WEST BRIGHTON — It started off as a way to unload an unwanted collection, but it turned into a lucrative business.
When Maria Carrozza opened her Staten Island bakery, sitting on the shelves alongside the cookies and cakes were her husband's collection of 500 cookie jars.
“My goal was just to sell the cookies,” said Carrozza, who opened Cake Chef's Cookie Jar on Forest Ave., West Brighton, five years ago.
“The jars were just an added feature and I could get rid of his collection.”
Her husband and the cookie baker, James, didn’t think the jars would sell. He was shocked when all 500 went in the first year.
Now, the bakery has a revolving stock of themed containers.
"None of them were really valuable," Carrozza said of the James' collection. "Most of them had a chip here or a crack there, but people loved the idea and they didn't care in the beginning, they bought them."
About 200 different cookie jars are now constantly in stock, some featuring the likenesses of Mr. Spock, Spiderman, The Fonz, Marilyn Monroe and others.
Carrozza said that customers like to give the jars, which come with a free pound of cookies, as holiday, birthday and housewarming gifts.
Each jar generally sells for around $50, which includes gift wrapping, but some vintage cookie jars in the store can fetch over $100.
Since she can't find one place that just sells cookie jars, Carrozza has to order from 10 different companies to keep the shelves stocked with the unique items.
To help keep the shelves constantly in flux, the store also buys old cookie jars from customers in exchange for a gift card depending on the value of the jar.
"You have your aunt's cookie jar that she gave you and you're like, 'I don't want it.' You can come in and we'll give you a $10 store credit," Carrozza said. "That keeps our wall changing."
She said generally they’re not interested in the expensive, highly collectible jars, and mostly focus on its condition and attraction to customers.
While Carrozza said the cookie jars are a unique draw to the bakery, the more than 140 different handmade cookies they sell at the store remain the reason customers stop by.
“The cookie jar sales, and the cookie jar feature is just a really unique bonus,” she said. “It's the cookies that keep us in business.”
Carrozza originally decided to open up the shop when James came up with different recipes for cookies and had no space to sell them at their first bakery, the Cake Chef Bakery in Castleton Corners.
Carrozza stressed that all cookies in the store are handmade, with styles that range from traditional like chocolate chip to unique inventions.
One is the Nutella delight, a best seller at the store made of hazelnuts, marshmallows and chocolate with Nutella spread inside, similar in flavor to a Ferrero Rocher.
Carrozza also said the store has one of the best seven-layer cookies, her favorite.
Aside from cookies and jars, the store also sells coffee, espresso, some cupcakes and bubble tea.
This year, the couple also opened up a third bakery and lunch spot, Cake Chef’s Piece of Cake in New Dorp. The plan was to originally open up a second location for the cookie jar, but with negotiations for the property still up in the air, they saw the spot nearby and opened up Piece of Cake.
Carrozza said she still hopes to open up another location for the Cookie Jar, possibly still in Staten Island or in Brooklyn, and hopes to one day have stores all over the country.
And her husband's personal jar collection is being rebuilt.
"My husband's redoing the collection," she said. "We're just limiting to the more rare kind."