With help from LSU AgCenter, teen sells cookies suited for ‘royalty’

(08/23/22) BATON ROUGE, La. In the fourth grade, Luke Parks became determined to start his own business and share his family’s delicious recipes with the world.

Now a junior at Zachary High School, Luke’s longtime goal is becoming a reality with help from the LSU AgCenter Food Innovation Institute (FOODii).

Parks and his family created Royal Treats — frozen, ready-to-bake desserts developed from their secret family recipes. Their first store-ready treat is a Southern tea cake a buttery, subtly sweet cookie with a hint of vanilla flavor.

“You can have a classic, old-fashioned recipe of a tea cake and just pop it in the oven,” Luke said.

His mother, Janile Parks, has amassed a collection of passed-down recipes, which included tea cakes, and friends regularly asked her to share them.

“But we would never provide them,” she said. “That’s your family secret, right?”

For an elementary school project, Luke designed a business idea around selling these beloved cookies and cakes. He became determined to act upon his plan. Opening a bakery was out of the question, Janile Parks said, because she and her husband have careers that keep them busy.

In the years since his fourth-grade project, the Parks family has tested recipes, considered different business models and brainstormed business names. They settled on Royal Treats.

“They’re treats for everyone, but they’re so good that royalty will want them,” Luke said.

In his research, Luke learned about the KISS business model, which encourages entrepreneurs to keep it simple. For his purposes, Luke modified the acronym’s meaning to stand for knowledge, innovation, simplistic approach and strategic execution. Subscribing to this plan, Luke narrowed his product line to the tea cake.

“Tea cakes are something that grandmothers used to bake for their families in the South, and it really is fading away because people aren’t passing along those recipes,” Janile Parks said.

The search for a simplistic approach also led the Parks family to the food business incubator service offered by FOODii, which offers an industrial kitchen, business advice, distribution assistance and additional services in Baton Rouge.

FOODii made it easy to manufacture a market-ready product, said Janile Parks. Analysts studied the Royal Treats tea cakes to design a nutrition facts label, and Gaye Sandoz, director of FOODii, connected them with stores that regularly stock local products.

“Educating and assisting food entrepreneurs, especially our younger generation, is part of the FOODii mission,” Sandoz said.

During the school year, Luke has a busy schedule. He runs for the Zachary cross country team, volunteers with the school Beta Club for community service and is an honor roll student. He plans to become a cardiologist.

Luke and his family come to the FOODii facility on weekends to make batches of dough. Then they package carefully measured scoops of dough into 16- and 32-ounce jars and boxes of 36 ready-to-bake cookies.

“I really do have a partner that I can collaborate with in order to make my dream a reality,” Luke said of FOODii.

Luke now dreams of growing Royal Treats to include a pecan brownie cookie and other family favorites, and he hopes to continue building the business through college and medical school.

“We’ve had friends and family tell us that they’ve had visions of us being a business way larger than life,” he said, “and I really believe that at this point.”

Royal Treats cookies are now available at Calvin’s Bocage Market in Baton Rouge and Matherne’s Market in downtown Baton Rouge. Luke will perform a cooking demonstration at Calvins Bocage Market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27.

A man spoons cookie dough into a mold.

Luke Parks, creator of Royal Treats ready-to-bake cookies and a junior at Zachary High School, spoons out cookie dough at the LSU AgCenter Food Innovation Institute incubator facility. Photo by Kyle Peveto/LSU AgCenter

A man holds a plate of cookies.

Luke Parks, creator of Royal Treats ready-to-bake cookies and a junior at Zachary High School, holds a plate of tea cake cookies. Photo by Sydney Johnson/Mariegold Designs

A man wearing an apron stands in a kitchen.

Luke Parks has dreamed of starting his own business since he was in elementary school. The Zachary High junior now has ready-to-bake cookies on store shelves with help from his family and the LSU AgCenter Food Innovation Institute. Photo by Sydney Johnson/Mariegold Designs

8/23/2022 3:19:40 PM
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