With addictive cookies, Martha Olson cooks up sweet business model

Steve Hartman
CBS News

ST. PAUL, Minnesota - In Minnesota there is a firmly held belief - that when God invented cholesterol, this is what he had in mind: Martha Olson's cookies.

"We like this myth," Olson joked.

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Sweet Martha's chocolate chip cookie booth opened in 1979 Courtesy of Martha Olson

The genesis of this belief stems back to 1979, when Martha and some partners opened the Sweet Martha's chocolate chip cookie booth at the fair. They were hoping to make a little spending money.

Back then, she said, a thousand dollars "would have been nice." Could she have ever dreamed of making $10,000? "No, absolutely not."

Asked how much she makes now, Olson laughed: "It sort of mushroomed, I guess."

To say the least.

In fact, CBS News could not find a state fair booth anywhere in America with revenues anywhere near what Martha brings in. Even though she only has one product -- and even though the fair runs just 12 days -- this year Martha will gross well in excess of $2 million.

Martha, who's now a retired elementary school teacher, hires 400 people for these two weeks. She has 12 huge ovens that crank out 2,000 cookies a minute. And sometimes that's not fast enough to satisfy her ridiculously loyal following.

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You better have either a major appetite, or a minor in structural engineering CBS News

So what's her secret? Asked, jokingly, where she adds the crack, Olson asked, "You mean the eggs?" No, the crack. "What's the crack?"

They don't call her Sweet Martha for nothing. Hopefully the audience will get it.

Actually, her secret is to serve 'em hot and serve a lot. Step up to the counter and you better have either a major appetite, or a minor in structural engineering. Her most popular serving size is a Jenga-esque bucket that runs $15. Martha won't even guess how many calories are in it, but she insists it's a take-home pail, meant to be enjoyed for weeks.

You can't even get the lid on until you've eaten something around 38 cookies. Asked if it was really a "take-home" pail, Olson responded: "It says it on the menu."

And no, Olson laughs, she doesn't have a cardiac surgery business on the side.

Obviously, Olson would rather not focus on calorie counts, and fortunately for her -- for at least the 12 days of the fair -- neither would her customers.

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