Franchise owner delivers kindness — one cookie at a time

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SUMMARY: Johnny Nguyen (’16) stays true to his Madison values in his business slogan of “Be Kind. Spread Love. Eat Cookies.”

In 2018, with only a few business classes under his belt, Johnny Nguyen (’16) started his cookie company, MidnighTreats, out of his mom’s Vienna, Virginia, kitchen. Since then, he’s grown a business that serves all 50 states and was the first 100% plant-based cookie franchise in the United States.

The idea for the company arose from Nguyen’s time eating late-night snacks with friends at JMU. Once I graduated and moved back to Northern Virginia, I realized everything was closing at like 8:30 p.m.,” he said. “This area has a lot of recent college grads and people in their 20s, who I was sure still had some of those late-night eating habits but no options at that time.”

MidnighTreats’ slogan of “Be Kind. Spread Love. Eat Cookies.” was inspired by Nguyen’s Madison Experience. The brand seeks to promote a culture of kindness, not only toward other people, but also toward animals.

MidnighTreats has always specialized in larger-than-life cookies with fun and adventurous flavors. But when Nguyen decided to go vegan, the company went vegan with him. “When I personally went vegan, it felt wrong to be buying hundreds of pounds of butter and then not ever eating it, so I did a lot of testing and re-formulating of the recipes to make them vegan,” he said.

Despite his success, Nguyen has found that some potential customers still have a negative perception of plant-based foods. MidnighTreats is working to change that. “The stigma around vegan and plant-based food tasting bad is what makes people not conscious of vegan options,” he said. “MidnighTreats isn’t healthy — we are still desserts — so we can show people that just because something is vegan or doesn’t have animal ingredients, it doesn’t taste like cardboard.”

This change in perception is reflected in MidnighTreats' mission statement, which seeks to help decrease demand for animal ingredients and the exploitative nature of factory farms.

MidnighTreats is also focused on the environment, partnering with Eden Reforestation Projects to plant one tree for every box of cookies sold as well as donating to animal sanctuaries across the country. “We are trying to set the standard of being a for-profit business that gives back and helps better the environment. That would be a big win for us,” Nguyen said.

These efforts, he added, “go hand in hand with Madison, where there is a sense of community on campus and [it] feels like everyone is friends and everyone is kind to each other, since we’re all at the same school working toward similar goals. I don’t think that type of community should just be limited to university. It should be how we live outside of school as well.”

Nguyen said his days as a Duke also helped guide him when he faced challenges during the creation of MidnighTreats. “It wasn’t until my time at JMU that I learned how to take it upon myself to grow and ask questions, and how to go about figuring problems out for myself. Each time we grow, it’s something I have never done before, so I would say my biggest takeaway from JMU was learning how to learn.

Hopefully you’ll see a MidnighTreats in Harrisonburg soon, and things will have come full circle,” he said.


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by Jane McConville (’24)

Published: Friday, April 5, 2024

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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