Under her tent, five days a week, from 1 PM to 8 PM, you will find Whitney Singletary selling her nut-based cookies on the corner of Dwight Way and Valley Street, in Berkeley. Since she started Nuttin’ Butter Cookies in 2015, it has been a way for her to express her passion for baking and also carry on a family tradition. On top of this, the bakery is currently located in her own driveway.
According to Singletary, the origin story of Nuttin’ Butter Cookies starts long before she founded it. “It goes all the way back to the ‘90s. My grandpa used to own a barbecue restaurant in Bakersfield, and I would always be in his restaurant helping him do stuff. And he never had dessert,” Singletary remembered. Although the family wished to add desserts to the menu, his passing brought their hopes to a halt. By 2015, she was ready to start her business in honor of him. “They were the two things I loved growing up, and they reminded me of my poppa: nuts, and cookies. That’s why I took my two favorite things, put them together, and got a spin off, Nuttin’ Butter Cookies,” she said.
As a nut butter and flour based bakery, the originality of the goods sold at Nuttin’ Butter Cookies is undeniable. “If your favorite nut is walnut, you’re not going to a regular bakery, it’s not just a walnut on top of it, [or] a regular cookie with some walnuts scattered through it. When you come to me, the nut is the star. It’s a real, full, fat, nut cookie,” Singletary said. The menu consists of 14 different nut based cookies, in the categories Classic, Exotic, and Tropical. From her best selling Peanut Butter cookie to the less common Brazilnut cookie, you will find a wide variety of flavors.
In early 2020, Nuttin’ Butter Cookies occupied an indoor shop, but due to conflicts with the building manager and the impact of COVID-19, Singletary moved the bakery back into her kitchen. She resumed selling cookies in her driveway, where the bakery made its debut. “I didn’t get prepared enough, I didn’t think it was gonna get this bad that fast,” she remarked.
Yet in other areas, she was more than ready for the pandemic. “I needed to re-strategize. When it comes to taking precautions for certain things, I was COVID ready, even before COVID hit.” A big part of Singletary’s baking process has to do with being sanitary. “Because I have high allergen products, they’re all completely 100 percent segregated from each other. So they have their own mixing bowls, their own cookie sheets, their own scoops,” Singletary explained. In order to ensure that no customer has an unexpected allergic reaction, her cookies come prepackaged, and she takes extra precautions to prevent cross contamination. “So if you are a person who is allergic to peanuts, you could come and get a pistachio butter cookie without having any problems because the only thing in that pistachio butter cookie is pistachios,” she explained.
Subsequent to COVID-19, other bakeries might have just started adopting safety policies to eliminate any possible transmission. For Singletary, allergen-related precautions were already incorporated into her baking process. This system designed to prevent allergic reactions now serves another purpose: preventing the spread of COVID-19.
As a small business owner, Singletary has had to overcome many obstacles. Being a Black business owner has also presented its own challenges. “When you look on Google how to start a business, and you go follow all the basics on how to start a business, that’s not for you if you’re Black. There is a whole other list that they don’t tell you about because it’s based on the discretion of the people you interact with,” she observed. Recalling various experiences where she had been prohibited from setting up shop in farmers markets or festivals, or denied business loans, Singletary couldn’t help but wonder if racial bias was what determined these decisions. She said, “You have those doubts, are they just telling me this because [I’m] constantly getting treated with different standards than everyone else?”
Despite these challenges, Nuttin’ Butter Cookies has received much support from the community after this summer’s resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. A common way to contribute to the movement is to buy from Black owned businesses, and this sudden rush of support has been apparent to Singletary. “They were actually out there, [saying] ‘I’m supporting you’ and, ‘Oh, we know of a local black owned business right now in our neighborhood, let’s all go support her!’ ” she said.
If there is any time to show support for businesses like Nuttin’ Butter Cookies, it’s now. Although she has faced significant challenges, Singletary is still hoping to achieve her main goal of having an indoor shop for Nuttin’ Butter Cookies. Singletary said, “There are so many obstacles and hurdles that get higher and higher the more you try to have a business, especially when it’s a small Black business. And especially when it’s in the food industry. But I’ve become a master hurdle jumper.”