Saintly cookies at the ball game


From Highland Little League to the Saints team, Pat Gavin and Brian Whinnery have been lifelong friends. Now they are playing on the same team, as partners in a chocolate chip cookie business. Last year Gavin, now an accountant, and St. Paul Saints pitcher Brian Whinnery started selling chocolate chip cookies at the concession stands at the Saint Paul Saints games at Midway Stadium. With the success of that first season behind them, the two are now going big time, continuing to sell at Saints games and taking their cookies to the Metrodome for selected Minnesota Twins and Vikings games and Gopher football games.

The homemade cookies are baked fresh the day of each game using a recipe that was handed down by Gavin’s mother. Gavin “tweaked it” a bit to come up with the recipe for Clubhouse Cookies, and Whinnery fine-tuned the proportions of the ingredients.

Now in their late twenties, Gavin and Whinnery are lifelong friends going back to when they were little kids growing up together in Highland Park in Saint Paul . From the beginning, baseball has played a major role in their lives. They were classmates at Nativity Grade School, then Cretin Derham Hall (CDH) High School. Both attended college at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Gavin later transferred to the University of Minnesota and Whinnery went on to the University of Saint Thomas.

The two friends played baseball together for Highland Park Little League teams, and Whinnery played baseball for CDH and the Johnnies. He was pitcher for Saint Thomas the year they won the National Baseball Championship.

After college, Whinnery first applied his degree in accounting at a small CPA firm, then for the Target Corporation. Whinnery says, “Both of those jobs were awesome and gave me all the experience I need now to run business meetings, conduct sales, and pitch the firm.”

He joined the Saints last year and he is the first Saint Paul-born player for the Saints in ten years. In the off-season, he works as a substitute teacher at CDH.

The two started up the cookie-making business while they were in Austin, Texas a few years back. They sold the cookies at fairs and music festivals. Now that they are back in the Twin Cities, they hope to find a niche for the cookies in the sporting community.

Whinnery laughs as he says they are mixing up the cookie dough “almost around the clock.” During the school year they must work around the lunch schedule at Saint Mark’s School, where Whinnery’s mother, Molly, is the principal, since the school kitchen is used to prepare the cookies. CDH students work side-by-side with the large contingent of friends and relatives who help with measuring, mixing and baking.

Gavin is now working full-time for the cookie company due to the growth of the business. During the 2008 Saints Season, Whinnery will have less time to be involved in day-to-day operations, leaving Gavin to tend to the details. He points out that everyone who works for the company has a tremendous loyalty to the cause. (Loyalty or not, all of the workers are paid.)

Using the finest quality ingredients, the cookies are mixed in small batches with a commercial mixer. Since the cookies are a new item at the ballparks, Whinnery knows the importance of making a good first impression on the folks who will buy the cookies. Ahead of game time, the workers head to the stadium to get everything set up, Once the game is on, they walk up and down the aisles of the stands selling the warm, bite-sized cookies.

“One of the best parts is the people we’ve met,” says Whinnery, “people out there who want to help us succeed. All the support is overwhelming.”

Whinnery was Grand Marshal at this year’s parade marking the beginning of the Highland Park Little League baseball season. It was a thrill for him to be able to go back to the place he started his baseball career. Jake Mauer , the father of Twins player Joe Mauer, coached the Air Freight Unlimited Team that Whinnery played for. Today, Whinnery credits Jake Mauer with helping them get the media support they need to make it all work.

Clearly delighted with their success so far, Whinnery says, “I own a cookie company with my best friend, Pat. We’re dreamers with an entrepreneurial spirit.” Whinnery says that he and Gavin believe their business is “on the cusp of really becoming something big.”

Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.