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Bringing home the dough: Belmont graduate finds success with edible cookie dough business

While many music professionals were probably dreaming about making it big in the industry, Megan Beaven was dreaming about cookie dough.

A recent Belmont graduate with a music business degree, Beaven had a great job working in licensing at Sony/ATV.

But Beaven felt unhappy with the idea of working for someone else, and she longed to be an entrepreneur so she could control her future. She started planning for a new business, an online store selling edible cookie dough.

Cookie dough may seem like an unusual business idea, but for Beaven it was the natural choice. She loved making — and consuming — safe-to-eat chocolate chip cookie dough, and she found many of her friends did, too.

Once Beaven started developing NoBaked Cookie Dough, she never looked back.

She spent lunch breaks at her day job designing the business’ website — a difficult task for someone who knew little about web design — and started marketing her cookie dough on social media.

When Beaven launched her business in 2017, the edible cookie dough trend was beginning to sweep the nation, with stores like DO Cookie Dough Confections and the Cookie Dough Cafe gaining huge popularity. But Nashville still lacked a cookie dough shop, making NoBaked the first of its kind in the city.

By the time NoBaked officially launched in the spring of 2017, people were already excited about the idea. Beaven got several cookie dough orders as soon as she made the website public and spent an entire night in a commercial kitchen making the cookie dough to fill those first orders.

The next day, she quit her day job.

At first, Beaven planned to keep running NoBaked as a one-woman show, doing all the cooking, marketing and selling. She simply hoped to make enough money to replace the salary she made at Sony.

Beaven never intended to sell NoBaked face-to-face, rather she thought it would remain an online-only operation. Her fiance Jimmy Feeman, however, recognized the ingenuity of the business and encouraged Beaven to dream bigger.

With his affirmation in mind, Beaven started hosting pop-up shops all over Nashville — and eventually in Beaven’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky — selling cookie dough to a rapidly growing base of treat-seeking enthusiasts. The business grew so fast she quickly realized she couldn’t do all the work alone anymore, so Feeman started helping out.

“He’d go to work from 7 to 5 and then go straight to the kitchen with me until midnight. He was working his butt off to make NoBaked a success and maintain his current job,” Beaven said.

Within only a few months, the business expanded to the point where it needed even more help. Struggling to keep up with the huge demand for cookie dough — both online and in person at pop-ups — Beaven hired Caleb Elder to help make dough in the summer of 2017.

Elder loved working with Beaven and Feeman, and before too long, NoBaked became profitable enough for them to give him a promotion.

“They were just like, ‘How much do you need to pay rent?’ I gave them a number and they said I was hired. And ever since then I’ve been their right hand man,” Elder said. “I’m best friends with them now.”

Elder stuck around because he believed in the ingenuity of NoBaked, but also because he believed in Beaven and Feeman.

“They’re the kind of people you want to work for. They want to encourage you, whether it be financially or with words,” he said. “I helped them branch out and reach more people by doing pop-ups and stuff like that, and we really got the word out.”

As the NoBaked pop-ups became more and more popular, people kept asking Beaven when she would open a brick-and-mortar store. Even though a storefront never factored into Beaven’s initial business plan, she started considering the possibility.

Once Beaven started looking into setting up a storefront, things began moving quickly.

In August, Feeman quit his job in finance to work at NoBaked full time.

In September, Beaven signed a lease on a Nashville storefront.

In October, the Nashville store opened, becoming the city’s first raw cookie dough shop.

The store sits on a small street off of West End Avenue, in a white brick house with a huge front porch and a cotton candy-colored door.

Inside, employees in bright pink T-shirts scoop the sweet treats from a glass case, serving cookie dough in dishes or in pink novelty cones.

The shop offers the three original flavors that gave NoBaked its initial success — chocolate chip, confetti sugar and brownie batter chip — but also some more adventurous options, like vegan snickerdoodle and red velvet. Guests can also add toppings like Reese’s Pieces, Nutella or caramel to make the already sweet cookie dough even more decadent.

A neon sign — you guessed it, it’s pink — invites visitors to indulge their sweet tooth with the words, “Don’t mind if I dough.” Other dough-related puns appear in abundance throughout the store, from the little pink tip jar labeled “Dough-nations” to the poster telling customers to tag NoBaked on Instagram with #doughitforthegram.

The store features all the trappings of a cute small-town ice cream shop mixed with plenty of trendy details, and Elder credits much of the business’ success to its atmosphere.

“This store feels like a house, feels like a home. You feel very comfortable here,” Elder said. “And also everyone just loves cookie dough. The stuff sells itself, it’s just so good!”

NoBaked’s growth didn’t stop with the Nashville store. After it opened in October, Beaven opened a second NoBaked shop in Louisville, set up a franchising program and expanded the business to employ a team of about 30 people.

One thing’s for sure, NoBaked became a success largely because of the way the community rallied around the idea, Beaven said.

“My customers shaped NoBaked to what it is now. When I offered it online, they invited me to sell it at pop-up shops in person. When I was doing the pop-up shops, they asked me when I would open a store. When I opened a Nashville store, Louisville asked when I would open one there. Now, people ask if they can franchise a NoBaked. Customers shaped NoBaked into what it is,” she said.

But while Beaven stays humble and downplays her role in NoBaked’s success, Elder couldn’t say enough good things about the hardworking and talented entrepreneur.

“She’s ‘an independent woman who don’t need no man.’ It’s so funny. She’s only had one person ask her if she had problems because she’s a woman, and she said ‘Not once. Not once.’ It was more her age. Applying for loans when you’re 25 is very hard,” he said.

While some may expect women business owners to face more hardships, Beaven said her gender actually gave her an advantage.

“I’ve felt very empowered and lifted up by so many people in the community. I’ve gotten to do some pretty amazing things, like a TedX Talk, because of the fact that I am a woman who owns a business,” she said.

Moving forward, Beaven hopes to keep expanding NoBaked, but she doesn’t want the brand to lose its unique flair.

“My main goal is to keep it growing and to keep the culture of the company the way it is now. I always want customers and staff both to feel like they’re part of something special.”

In addition to more NoBaked franchises, customers can also expect the company to keep rolling out new flavors and surprises. Elder hinted at “big plans” for something new at NoBaked this summer.

If Beaven sticks with her entrepreneurship philosophy — “the only way to know what you’re doing is to do it” — then the possibilities for NoBaked seem limitless.

She’ll handle all the challenges that come with a rapidly growing business the way she’s handled everything NoBaked threw her way in the past year — with skill, creativity and plenty of support from her friends and family.

And beyond NoBaked? Beaven doesn’t know what’s next, but she doesn’t think this business venture will be her last.

“I’ve had multiple business ideas over my short lifetime, so I’m sure there will be something else in the future.”

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