It should be no surprise that one of Tonya Council’s earliest memories involving food is spending time in the kitchen, “Watching my grandmother prepare breakfast before school, and then the smell of fresh cakes cooking after school.” Her grandmother is Mildred Council – better known, of course, as Mama Dip – and if you’ve ever had her down-home cooking, you wouldn’t forget it either.
Tonya, a Chapel Hill High School grad, recently opened Tonya’s Cookies on Rosemary Street after getting her start at Mama Dip’s across the street. “I started working in the restaurant when I was 15 because my grandmother made it look so easy, but I soon found out it was a lot of work,” Tonya says. Between serving customers, you’d find Tonya back in the kitchen experimenting. “When the recipes were a success, I could put them in the display case along-side Grandmother’s desserts,” she recalls.
After perfecting her recipes, she started selling her cookies in flavors like White Chocolate Pecan Crisp to stores like Whole Foods and Southern Season. For six years, she operated out of that commercial kitchen space before turning it into a cheery store-front. Take a bite of her Pecan Crisp cookies and you may have déjà vu. “They taste like my grandmother’s pecan pie, but remind you of a praline,” Tonya says.
While she’s forging her own path, Tonya’s relying on lessons she’s learned by example. “I’m very proud of my grandmother. I’ve always admired her hard work ethic and the way she treats each of her customers – she’s never met a stranger. She has accomplished a lot, which shows me her passion for cooking is what kept and keeps her going,” Tonya says. “If I could be half the woman, mother and business person she is, I will fulfill a great accomplishment.”