In the quiet village of Inarajan, situated comfortably on the bay, Coco-Jo’s cookie and chocolate manufacturing company is about to enter its 12th year of cooking up its tasty confections.
Started by husband-and-wife owners, Charles and Denise Selk, the company has grown from a suggestion to a full-fledged occupation.
After Charles Selk witnessed the success of local cookies in the store where his wife worked and having confidence in her recipe, he suggested she go into business.
“He started buying [baking] equipment. […] He took out a small loan and started buying things and started building a bakery,” Denise Selk said.
For almost a year, Charles Selk was preparing to enter the cookie business, but his wife was still occupied with her full-time job.
When the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 heavily impacted the tourism industry on Guam, Denise Selk’s company was forced to downsize, but her husband saw it as a blessing.
“I was on my way home when I called my husband on the phone; when I told him I got laid off and that I was kind of sad […] and he said, ‘Oh, good.’” she said.
For the next year, the Selks sold to mom-and-pop stores on the island, testing the marketplace.
As their business started to get off the ground, the Selks decided the face of their cookies would be a duende, a magical creature popular in Guam’s local mythology. Along with sharing tiny characteristics with the cookies size-wise, the duende has magical characteristics to symbolize what happened when customers tasted the magic of Guam, Denise Selk said.
“When you taste our cookies, you’ll fall under the magical spell,” she said.
A family meeting was then called to implement the official name of the cookie business. Coco-Jo’s was chosen as it signified a cross between “cocoa” and “coconut” in “Coco,” and “Jo” was a tribute to a very common name on island.
Initially, the company only made chocolate chip cookies, but after its first big business break into the ABC stores in June 2003, Coco-Jo’s started making other flavors.
Since the company shares the market with various other cookie companies, competition can be tough.
“Every time somebody comes out with a new cookie, we see a decline, which is normal, I guess, in any market. When something new comes out, people try it,” Denise Selk said.
But along with the introduction of new flavors and newly designed packaging in 2006, Coco-Jo’s was still able to grow and do well in the market.
Concerning the new packaging, Charles Selk said that the stores gave them a lot of shelf space because of it. “It doubled our sales,” he said.
To accommodate the company’s growth, Charles Selk began working on expanding the baking area. With his own hands in the span of just six months, he turned what was once just 640 square feet of two containers fused together into a bona fide baking space providing 3,000 square feet complete with industrial baking and packaging machines.
The new space and machinery allows the bakery to produce 2,500 bags of cookies per day.
In 2012, the company’s popularity expanded beyond Guam’s shores when a tourist’s taste buds led to sparking a consumer base in Japan.
“What happened was, I think the parents of one of our employees […] came to Guam on vacation, bought some cookies and brought them back to Japan, gave some to their daughter. She took them to work and let her coworkers and bosses try it, and that’s when they decided, ‘Hey, we like this cookie. Let’s bring it to Japan,’” Charles Selk said.
The interest led to an email stating the interest to sell Coco-Jo’s in Japan. After working through the strict Japanese import guidelines, Coco-Jo’s became one of Guam’s top exports.
“We’re told by [the Guam Economic and Development Authority] that we’re Guam’s biggest exporter,” Charles Selk said.
The company has evolved greatly from its humble roots, now baking five flavors of cookies, three types of chocolates and also pretzels for another business partner.