What started as a one-time request skyrocketed into a full-blown business.
Around Christmas 2019, Rontez Vaughan was still grieving the loss of his younger brother Trenez Valentine, who was killed in August 2018. Depressed, distant and uninterested in everything, Vaughan thought to himself, What am I going to do, because working full-time is not fulfilling right now?
Suddenly, his daughter Avariella, called “Ella” for short, entered the room asking to bake cookies. He obliged, as an hour in the kitchen with his daughter was better than miserably staring at the wall.
Vaughan did a Google search for the best chocolate-chip cookie recipe, choosing one that looked simple and delicious. With everything except chocolate chips already on hand, Vaughan improvised by grating chocolate bars, the shavings replacing chocolate chips. Spending time with his daughter was just what he needed at that moment.
“This was the first time a sense of happiness came over me since my brother passed,” he says.
Ella’s dance of approval after tasting the cookies pushed Vaughan to start My Brother’s Cookies.
“I always heard ‘You’re your brother’s keeper’ growing up, so that was one of the first things that came to mind,” he says.
He continues, “My brother’s keeper became My Brother’s Cookies.”
Vaughan and Valentine were as thick as thieves. Growing up, Valentine taste-tested anything Vaughan created in the kitchen. As adults, they enjoyed attending World Wrestling Entertainment events at the Greensboro Coliseum. A graphic of Vaughan’s last image of Valentine at the coliseum would become the logo for My Brother’s Cookies. In the photo, a smiling Valentine appeared happy and at peace, which shocked Vaughan as he took the photo on a whim.
“I wasn’t even taking a picture of him. I just held my phone in front of me and took a picture, and I didn’t even look at the picture I took until after he passed,” he says.
In February 2020, Vaughan put the logo on hats and T-shirts and sold them to raise money for baking supplies. That same year, he officially opened My Brother’s Cookies on May 7, Valentine’s birthday. The first time he sold his cookies to the public was when the Black Lives Matter street mural was painted in June.
In addition to his late brother, Vaughan draws inspiration from people, places and experiences in his life for his cookies’ flavors. Ella Bella Chocolate Chip was named after Ella, as she was there at the start of the business. The chocolate shavings look like her freckles, Vaughan explains.
Zia’s Sparkly Sprinkles Sugar is the namesake of Vaughan’s middle child, Zia, his “sweetest child” who loves everything sparkly. Aunt Janet’s Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip pays homage to Vaughan’s late great-aunt, who introduced him to cooking and made the best oatmeal he’s ever had.
“Aunt Janet is the love and affection that’s inside of me,” he says.
While he offers more than a dozen cookie flavors, Vaughan’s favorite is the Hilton, its name inspired by a cookie Vaughan tasted at a DoubleTree hotel as a child. It starts with the same dough as the chocolate chip but is married with pecans, walnuts, toffee, cinnamon and semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate.
Vaughan now sells cookies full-time, switching between baking at home and the City Kitch in Greensboro. To avoid food-safety issues, his children don’t help in the kitchen but assist him in other ways. His son Kortez, 15, oversees placing the cookies in their plastic sleeves and sticking labels on them. Zia, 10, lives in Louisiana with her mom and promotes the business there by word-of-mouth. Ella, 7, helps with counting inventory. She’s also a marketing tycoon.
“She’s the reason I have the partnership with Deep Roots Market just because of a conversation her little 7-year-old self had with someone on the playground at LeBauer Park,” Vaughan says.
My Brother’s Cookies is quickly expanding, serving the Triad and shipping nationwide. Despite this, single dad Vaughan has no plans for a brick-and-mortar any time soon. His home has been taken over by the businesses.
“I just want better for my children and trying to get a bigger home for them. Then I’ll focus on a brick-and-mortar,” he says.
Vaughan believes starting My Brother’s Cookies was his destiny. During a 10th grade home economics class, he exceeded expectations on an assignment to bake cookies from scratch. He also helped with holiday dinners. Reminiscing on his relationship with his brother, Valentine was the driving force behind several of Vaughan’s endeavors. Before his death, Valentine was already planting seeds of starting a business in Vaughan’s head. He consistently motivated him, being the first to try his dishes and baked goods. Vaughan made his brother happy in life and now, refuses to disappoint him in death.
“I’ve just been training for this moment my whole life, and now everything’s coming together,” he says.
Learn more about My Brother’s Cookies or place an order at mybrotherscookies.com. My Brother’s Cookies are available in-store at Savor the Moment and Deep Roots Market in Greensboro.
Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.
We believe that reporting can save the world.
The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.
All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.