Isiah Davis has prepared gourmet meals for thousands on a Hawaiian cruise ship, helped lead the kitchen at a fine-dining restaurant in Columbus — and now he wants to take over the fresh-baked cookie market in his hometown.
Since June 2020, the 33-year-old Davis and his cookie business, The Cookie Joint, have been quietly building a loyal following, all through the Butter Café carryout window at 1106 Brown St., near the University of Dayton campus.
As Butter Café, a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant, wraps up its operations in mid-afternoon each day, Davis gets to work on his batches of scratch-made cookies in the Butter Café kitchen. Davis shares a lease with Butter Café owner Amy Beaver.
“As soon as I met him, he had a really good vibe,” Beaver said. “I could tell I could trust him, and you know how sometimes you just meet people and you just know?”
Born and raised in Dayton, Davis attended Patterson Career Center (now the Ponitz Career Technology Center), where he took his first culinary courses. At the time, Davis still thought he might have a future as a physician. But when Davis was 14, his grandfather helped guide his career choice.
“Grandpa told me I should stick with cooking,” Davis said.
Cooking was a family affair for Davis from the start. His first exposure to a knife and cutting board came during his family’s annual trip to Detroit for a big church conference. Starting Friday and not finishing till the last chicken was prepared on Sunday, young Davis would help his mother and others all weekend — always loving his role, though he was usually stuck with cutting the onions.
After a year at Patterson Career Center, Davis said he knew he would probably be in the kitchen the rest of his life, though his chapter in baking was still more than a decade away.
Davis attended Sinclair Community College briefly, but he didn’t want to wait to get started in a full-time restaurant position. He landed a job at a P.J. Chang’s restaurant in downtown Chicago, accepted two stints on a cruise ship in Hawaii, and later started a long run as the sous chef at McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurants in Dayton and Columbus. Later, he also served as chef at The Wandering Griffin in Beavercreek and at The Bison & The Boar in Preble County.
From 2016 to 2017, Davis owned and operated a Dayton-based food truck called Stuffed At Zays. He enjoyed the short run, but it wasn’t the perfect financial fit.
It was in the months leading up to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Davis was cooking at Wandering Griffin, that he felt the need for a change.
“I’ve put in 110 percent” at all of the restaurants he worked at, Davis said. “I actually did it as if it was mine, because I wanted it to be successful. And then somewhere in there, I hit a wall where I said, you know what, if I can work this hard from somebody else’s (dream), I can do this for myself.”
Still at Wandering Griffin before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Davis had started building his baking skills. A fall 2019 music festival in Indianapolis inspired Davis to break into baking after he tried cookies from a festival food truck. After a shift that would usually end around midnight, Davis began spending an extra hour or two a night going over new cookie recipes.
“I took it as a challenge,” Davis said. “I said OK, I’m going to figure out how to make these cookies right.”
Then, a mutual friend introduced Davis to Beaver in March 2020, and the pair quickly came up with a plan to make the space-sharing partnership a reality.
With help from his wife, Brittney Davis, who runs the administrative aspects of The Cookie Joint, Davis — and customers who have quickly become regulars — thinks he now has a top-notch cookie recipe. The Cookie Joint differentiates itself from other bakeries and dessert shops by beginning baking cookies only after an order has been placed.
Davis strives for his cookies to still be warm when customers arrive at the window.
Nicknamed “The Cookieologist” because of his passion for experimenting in the kitchen, Davis’ cookie flavors include Notorious C.H.I.P. (chocolate chip), Busta-Nut (browned butter, toasted pecans, vanilla), Hippie Potion #9 (white and semi-sweet chocolate and peanut butter chips), Queen B (brown sugar) and more.
“There’s a lot of high-quality ingredients in the cookies,” Davis said. “I don’t skimp on quality, because you can’t make a good cookie with bad product.”
Davis has big plans for the future of The Cookie Joint, and he says he wants his cookies to someday be a household name in Dayton.
“Esther Price has been around for years, Mikesell’s has been around for years,” Davis said. “They’ve done great. But there’s no one that has done anything to that level (in years.) So why can’t it be us with what we’re doing?”
Davis said the love and time that go into perfecting his cookies create the nostalgia moment for customers when they take a bite.
Davis said Dayton will be the home base for his operations, but, “Anywhere I can get my fresh-baked cookies to and change a life for a few minutes,” he’ll do it.