There aren't many places open late at night at Penn, and that's more than a problem. Fortunately for Penn students, Insomnia Cookies was created for this express purpose, to indulge your munchies. A genius Penn student, Seth Berkowitz (C' 14), founded the company after he used to sell cookies out of an Easy–Bake Oven on Locust Walk. The location in Houston Hall is in fact the first location ever.
Daria Smith is a 23–year–old shift leader who started working there last week. She starts her 6:30 p.m.–3:00 a.m. shift by making sure that everyone is clocked in (including delivery drivers), throwing out morning cookies, closing the morning register and opening the evening register so there's not too much money to count at the end. She's joined by Taj Jones, a 25–year–old baker, who's on the more experienced side and has been working at Insomnia for over a year. They have their own particular outlook on the Penn community as workers at a store that has a very specific purpose for students.
Street: What kind of crowd is it generally during the day?
Daria Smith: People don’t understand, but it is very slow during the day. There is only a tiny rush during lunch time, but in the late afternoon we basically only do deliveries. During an a.m. shift we will have between 10–20 orders and for the p.m. shift it’s more like 40–60.
Street: Can you talk about the preparation for night shifts when you know there are going to be a lot of students going out?
DS: Baking–wise we have rotations, half–rotations to the bakers, and if it gets busy then you have to do a full rotation which is 24 of each cookie flavor, and there are 9 traditional, 5 deluxe, and brownies are to order.
Taj Jones: Honestly Starbucks is the answer. Most of us all go to Starbucks, 2 shots, 3 shots of espresso. You need caffeine for the late nights, but mentally there’s nothing to it.
Street: What are some of your busiest times of the year?
DS: We got a lot of orders for rush—I saw a big line at Starbucks and thought it was funny. Big rushes come out of nowhere during the day. (Ed. note: she left the interview half way because this exact situation occurred.)
TJ: Valentine’s Day is the better holiday, we go above quarter that day. 4/20 is another day that we sell over the top. Honestly, those are the two best days for us and we look forward to them.
Street: What are the most popular cookies?
TJ: S'mores Deluxe, Chocolate Chunk, White Chocolate Macadamia, Snickerdoodle, Peanut Butter Deluxe. Those ones go fast.
Street: Do you limit how many cookies someone can order?
DS: We actually have no cap, for example there is a donation this Friday for 500 cookies. Yesterday though, it was my first p.m. shift, and an RA came in and wanted 200 cookies and 2 cookie cakes and I told her to wait an hour for the entire order because the oven only has 5 racks. She was fine but kind of annoyed that not all of them were ready.
Street: What are some of the most memorable moments you’ve witnessed while working late?
TJ: Every Thursday and Friday are party nights and the fraternities come in and sing and ask for free stuff and sometimes they want to bang on the table or ring the bell 100 times. Couples make out in front of me but then ask for free stuff and then ask me if it bothers me. Last year in November we had a guy come in who was so drunk you could smell the alcohol, and he took the delivery guy’s bike and drove it around Houston Hall downstairs yelling “Weeeee” the whole time. We used to also have an employee who slept on the floor at night and no one knew why and slept between orders. He was extremely difficult to wake up because he was so sleep deprived that he was trying to squeeze in chunks of sleep whenever he could.
Street: How do you deal with potentially obnoxious students late at night?
TJ: I blow off the rude people and just be as nice as possible. If they are disruptive I call the building manager but in general I just suck it up. You have to.
Street: Which groups of students are the most disruptive?
TJ: I can’t really tell age, only kind of with the athletes. They are all pretty cool though, football players, track stars, wrestlers never give us problems. Fraternity pledges are usually super disruptive. Sorority pledges also are challenging for us because they can’t speak to us without speaking to their sisters first and they stand there constantly looking at their sisters to make sure it’s okay to order.
Street: What is the most valuable lesson that you have learned at Insomnia here?
TJ: Patience is extremely important with college students because they are diverse. There are all different types of people here and there are language barriers sometimes so I always try to be patient with students.
Street: What is your favorite aspect of working at Insomnia at Penn?
TJ: I like my staff—students are funny and make them laugh. It’s great when students come up to you saying “These cookies saved my life after I had a bad test.” I definitely develop favorite customers who are nice to interact with.
Street: Being that this is the first Insomnia Cookies ever, is there any special attention that the company gives to this location?
TJ: The higher ups come through this one more often than the other stores. There’s no pressure though and they treat you like family. They want to get to know you.
Street: What is your favorite cookie flavor?
TJ: White Chocolate.