The Eyes of the Wienermobile to Her Mom's Thumbs: Robyn Frank of Thumbs Cookies


Smokin' hot Minnesota gal who used to drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile moves to Brooklyn, makes a successful food business from her mom's beloved cookie recipe, and then moves back home to make herself an even bigger success. What else do you need to know?

Well, maybe a little bit more:

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"A friend of a friend told me: 'You'd be really good at this!' and I thought: 'How are you even good at this? Should I be insulted?!'"

The "this" Robyn Frank is talking about is not her cookie company, Thumbs. No. What she's talking about is how she wound up driving the Wienermobile around the country for a year, as a "hotdogger."

"I wrote an essay -- my mom's maiden name is Wiener and my last name is Frank so I said I've already been from wieners to franks, and they hired me. It was the best year of my life. I saw the world through the eyes of the Wienermobile! I've peaked!"

Thumbs: You can't eat just one, so eat 'em by the handful.

Thumbs: You can't eat just one, so eat 'em by the handful.

She truly believes it's how she fell in love with the food business at the age of 23, and why food edged out a budding acting career in New York. She made a batch of her mom's famous recipe, "Barb's Thumbs," and left them on her boss's desk one day. The boss asked if she could make more, to sell at the hotel where they worked, and you know how the rest of the story goes.

She's been living in Brooklyn for the past 10 years, "And everyone was pickling something or making something, so I thought 'OK, what am I going to make?'"

When orders started pouring in (her product was a swag bag piece for the Grammys this past year), she began to have a tough time keeping up. A friend called her from Minneapolis to see if she might be interested in using kitchen space at north Minneapolis's Kindred Kitchen. She met a Minnesota boy. She called Linden Hills Farmers Market and they said, "Sure! Come join us!"

"I couldn't believe how easy it was. Everything was pointing to Minnesota, so I came home."

It didn't work out with the boy, but it is working out with the cookies. So she's staying. (Minnesota boys -- did I mention that this girl is hot? And she bakes a mean cookie? And she's single? Let's all rally to keep her out of Brooklyn, shall we?)

Anyway, these cookies are really something special. As the name implies, they're roughly the size of your thumb -- just the tip, not the whole thing -- though the original recipe was the whole thing, but Frank's mom Barb made them her own by shortening them and creating a signature "roll." It's the roll that makes the cookies what they are; that, and Frank's addition of 13 signature flavors to what were once just cinnamon and sugar.

They're only a bite, and therefore Frank knows that they really have to pack a punch. "Me and my mom love desserts, but we try not to eat a lot of them, so this is something where you can have just a little and it makes a big impact."

And they do! I don't know how exactly she does it (she says it's easy), but they eat at first just like a standard cookie, then the flavor builds and sort of punches you in the mouth like a Jelly Belly Jelly Bean.

Flavors of the moment include classic cinnamon and sugar, double chocolate, rosemary pecan, ginger clove, peanut butter sea salt, apricot pistachio cardamom, hot toddy, hot red velvet (spicy!), lemon thyme, and chocolate hazelnut sandwich. She's rolling out a bunch of new flavors this weekend at her pre Mother's Day event, which you and your ma should totally attend -- a cheesmonger, Isadore Nuts, a jewelry vendor, and of course a wine purveyor will all be on hand. (More details and ticket information below).

She wants to make it clear that the women in her life are completely responsible for the success of the business (she's currently making about 5,000 cookies weekly by hand with the help of another part-time baker, and her mom is her production manager). "I always talk about all the women in my life and it's with them where I've always felt most at ease." Her packaging tag sports a group photo of all the influential women in her family.

Other things to know about Thumbs:

1. She's making tiny ice cream sandwiches in partnership with Sweet Science Ice Cream. Watch for them at Linden Hills Farmers Market.

2. Thumbs are available at Five Watt Coffee, Golden Fig, and Linden Hills Farmers Market, as well as online.

3. Vegan Thumbs will be available soon, thanks to the vegan butter-making skills of the Herbivorous Butchers, with whom Frank shares a kitchen.

4. Someday she wants to have a "Thumb Bug," a roving Volkswagen bakery. "I don't know if I'll ever have a storefront; I don't like being tethered. I like to move around."

About 500 Thumbs on their way into the oven. Frank rolls each one by hand, and each one is always perfect.

About 500 Thumbs on their way into the oven. Frank rolls each one by hand, and each one is always perfect.

5. She fully intends to get you addicted. "This isn't going to work out unless we get people addicted to them." Test out whether your constitution is addictive on Saturday, May 9, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at a private residence on Lake of the Isles. Tickets are $25 and the address will be released once the reservation is made. Sample Thumbs (including the new flavors). A portion of the proceeds will got to support the WASHBURN Center for Children.

6. Does she miss Brooklyn? It depends on the day, but she does wish people would swear more. "I just need to hear someone say, 'Go fuck yourself' sometimes!'"

So c'mon Minnesota. Stop being so nice. We've got a native to keep tethered.

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