Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 58 seconds.
For many pilots, their passion for aviation has deep roots. In other words, it runs in the family.
This is especially true for Chris Welch, a pilot for a major U.S. airline, who, you’ll soon learn, was destined to be an aviator.
It goes all the way back to 1942, when Welch’s great grandmother soloed in a 1941 Taylorcraft plane. She was the first in the family to get her pilot’s license, followed by Welch’s great grandfather; the pair met while on crosscountry flights in Michigan. Since then, 14 of Welch’s family members have learned to fly — whether it be solos or professional careers.
Welch takes after his father, a retired airline pilot. “It was just a natural progression for me to do the same as him,” said Welch. “So on my 16th birthday, I soloed.”
He then got his private license on his 17th birthday, “and just went from there. I was flight instructing at 19. I got hired by a regional airline right away, and then was furloughed within two weeks because of September 11.”
Nearly two decades later, Welch was furloughed for the second time in his career, from the airline he’s been with since 2015. You guessed it… COVID-19.
“We went from 13,000-plus pilots to flying seven percent of our schedule,” he said.
“As it turned out, we got some government assistance that paid for our payroll for a while. And then our union made a deal with the airline to take, essentially, a 60 percent pay cut and prevent all furloughs. So I’m still employed, but I’ve flown two trips in the last year.”
Knowing that he’d be doing very little flying, Welch “didn’t want to just sit around . . . and not make anything productive out of it.”
While he didn’t know it at the time, his first experience being furloughed in 2001 set him up on the path to open up the bakery he owns today: Aviator Cookie Company.
“I started [baking] when I was furloughed after September 11. I finished college and I went right to an airline. . . . So I went from a high to an immediate low, and there were no jobs anywhere. So I’m 22 years old, in the middle of Kansas… I know nobody. So my mom got me a Betty Crocker cookbook, and I just started baking.”
For Welch, baking was a stress reliever. “My co-workers knew when I was stressed, because I’d be bringing cupcakes or cookies. . . . And within the last 10 years, people have always said, ‘You need to sell these!’
“Then just by chance one day, we’re driving around and my daughter says, ‘Daddy, when I grow up, I want to have a cookie store.’ So it was like that was a sign.”
The car-ride epiphany occurred in early summer of 2020; after nine months of dreaming and planning, Aviator Cookie Company opened its doors to the community of Midland, Michigan, on March 20, 2021. The next day, Welch took to the Aviator Cookie Company Facebook page to say: “We sold more cookies than I could have even imagined. Because of that, we don’t have any dough to sell today.” Ever since, the bakery has been selling over 1,000 cookies a day. A grand opening, indeed.
Of course, Welch’s love for aviation played a role in naming the bakery. And he’s been sure to incorporate a few nods to his love for flying throughout the shop.
“I’ve been sitting on jetbooks since I was a little kid,” he said. “This was the first time that I’d gone two weeks without flying in… I don’t even know how long. So I really missed aviation.”
One of the first things customers see when they walk into the bakery is the 1955 Beech Twin Bonanza wing that has been repurposed as the front desk countertop. The wing came from an abandoned plane that was damaged beyond repair, Welch said. “A company bought most of the airplane so they could make a simulator out of it, but they had no use for the wings.”
The Aviator Cookie Company logo, which features a B-25 bomber, was inspired by Welch’s son. “He pictured an airplane bombing cookies,” Welch laughed. “And that’s what we have [on the logo] — a B-25 bombing cookies.”
On the menu is a variety of cookie flavors, including signatures like chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin. Then, there are the “First Class” cookies, which Welch plans to rotate regularly. First Class cookies can include flavors like salted caramel and cinnamon roll.
There’s one special, First Class flavor that Welch is currently concocting — that’s the aviation cocktail cookie. It’s inspired by the 1930s cocktail called “Aviation,” which is made to “mimic the sunset that you see when you’re flying,” said Welch.
The bakery is also selling an airplane-shaped sugar cookie once a week, “and all the proceeds from that are going to local aviation charities.”
Customers who are looking for more than just one treat can buy themselves a “flight” of either six or 12 cookies. And the bakery has swag available for purchase, too. “Right now, I’m wearing an Aviator Cookie Company shirt and hat,” said Welch. “And we’re going to have hoodies, beer mugs, pint glasses — we’re going to do all the merch. And we will be shipping that as well.”
While he hasn’t flown much in the past year, Welch is optimistic that his airline will be back to its original schedule by late summer. “I’m still planning on flying,” he said, adding that he’s fully committed to balancing his flying career and the Aviator Cookie Company business.
Perhaps airplanes and cookies make a better pair than we thought.