Knockout Cookies packs a punch

January 26, 2021
Anastasia Graham ’13 delivers Knockout Cookies for faculty and staff
Anastasia Graham with Dean Hall

Cookies. The very word is like a warm hug, with its crispy hard C, chewy double o’s, amusing middle k, and the sigh of contentment in its closing long ee’s. Cookies remind us of a sweet smell filling the house, the aroma of celebrations and holidays and a parent’s love.

It’s the smell of success for Anastasia Finn Graham ’13, an MUSC pharmacist by trade and training, who is also co-founder of Knockout Cookies. This culinary wizard must have been dynamite in compounding lab.

Graham, an oncology pharmacist at Hollings Cancer Center by day, co-founded the company with Allison Smith, a professionally trained chef and founder of Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts. They started the company in 2019 and it has grown like a well-yeasted cake.

“People love their cookies, no matter what,” Graham said. “It’s kind of pandemic- and recession-proof.”

The MUSC College of Pharmacy faculty and staff got their own taste of Knockout Cookies when Dean Philip Hall sent a holiday cookie to each employee in December to thank them for rallying through the year.

The cookies are massive and packed with ingredients, coming in flavors like s’mores, peanut butter dough, blueberry French toast, and best seller salted chocolate chip. Each cookie provides four servings… for the disciplined consumer, anyway.

How did a pharmacist end up with a cookie company?

Graham earned a food science degree at Clemson with a focus on human nutrition, so most of her requirements were in chemistry and microbiology. She finished with a chemistry minor and a love for health and wellness that made pharmacy school feel like the natural next step, which brought her to the MUSC College of Pharmacy.

She earned a Pharm.D. and an MBA through the college’s concurrent degree program with The Citadel, and landed an MUSC residency. Two years later, she was appointed as a clinical pharmacy specialist (hematology/oncology) at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

As an oncology pharmacist, she provides medication therapy expertise to the medical team and ensures her patients understand and can cope with an often-intimidating drug regimen. Nutrition can play an important role in tempering side effects and increasing quality of life during treatment, so her patients get an additional benefit from her background.

The cookie company grew from a chance meeting between Graham and Smith three years ago. Their shared culinary love led to their first business venture: tomato jam.

“We had a recipe already done, went through the canning courses required by the Food and Drug Administration, and realized how easy it was to kill someone with botulism,” she said. “It wasn’t worth the risk.”

The two bakers, along with husbands Hunter Graham and Mark Remi, developed the cookies from recipe testing and launched a business that grew from one after-hours night a week using Glazed’s doughnut kitchen to producing up to 500 cookies a week with the help of three hired bakers. Graham’s role now is mostly management and logistics rather than actual baking.

The pandemic forced them to focus more on shipping and marketing through social media, rather than in-person events like farmer’s markets. They also had to change recipes.

“We had to change to shelf-stable cookies,” she said. “Before it was almost like cakes. But you can’t ship a cookie stuffed with dairy products across the country. We had to modify for the conditions the cookies would encounter.”

The transition has been so successful that getting your hands on a Knockout Cookie can be challenging. Creating a handmade, gourmet cookie takes time, and each product has a limited number available each week. When online orders hit that number, the cookie is sold out for the week.

But a booming side business is something most entrepreneurs dream about. For now, Graham is enjoying both sides of a busy life.

“Balancing a full-time career and this business is hard but I’ve come to a good balance with them, and have managed to still have a personal life,” she said. “If I can reasonably do both and maintain my sanity, I’d like to keep doing it!”

Keywords: Alumni News