Dirty Dough soon to bring ‘perfectly imperfect’ cookies, positive message to Lawrence

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There’s a new cookie shop coming to Lawrence, and it aims to do more than sate your sweet tooth.

Dirty Dough aims to fight against a stigma that founder Bennett Maxwell attributed to social media: the need for everything to be perfect and look perfect.

“Our product is all about ‘what’s on the inside matters most,’ and ‘life is messy, and that’s OK,’” he said.

That concept becomes tangible in the multilayer cookies Dirty Dough serves. As an example, Maxwell said one cookie is a peanut butter cookie on the outside, but it’s got a layer of chocolate dough on the inside and a hot fudge center.

Bennett Maxwell

Dirty Dough, born in a dorm room at Arizona State University in 2018, opened its first storefront in March 2020. Despite the pandemic, the company has basically exploded. In 18 months, they’ve opened 21 stores, and there are hundreds of franchises in the works, Maxwell said.

“We’re opening up one to three stores a week right now,” Maxwell said. “… We’re just trying to keep up with the growth.”

The Lawrence store is slated for a shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.

The business’s mental health messaging was inspired by two factors, Maxwell said.

A few years ago, he heard statistics that rates of hospitalizations for self-harm injuries among girls ages 10 to 14 had increased 189% in a span of just a few years, from 2009 to 2015. As a father to two young girls, that scared him, he said.

It also came from his own experience. Maxwell previously ran a solar company, which he sold. He’d been working hard to make sure it was successful, and he thought he’d have more time with his family, leading to a happier life. But within a few weeks, he was back to his old habits of working 24/7, he said.

Lawrence Lowdown

He started to see a therapist and dive in deep to figure out what he really wanted out of life. It boiled down to something simple, which became the mission statement for himself and for Dirty Dough: “To find joy and fulfillment, despite life’s dirtiness, for ourselves and others,” he said.

Thus, “We focus on the inside of the cookie, because we know that the inside is what matters most,” he said.

Dirty Dough offers many classics with their own spin, but also some unique combinations. Some recent flavor announcements on the company’s Facebook:

  • The Dirty Circus: “A rich chocolate cookie filled with sprinkles and circus animal cookie chunks stuffed with marshmallow. Topped with a white icing drizzle and a frosted circus animal cookie.”
  • The Monster Mash: “A delicious oatmeal cookie dough mixed with mini M&M’s, semi sweet chocolate chips and peanut butter chips with a creamy peanut butter fudge inside and candy toppings.”
  • And the Dirty Churro, described as “a cinnamon sugar cookie dough filled with an ooey-gooey cinnamon cream filling, then we roll it in more cinnamon and sugar for good measure! To really take it over the top, we drizzle it in caramel and throw on some cream cheese frosting like it’s nobody’s business!”
The Dirty Circus from Dirty Dough: “A rich chocolate cookie filled with sprinkles and circus animal cookie chunks stuffed with marshmallow. Topped with a white icing drizzle and a frosted circus animal cookie.” (Coco Berryessa / Contributed photo)
The Brookie from Dirty Dough: “The perfect combination of a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie, filled and drizzled in caramel sauce.” (Coco Berryessa / Contributed photo)

Maxwell said the company also aims to give back to the communities where it opens stores.

He said they plan to offer a grant. Local K-12 schools can apply for funds to convert an existing classroom into a mental health wellness center or mindfulness room. There, kids can learn to identify their emotions, do 10 to 15 minutes of activities such as guided meditations, gratitude cards, breath work, posturing exercises or coloring, and then reevaluate their emotions. The goal is to teach kids about tools they can use and methods they can practice on a daily basis, and help them find what works for them, Maxwell said.

“If we can make a difference and educate a lot of kids on practical tools, then man, that would be cool,” he said.

Maxwell said once a lease is signed, it takes about four months or so for a store to open. The company has signed a lease for 1540 Wakarusa Drive, Suite D.

Maxwell said they typically hire “20-ish” employees per store, most of them part-time but maybe one or two full-time positions.

Ryan Schulteis, of Reece Commercial Real Estate, said the shopping center — on the southeast corner of Bob Billings and Wakarusa — is now 100% full with the addition of Dirty Dough. It will fill the spot vacated by Integrity Midwest Insurance, which moved into a building near 31st Street and Four Wheel Drive, Schulteis said. In addition, Premier Martial Arts recently moved into Suite A, which previously housed Payless ShoeSource.

“We’re excited that (Dirty Dough is) joining our vibrant tenant mix at the property,” Schulteis said. “… There’s a lot of awesome businesses there that people should go check out.”

Dirty Dough is planning to open a handful of stores in the Kansas City area within the next year, Maxwell said. So far, those stores are planned to be corporate-owned rather than franchises.

The Dirty Dough’s Reverse with Reese’s: “Fudge filling wrapped in a chocolate cookie, then triple-wrapped with a peanut butter cookie and topped with a chocolate drizzle and crushed Reese’s.” (Coco Berryessa / Contributed photo)
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Lawrence Lowdown is a feature on developments around town. Have a tip? Let us know.

Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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