Cookies may not inspire the healthiest of thoughts, but one UCF student is looking to change that. Precious Williams, a junior majoring in restaurant and food-service management at Rosen College of Hospitality Management, recently launched Flourish Cookie Co., a nutritious baking venture that serves up tasty sweets you can feel good about indulging in.

Each one of Williams’ nine cookies starts with a honey-dough base that mainly uses natural sweeteners instead of tons of refined sugars. Then other healthy ingredients, such as organic matcha powder for the green tea cookie and fresh blueberries for the blueberry cookie, are added to pack each bite with nutrients.

She also makes healthier versions of classic desserts, such as chocolate chip by adding chia seeds, and red velvet cookie by using beet juice for coloring instead of artificial dyes. To substitute most of the butter in some recipes, like the vegan cocoa raspberry cookie, Williams uses avocado as a healthy fat that gives the cookie richness without sacrificing flavor.

“If you can have a cookie and then also have all these health benefits to them, as opposed to one that’s packed with sugar and that’s just 100 percent bad for you, then why wouldn’t you go for a healthier option?” Williams says.

Planting Seeds

Flourish is Williams’ third business started through the university’s Blackstone LaunchPad. After previous attempts at a healthy-baking company and a personal-training service in her freshman and sophomore years, she returned as a junior to the student-focused business center in October with the idea of a healthy-cookie company.

“At that point when I came in, I already knew hurdle one, two and three,” Williams says. “So I came in at hurdle number four and I’m like, ‘What do I do?’ I was here enough times to know the steps.”

After one meeting with businessman and Blackstone LaunchPad mentor, she was challenged to put her idea into action and sell her product at a farmers market later that week. Over the next couple of days, Williams scrambled to get ready by borrowing a tent from her track coach, finding plants to decorate her booth and, of course, making her cookies. When the time came to open up shop she was nervous but did better than she expected.

“I sold out early and not only that ­– Adam and his family came to buy cookies,” Williams says. “It was so touching to me because it’s one thing to mentor somebody, but you know they support you when they come on a Saturday and bring their family to buy your cookies. That was really cool. I felt like a really good kick from that.”

Growing Success

In December, Blackstone LaunchPad further encouraged William’s success by awarding her a scholarship to attend the Orlando Business Start Up competition. Williams won for her concept of a healthy-cookie nonprofit, the Purple Kale Cookie Project, which provides one cookie to the homeless for each one purchased by a customer. She plans to eventually implement the idea and cookie recipe – which includes beet juice, cocoa, chia seeds and kale to provide plenty of protein – into Flourish’s sales.

Since then, Williams has been working to grow the company’s social following and customer base, selling at more farmers markets in Orlando and expanding her product line.

“I get inspired by ingredients that are in season,” Williams says. “I went to Lucky’s [Market] the other day and there was pomelo, which is like a sweet grapefruit, and thought ‘Wow, that would be a cool flavor to make.’ Then I just experiment with it.”

Flourish cookies are also made with local ingredients using produce from Sundew Gardens in Oviedo and fresh fruits and herbs from Williams’ own backyard garden.

“It’s really reassuring to know that everything that you’re eating or most of the ingredients are a couple of miles from where you live,” Williams says. “It’s like a wholesome kind of feeling of knowing where your food comes from. That’s becoming a bigger [concern] as people are becoming more aware of what they’re eating.”

Earlier this month, Williams launched Flourish’s website, allowing people to place orders for pickup or delivery near the UCF area. In the future she plans to grow her business from a cookie company to a full-service restaurant with a bakery focused on healthy eating as a lifestyle, rather than a temporary diet.

“It’s like super small changes that help you [and] your mindset about things,” she says. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, it’s a cheat day.’ It’s like, ‘Oh no, it’s a treat day, but tomorrow I’m going to try to do a little bit better to balance that out.’ It’s all about small substitutions so it doesn’t seem like a huge impact, but it does make a huge impact overall.”