NEW MINAS, NS – It’s not a typical gas station smell that hits Milne Court customers from 7 a.m. to noon every day.
Instead of gas, it’s the smell of freshly baked Gram’s Cookies from the bakery below the station. The bakery’s location and the cookies’ delicious homemade flavours are both a surprise to anyone buying gas here for the first time.
But for many area residents, it comes as no surprise at all. The cookies are a tradition that business owner and recipe guardian Scott Fraser, Gram’s grandson, is proud to share.
“These cookies were a huge part of my life as a kid. I remember Gram making them, and all of us eating them. They’re special, and people know it as soon as they try one,” he says.
The cookies’ story
Mixing tradition and business is a recipe for success at Milne’s Court Petro-Canada, where people travel from all over to get their hands on Gram’s Cookies each Wednesday on Cookie Day, when they’re handed out to customers buying gas.
Some customers make it a weekly ritual to get gas each Wednesday, while others roll in simply when their tank is nearing empty. Whatever the reason that brings them to the station, they nearly all leave with a cookie, whether they spend $10 or $100 on gas.
“We get a mix of people who know and love Gram’s cookies, and others trying them for the first time,” says Fraser.
“I love seeing all reactions, whether it’s a regular trying a new flavour, or someone trying their very first Gram’s cookie.”
Fraser’s grandmother Ruth Milne was known to all as Gram and created the recipe while running a boarding house to help make ends meet.
With little money to speak of and countless mouths to feed, it was a reliable, cost-efficient crowd pleaser.
“She was known far and wide for her cookies,” says Fraser.
His grandpappy Laurie Milne later opened the beloved Milne’s Garage, where the current business now stands.
Fraser named his business for the garage and introduced the cookies to customers just three months after his fall 2003 opening.
“I knew right away when I bought this business that the cookies would be a cornerstone of what we do here,” says Fraser.
“Gram treated everyone like family, and we want people to feel like family when they stop here. That’s why Wednesdays are Cookie Day.”
Customers react to tasty treats
The wiggle of fingers attempting to choose between the six varieties of cookies at the station is a common sight each Wednesday.
Customers like Jonathan Hiltz of South Alton, who visits the store nearly every day, have fingers that flock to one cookie they know is their favourite.
“I always choose the chocolate chip ones. They’re all good, but these are definitely my favourite,” he said, while picking up a ginger cookie for his partner.
Hiltz is a store regular, and jokes with staff as he heads out the door.
“I’ll be back again soon for another one,” he says.
Kim Irving, of Canning, comes in whenever she needs gas, and happened to stop in Nov. 22 on Cookie Day.
“Peanut butter is the one I choose,” she says.
“Not for any reason other than I really love it. It’s delicious, and I don’t even know when the first time I had one of these was.”
Fraser remembers many times customers came in to order cookies, and their different reasons for doing so.
One man aged around 90 years once bought a dozen ginger cookies. When Fraser asked him why ginger, he said they reminded him of his own mother, who used to make ginger cookies when he was a boy.
“Those stories – people remembering so far back, all because of a cookie – they just touch you. I love that these cookies can do that for people,” says Fraser.
A personal approach to business and giving back
Fraser also uses the cookies for community outreach, donated by him to worthy causes, to help bake sales or for fundraising groups to buy and sell for their own fundraising purposes.
A large part of his charitable work is done to raise funds for the IWK Health Centre, where he was treated as a child.
Now, he gives back by donating thousands each year – a contribution that was recognized by the hospital, which awarded Fraser its Community Award in March 2011.
“I don’t do what I do for recognition, but it meant the world to receive that. They know me as the Cookie Man there, because I go so often – it makes my day to help those kids,” he says.
The cookies aren’t a money making scheme for the gas station, which is fine with Fraser, since this was never his reason for selling them.
The cookies are instead his way of making people feel welcome at his business, much like people always felt welcome at Gram’s boarding house.
Fraser wants his customers to feel like they’re stepping into a second home when they come to his store.
“We treat everyone the way our family would treat people, and that starts with our cookies,” he says.
Note: Milne’s Court isn’t just known for its Gram’s cookies. It went viral once before after video footage of staff member Sean Fraser was asked to dance by a customer, and obliged. Read the story and watch the footage here: ‘She was having the time of her life': New Minas gas station doubles as ballroom