SALEM — You might be fooled into thinking the late-night cookie pop-up Goodnight Fatty has a permanent home down an alley in Higginson Square.

But every week, Erik and Jennifer Sayce have to recreate their cookie bakery from scratch.

You might be fooled into thinking it's a permanent location because the area behind Rockafella's has been lit with a public art project overhead, and there's a small, red Goodnight Fatty delivery truck sitting in the alley. And the experience — except for the cookie flavor — stays the same:

Once you locate the entrance, you walk into a dimly lit hallway and wait with others, wondering what tonight's three cookie flavors might be. Once inside, you're in a brightly lit room with light bulbs and wires dangling from the ceiling. There are no chairs, but there are folding tables where you can stand and play games like Jenga and Candy Land.

While the cookie dough was prepared in a commissary kitchen on Jefferson Avenue, the "fatties" (that's what they call their cookies) are baked in small electric ovens on site so they come out hot and fresh.

But the location, while it may seem permanent, is actually a conference room at Sperling Interactive, a web design and marketing company. Fatty's can use it starting at 5 p.m., meaning they have to scramble to set up everything in just two hours before sales start at 7 p.m. That's why there are no chairs; it saves time on setting up.

Usually there's a line out the door, until the bakery closes at 11 p.m.

All of which helps explain why Fatty's is in the process of building out a new "flagship" location inside the Andrew-Safford Carriage House, across from Salem Common, at the corner of Brown Street. At one time it was a popular ice cream shop called Sweet Scoops.

This will be the permanent location for Goodnight Fattys, which they hope to open by late March.

Do it yourself

The couple, with help from employees and families, have been building out the space themselves, and that includes pouring the concrete counter tops and building a white tile backsplash. There will be permanent ovens in this space.

The first phase will offer cookies and milk just like their first location, and it will be open during the same hours. They plan to test the market to see how things go with keeping both locations going. They have further plans for this space, but they're not talking about them yet.

Jennifer said they don't want to bite off more than they can chew.

"Even though this is a traditional brick and mortar, we'll only be open weekends," Erik said

They are renting their new storefront from the Peabody Essex Museum, which owns the historic buildings on the block. Erik, who grew up on Andrew Street on the opposite side of the Common, said he has fond memories of Sweet Scoops, the shop there that was started by Bob Colombosian, of Colombo Yogurt fame.

"After he sold Colombo's, he retained the rights to the recipe and started a little ice cream shop here called Sweet Scoops," Erik said. 

The couple have had their eyes set on the space for some time. In the fall, they met with museum officials to pitch their idea, and the museum agreed. Until recently, Erik said, it had housed a wood shop, which has since moved.

"Our intention is to embrace the natural aesthetic of the building and kind of be a steward of the space, rather than trying to morph it into something else," Erik said.

Bob Monk, chief of facilities and security operations for the Peabody Essex Museum, said a number of food-based and retail operations have been run out of the building over the years.

"Most of the infrastructure from a food-based business was already there," he said.

"They are an obviously innovative young couple," said Monk, who said the museum thought their cookie shop would be a good fit for the carriage house.

Popping up 

Goodnight Fatty's started in 2016, in a coffee shop after it closed on a Friday, financed with $600 on a credit card. They used the money from the first night's sales to buy ingredients for the next night's cookies.

After moving around for one-time events, they learned from comments on social media that their customers wanted a permanent location for the pop-up, so they leased space from Sperling Interactive.

"Once we got in the alleyway," Jennifer said, "and we were open every Friday, Saturday, that's when people latched onto the fact that we are here to stay. Like, we are not traveling around. We chose Salem."

"It was overwhelmingly clear that people did not like looking for where we were going to be," Erik said. 

But Jennifer was afraid of what might happen if they had a permanent spot, "so the alleyway was perfect, because we were still able to be a pop-up and then also have mystery," she said.

Erik said the way they have built their business has allowed them to test the concept and generate a following, instead of spending thousands on a concept that may or may not work. By starting as a popup, they have mitigated the risk.

And, they have been funding the business themselves, instead of taking on debt or having outside investors.

The couple, who have married, now employ 10-part-time workers and have devoted themselves full time to Goodnight Fatty. Each weekend they sell just under 1,000 cookies a night.

Jennifer said her "fuel" is making Goodnight Fatty a fun place to go.

"We pride ourselves on being a thing to do. Moreso than a dessert shop, we're a thing to do," Erik said.

What's good for Fatty's has also been good for Salem.

Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets, says it's one of the few things a family can do at night downtown that does not involve being over 21. 

"I think it is really important they are creating a buzz, and they are creating a business," she said. 

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews..

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