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Cub Scout fund-raiser leads to bakeware business, cookbook

September 05, 2004

CONWAY, Ark. (AP) - Would-be protégés of Donald Trump famously start by selling lemonade. For Bette LaPlante, the success-seeding commodity was cookie sheets - made in her garage by Cub Scouts and their mothers trying to raise money for a trip to St. Louis.

The year was 1995, and the Scouts, including LaPlante's son Danny, sold the bakeware, made from scrap-aluminum blanks at her husband Brooks' business.

"We would clip and round the corners of each sheet using a hand-powered press and then stick each end into another wooden press that would bend the two ends into handles," LaPlante recalls in "The Doughmakers Cookbook," which she and her sister, Diane Cuvelier, published earlier this year (ReganBooks, $24.95).

"What surprised us was that 110 boys ended up selling 3,000 cookie sheets," said LaPlante.

The sheets, which sold for $4 each or two for $7 and three for $10, helped finance the youngsters' trip to St. Louis where they saw a Cardinals game and visited the Gateway Arch.

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By her own admission, LaPlante had no idea at the time just what a great idea her husband had come up with when he suggested the bakeware fund-raiser. Now, she knows.

"People started calling, saying they loved these cookie sheets and wanted more," Cuvelier recalled, at an interview during a promotional stop at a kitchenware store in central Arkansas.

So, in 1996 the sisters began marketing the bakeware to other non-profit organizations who also wanted to raise money. They sold the kitchenware at craft festivals, state fairs and other special events.

"Things took off like gangbusters," says Cuvelier. "Our sales the first year were $80,000. By the third year we had almost reached $1 million in sales."

Today, LaPlante and Cuvelier, who live in Terre Haute, Ind., are co-owners of the company they founded, Doughmakers Gourmet Bakeware, which produces bakeware with a textured, pebble-like surface. "The original Boy Scout cookie sheets were a thinner gauge of aluminum than what we're using today and were a different texture; they were bumpier," LaPlante said.

The factory no longer is in LaPlante's two-car garage. It's now in a custom-built 50,000-square-foot building in Terre Haute. A covered, columned, wrap-around porch spans the front of the building, which includes a test kitchen.

When the sisters began marketing the cookie sheets, they made the bakeware themselves, first in the garage and later in a 400-square-foot rented room in a factory.

"I clipped and bent during the daylight hours, while Diane pulled the night shift," LaPlante writes. "Working this way, we produced 300 to 400 pans daily."

LaPlante didn't get paid for 1-1/2 years; Cuvelier, for a year. A single mother of two who already was struggling "to feed my kids and pay for day care," Cuvelier also worked at a Red Lobster restaurant and a Chinese restaurant to make ends meet.

In October 1997, the sisters hired their first employee. Now the company has a staff of 40, and Doughmakers bakeware is sold in more than 2,000 stores in North America and at more than 45 trade shows each year.

Doughmakers also does the private-label bakeware for Southern Living at Home, an Alabama-based direct-sales company. And the sisters aren't just selling cookie sheets these days. Their product line has expanded to include pizza pans, biscuit sheets, cake pans, jellyroll pans, pie pans, muffin and loaf pans.

The sisters' cookbook, written with author Sam Stall of Indianapolis, features more than 125 recipes ranging from pecan tassies to cranberry almond bread, and from Gorgonzola, walnut, pear and prosciutto pizza to jamberry pie.

The book is far more than a recipe collection. In fact, the first 74 pages are devoted to family and business memories, from the sisters' upbringing to the story of how their business came about, how they promoted it, and how it grew.

They also mention some of their early mistakes, such as the time they took wares to a show in Indianapolis.

Doughmakers' original niche was selling cookie sheets at conventions organized by such groups as PTAs, Lions Clubs, cheerleaders and soccer teams. That market was amazingly lucrative because, besides the bakeware the organizations bought to resell, thousands of people attending the conventions also bought bakeware to take home. So, it's not surprising the company still does 60 to 75 shows and fairs a year.

Oh, and the name Doughmakers? It comes from the idea of making dough, aka money, for fund-raisers.

The authors say the following recipe for Grilled Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza is a "good way to slip vegetables into a pizza night meal."

Grilled Chicken and

Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza

1 recipe for Quick-Rise Pizza Dough (recipe follows)

2 teaspoons olive oil

7 ounces prepared or store-bought pizza sauce

1-1/2 to 2 cups shredded or grated mozzarella cheese

6 ounces grilled chicken breast strips (precooked strips from the grocer's frozen-meat section are OK)

4 whole sun-dried tomatoes, sliced

6 ounces white button-cap mushrooms, sliced

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