For all of his adult life, Jason Stahl has owned or operated businesses.
From tanning salons, to a freeze dried ice cream business to a local dry cleaners, the former Seymour resident appreciates being able to provide a service or product to the public.
Now, Stahl is in the business of making people smile and changing the world one cookie at a time.
On Aug. 13, he officially opened a new business, Laura Jo’s Cookies for Kids, but the idea for the endeavor has been in his head for 20 years.
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It all started with Jason’s mother, Laura Stahl’s, 50-year old cookie recipe.
"Growing up, people would contact mom asking her to make cookies for certain events, and she would," Jason said. "She would never charge people, and people loved the cookies so much that the reputation got out."
The shortbread sugar cookies are hand iced and can be customized into almost any shape. The Stahls rely on local business The Fussy Pup in Seymour for custom-made cookie cutters.
Customers can order either the seasonal special cookies by the dozen for $26 or can design their own cookie for any occasion for $30 per dozen. He’s also planning on rolling out some lower price point items, including $5 sample bags.
"We’ll make it so everyone can get there hands on these cookies," he said.
Even the packaging is unique as each cookie comes individually sealed and the box they come in is reminiscent of how Apple products are shipped.
The "cookie shack" as Jason calls it is located in a commercial bakery built this summer by his father, Jon Stahl, near Jon and Laura’s home in the Chestnut Ridge area south of Seymour.
Jason always knew how good his mom’s cookies were as family members would ask her to make them for holiday get-togethers.
"They’ve been very, very popular for a long time," he said.
The bakery, which does all of its sales through its website laurajoscookiesforkids.com is a way to honor the retired school teacher’s legacy of helping, supporting and loving children.
"The goal is to basically make her famous," he said with a smile. "I want to brand name her across the country just as a testament to all that she’s done for kids."
Laura spent more than 40 years as a teacher and then served as director of Mental Health America of Jackson County, working with both children and adults with mental health issues. And although retired, she continues to tutor Japanese students in Seymour.
"She’s done that for years," Jason said. "I just thought this would be a good way to cement her legacy with children."
Fifty percent of sales revenue from the cookies goes to a charity that benefits children and consumers get to pick where their donation goes.
Currently there are 17 charities available to support including the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour, Brownstown Central Elementary School, Seymour Lady Owls Soccer, Seymour Cyclones Soccer, Child Care Network, Immanuel Lutheran School and St. John’s Sauers School. There are also ones listed from Columbus, Noblesville, Madison County, South Ripley, Franklin and Rushville.
On Friday, Jason presented the first donation check totaling $1,301.72 to the Boys and Girls Club after just two weeks of business.
Any organization interested in getting on the fundraising list can contact Laura Jo’s Cookies For Kids through their website.
"It’s kind of a new business model that I think is going to be popular as this grows," he said. "I can see other businesses taking this kind of stance that people can help people."
What made him turn to the idea of a philanthropic business venture was that he was going through a rough time in his life, he said.
"I went through a real bad divorce," he said. "I needed something to feel good, so in a way that divorce spurred me to go this direction. It’s all about being positive and positive thinking."
He describes Laura Jo’s Cookies for Kids as a "community tool, designed to raise money for children in everybody’s communities."
"We make the best shortbread sugar cookies in the country and we donate half of all sales to kids. What’s not to love?" he said. "This is a fun business. We’re selling happiness."
The business is completely volume based, a concept Stahl said he learned from Seymour businessman Larry Burton with whom he partnered in the tanning salon business.
"We make our profits based on long-term volume," he said. "We’ll do all the work, we just need the community’s support."
The bakery has the potential to produce 500 dozen cookies per day on two-shifts, Jason said.
"That will equate to $1.6 million a year for kids," he said.
As for giving 50% of profits to charities, he said they are learning as they go. In order to make the most impact, he is looking to franchise Laura Jo’s Cookies for Kids across the country.
"What we’re learning right now is territories, what one store can cover without stepping on another store’s toes," he said. "Right now, it’s looking like Seymour, Columbus, Brownstown can handle one franchise."
Jason said he doesn’t plan to limit the number of charities from Jackson, Bartholomew and Brown County, where he currently lives. He also plans to cater to corporations and other businesses that often place large orders of cookies or cupcakes for special events, for weddings and for high school concession stands.
"The beautiful thing about it is that everybody that has ordered something like this, now you can give to kids while you order," he said. "That’s the most important thing about this. We’re taking something that is already there. We’re refacing it and making the intent much better."
In the future, he plans to roll out Laura Jo’s Cookies for Pets to raise money for animal welfare organizations and Laura Jo’s Cookies for Heroes to raise money for veterans and first responders.
That way if someone doesn’t want to support just kids, they will have the opportunity to support other causes, he added.
"We are promoting America’s greatest cookie to support America’s greatest resource," Jason said. "It’s going to do very well. It’s going to be a successful business, but most importantly it’s going to do a lot of wonderful things in communities."
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Laura Jo’s Cookies for Kids
Owners: Jason Stahl with support and inspiration from his mom, Laura and father, Jon.
Cost: Seasonal cookies available for $26 per dozen; custom cookies $30 per dozen.
Half of all sales revenue goes to support a community charity benefiting children. There are 17 charities listed on the website for customers to choose where their donation goes.