of cookies during the day, but we sell more at night," says Berkowitz, who puts his company's annual revenue at "over $1 million."

He says the best-selling store is at the University of Illinois and sells as many as 1,500 cookies a day. To place an order, customers call 866-4L8-NITE or log on to Insomnia Cookies' Web site, www.insomniacookies.com, where they can choose from a variety of cookies and brownies ranging from $5.50 for six cookies to $10.50 for a baker's dozen. For now, online sales are limited to delivery areas near the schools.

Selections include white chocolate chip brownies, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies, and, the biggest seller, the basic chocolate chip cookie, says Berkowitz, who developed the recipes himself.

Customers also can order beverages, including milk, coffee and Red Bull energy drink.

Berkowitz and Barnett are still at the helm of Insomnia Cookies, which plans to open two more stores this summer, preferably at "Big Ten" schools.

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The company eventually may sell cookies online beyond the delivery area and offer franchise opportunities. "It's starting to get bigger than just the two of us. We have managers at each store and a vice president who handles operations," says Berkowitz.

It was Moore's decision to bake the cookies to order even for walk-in customers at the Maryland store, rather than pre-bake them. "Our thing is to make sure you get warm cookies," he says. "And response on that has been tremendous at the University of Maryland." Moore says he already has repeat customers.

Now that Insomnia Cookies' founder has employees to worry about whether the cookies are warm, does that mean he's getting more sleep than in his undergrad days?

No way. "It's 24 hours a day, unfortunately," says Berkowitz. "[Although] it's much better than when I used to mix the batter and make the deliveries myself at 2 a.m."


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