There have been times, particularly this month, when five-year cookie entrepreneur Tina Rexing longed for the $100,000-plus IT corporate management job she quit to launch T-Rex Cookies.
Adjusting to the measures designed to slow coronavirus, Rexing had to shutter the T-Rex shop she opened at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka, which was off to a promising start after only two weeks of operations. She also had to lay off most of her new hires and the crew at her warehouse, bakery and retail outlet in Eagan.
“It’s hard to hire people and then let them go,” Rexing said. “I was blowing it out of the water at Ridgedale. I knew this would work. And then it ended. And we don’t know [the future].”
She donated hundreds of huge cookies to the Eagan-Apple Valley school district, which is feeding low-income kids during the virus-related school closure.
Rexing, the mother of two teenagers, also is grateful for her husband’s good job and benefits that will keep the family out of the poorhouse. This is a resilient entrepreneur, and a Filipino immigrant, educated in economics at St. Olaf College, who also has put a lot more dough into T-Rex than she has taken out.
The irony is that she thought she was over the hump this year. She had to close her two-year-old T-Rex Café on University Avenue in Minneapolis about a year ago. It fell victim in 2018 to the sale of the building where it was located. She had plans to resume operations in the new commercial-residential complex still planned for the site. But that was delayed and she bailed out amid a lawsuit, since settled, by Prospect Park neighbors who opposed the high-rise project.
Rexing and her husband paid off a $50,000 loan on the cafe from their savings. And Rexing opened a wholesale bakery in an Eagan industrial park, with a retail outlet. She also bought a “cookie truck” that visits corporate and event clients.
“It’s a cookie-and-milk truck,” Rexing said. “We don’t fight for space with food trucks. We arrive by appointment.”
Rexing opened at Ridgedale, after about a year of discussions in connection with the remodeling of that shopping center. She got a centerpiece location for her attractive shop, next to which she parked her company-colors Mini Cooper SUV.
The economics make sense. No need for baking equipment. Rexing supplied Ridgedale from Eagan. The rent was reasonable. Until sales disappeared. Now it’s hang-on time for a business that was headed for positive cash flow on something approaching $2 million in sales, if things had gone according to plan. Rexing sold 500,000 cookies at wholesale and up to $5 at retail, including sales through restaurants and other third-party vendors.
Some of those regular customers, including the Minnesota Orchestra, are out of action for the time being, too.
T-Rex is able to limp along because of her wholesale business, including peddling T-Rex dough through food-service outfits. And she sells through her Trexcookie.com website and curbside sales in Eagan.
To add insult to injury, Rexing was shut out last year on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” show.
Rexing spent thousands on accommodations, legal and accounting documents, and dozens of hours away from business and days in Los Angeles preparing and filming. One of her two teenage sons joined her in L.A., appearing on set in the T-Rex dinosaur costume.
“I met the sharks, did a 45-minute Q&A with them, memorized my financial numbers and filmed,” she recalled. “Then it’s ‘We’ll let you know.’ And I was in a six-month cone of silence. Just wondering.”
Rexing learned this month that “Shark Tank” would air fewer segments this year.
She did have a great meeting with billionaire shark Mark Cuban.
“You’re running a good business,” Cuban told Rexing. “You get to keep it.”
“It’s times like these that define who you are,” said Rexing, determined to tough it out as one of her children and another employee hauled boxes of cookies out of Ridgedale. “I have to come up with my recovery strategy.”