WILTON, Conn. — John Wagner puts a creative twist on the traditional cookie.
“I always tell people it's a pastry-like cookie with a filling inside,” said Wagner, who owns t.j.’s cookie jar, from his booth at the Wilton Farmers Market.
Wagner, a Norwalk resident, took a unusual path to the culinary arts. He worked in an engineering capacity for Metro-North for 40 years. But he always loved to bake.
So, while at Metro-North, he started making cookies using a great aunt’s recipe and handed them out during the holidays. They were a hit.
“It got so popular that people would give me the tins back with their name on it so that I would fill it up and give it to them the following year,” Wagner said. “So I said when I retired I was going to start my own cookie business.” And he did.
Wagner started making walnut-flavored cookies after his retirement in 2014 and has since branched out to other flavors, including strawberry, raspberry and chocolate chip. He also has different seasonal flavors — apple pie in the fall, for example, and pumpkin around Thanksgiving.
Wagner also offers special flavors throughout the year. He’s done checkerboard, black and white, double chocolate fudge and lemon flavors in the past. At a recent Wilton Farmers Market, his special was lime zest.
“I just try to mix it up a little bit,” he said of the specials, adding that he goes online to find recipes and then puts his own personal twist on them.
Research and development can be a challenge. He said baking a chocolate chip cookie is difficult as everyone likes theirs a different way.
Some like it creamy, others like it crispy, Wagner said. So he tested out several variations with his friends until he found a recipe that tested well.
t.j.'s cookie jar is named after his two sons, Tom and Jeff. “They thought it was a great idea to keep me busy after retiring,” he said.
Besides his business, Wagner enjoys the outdoors. “I still love to play golf,” Wagner said. “I belong to a boat club.”
But when he’s not on the course or on the water, he’s seeking to grow his company. He hopes to sell his cookies in more stores — he sells them at the Village Market in Wilton for now — and set up booths at farmers markets beyond Wilton.
For more information on Wagner's company, visit his website here.
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