To hear Sequoia Cheney tell it, CEO of a food company wasn’t something she saw herself being.
“I never thought I’d be doing this at this time in my life, but here I am.”
Where she is is running Wonderfully Raw Gourmet and making Coco-Roons cookies. But she wouldn’t have created either without a type 2 diabetes diagnoses about five years ago. Her condition led to discovering raw foods, training at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute, and then taking her knowledge and skills to teaching cooking classes in Watsonville. After classes, her students could not get enough of her treats, yet she still did not it turn into a business.
“People were buying my food for sale after my classes and just loving it. They said you’ve got to get some of this stuff in the market, and I’m thinking, ‘yeah right,’ ” said Cheney.
But from her Watsonville kitchen, Cheney did bring a product to market. Her Coco-Roons cookies are now sold in over 120 stores. That includes all six New Leaf Community Market locations, 28 Whole Foods throughout Northern California, plus stores in Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. And that looks to just be the beginning as Wonderfully Raw Gourmet has signed with a national food broker to take Coco-Roons to even more stores throughout the country.
While Coco-Roons are about to go national, it began locally with New Leaf placing the first store order—something Cheney was not really ready for.
“I had no bag. I had no label. I had nothing. In 30 days we created everything and got it out to market,” said Cheney.
The only thing ready was the cookie—a raw coconut macaroon-style cookie that, according to Cheney, is healthful while not tasting like it.
“The product really sells itself because it tastes so good. What I really wanted to was create a healthy food that tastes as if it’s not good for you,” said Cheney.
Raw food and cookies might not seem like a great combination. But according to Cheney, that mainly comes from misconceptions about what raw food really is.
“It’s not raw cookie dough,” said Cheney. “The macaroons are dehydrated at 115 degrees and so they’re baked but they don’t lose their enzymes or nutrients. That’s what raw means.”
While her business rapidly expanded, it brought her family closer together. Her son Eric Hara moved from New York, along with his wife and 5-year-old son, to Watsonville to become the company president—something he also never saw happening.
“If you would’ve asked me seven months ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d be doing this,” Hara.
A chef with restaurants in New York City, Hara was consulting with his mom on Coco-Roons while still grinding out long hours in the kitchen.
“I’ve been a chef for 16 years and I was missing everything,” said Hara. “It just got tiring and was time to make a move.”
That move looks to be working for Hara, Cheney and Wonderfully Raw Gourmet. But even as the sales increase, Cheney hasn’t lost the simple joy of seeing something she created on store shelves.
“I still get excited when I see them on the shelf,” said Cheney.
Editor's note: This is one in a series about unique Watsonville businesses. Read more here.