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Student-run chUNC Cookies brings gluten-free treats to campus

UNC first year Mary Pope Bourne holds up toffee and cookie monster flavored cookies on Monday, April 1, 2024.

When UNC first-year Mary Pope Bourne was in fourth grade, she started a baking company to make money to buy a phone.

Donning a long trench coat, she would visit her father’s workplace with a sales pitch and menus for her business, which was called Sweet and Savory Catering. Despite the name, she only knew how to make desserts — everything else, she said, was “sold out.” 

Even after raising enough money, Bourne wasn’t allowed to buy the phone. Instead, her mother’s friend encouraged her to enter a baking competition for a chance to be the best cookie baker in Charlotte. 

“I was 9,” Bourne said. “And I entered it and somehow got second place to a 68-year-old lady.”

Today, Bourne sells her award-winning desserts under a new name. She started her gourmet gluten-free cookie business, chUNC Cookies, this past January. 

Her menu, which has changed a bit since the early days of Sweet and Savory Catering, is updated with new flavors almost every week. For the month of March, she sold Ramadan-inspired charity boxes with three cookies: Nutella-filled dark chocolate with sea salt, rose brown butter baklava and chai coffee cake. She said she sold 45 cookies through the boxes but has baked 80 total — including catering orders — over the past two weeks.

One cookie costs $3.95 for students and $4.50 for non-students. Bourne also sells three-packs and five-packs, with a full price list available on her Instagram, @chUNCcookies.

Bourne said the price comes from the cost of her labor and the price of gluten-free flour. She decided to sell gluten-free cookies because of her friendship with first-year student Claiborne Beurle, who avoids gluten by choice. 

“I was like, 'If I'm going to make a company, and you're inspiring me to make that company, I want you to be able to eat everything that I make,'” Bourne said.

When Beurle first tasted Bourne’s baking, she joked about wanting a cake that said “C’s get degrees” after passing a difficult class last semester. Bourne made her a brown butter cake topped with cream cheese frosting.

“I said, ‘Okay, I need to have your other baked goods, because this is better than anything I've ever had,’” Beurle said

After that, Bourne baked gluten-free cookies for her and the two realized how great they tasted. Bourne said Beurle also inspired the name of her business. After asking for an opinion on the name "Chunk Cookies," Beurle recommended spelling chunk as “chUNC.”

She usually thinks that gluten-free products taste gluten-free, but not chUNC Cookies.

“I think that's the big thing that's different,” Beurle said. “Is that it’s drawing the gluten-free cookies onto the same page as a normal cookie.”

UNC first year Mary Pope Bourne holds up a toffee flavored cookie on Monday, April 1, 2024.

Senior Brianna Hillman first bought from chUNC Cookies in its second week as an official business and was surprised the cookies tasted so good without gluten. She now purchases them weekly.

Bourne said she takes orders through a form in her Linktree and advertises on Instagram. Her customers pick up their cookies in the Student Union

First-year Rachel Maselli said she first bought the cookies to support Bourne, but quickly realized she’d buy them regardless. The March baklava cookie had her “dying” over how good it was.

“You taste the goodness, and the gooeyness, and the warmth and just the creativity and personalization that goes into these cookies,” Maselli said.

Bourne said her friends help with marketing, but she does all the baking herself. The process involves a lot of trial and error, and she said she feels a lot of pressure because many customers are first-time buyers. 

Because she lives in Cobb Residence Hall, Bourne bakes at home, her friend’s apartment or her dorm's kitchen. She said she has a love-hate relationship with baking in Cobb because she likes talking with people in the building but struggles with moving supplies, managing the small space and working with the oven.

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“Being a one-woman show is definitely a lot of work,” she said. “But it’s also really rewarding.”

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