Kathleen King Tate's Bake Shop
Kathleen King, founder of Tate’s Bake Shop.
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  • Tate’s Bake Shop, home to America’s No. 1 chocolate chip cookie, recently sold to Mondolēz International for $500 million.
  • Its founder, Kathleen King, credits the success of the beloved brand to losing her first business.
  • Now retired, King talked to Business Insider about the hard work and perseverance it takes to be successful: “If I didn’t have my epic failure I wouldn’t have had my epic success; they go hand in hand.”

“Taste of home.”

That’s how Kathleen King, the woman behind Tate’s Bake Shop — home to America’s No. 1 chocolate chip cookie, according to both Consumer Reports and Rachel Ray— described the baked-goods company when I put her under the constraint of three words.

A staple in the Hamptons’ East End and on many grocery store shelves, Tate’s officially sold in June to Mondolēz International, the maker of Oreo and Chips Ahoy, for $500 million — a deal in which King completely passed her legacy into new hands, she told Business Insider.

King, now newly retired, founded Tate’s in 2000, but her baking prowess dates back to her childhood days on North Sea Farms in Southampton, New York.

She set her sights on the oven at age 11, baking cookies to sell for a bargain at her father’s farm stand — six for $0.59. With a lot of consumer love and little competition, she grew her business enough to spend her high school summers baking ten hours a day, seven days a week, she said.

“When I was [growing up on a farm], I felt like a child slave, but looking back it was really heavenly,” King said, adding that her parents told her she could do or be anything if she worked for it.

“It’s a tremendous amount of hard work, you start working at a really early age,” she said. “In the big picture, it’s wonderful — you develop work ethic, learn to apply common sense, and see how nature is entwined.”

A post shared by Tate’s Bake Shop (@tatesbakeshop)Jun 17, 2018 at 4:55am PDT

It’s what helped King prepare for a business adventure that involved a lot of grit, she said.

“It’s not easy. You learn when you fall down, you get up,” she said of farm life. “There’s nothing cushy or protective. Which is what made me survive my journey.”

Quality is the most important thing

With $5,000, King rented her first bakery at 21, in 1980, and began wholesaling Kathleen’s Cookies at farm stands. Three years later, she bought her first bakeshop — the home of Tate’s today — with a $50,000 down payment and sold homemade cookies as Kathleen’s Bake Shop.

In 1999, King brought on her bookkeeper and his brother to help expand her business. Having already established a relationship with the former, King made the move in good faith and under the agreement that the partners would help expand Kathleen’s Bake Shop’s national efforts while she would remain CEO and run the business side.

“As soon as I signed the contract, the partner I knew well turned into a different person,” King said.

The partners purchased a factory in Virginia, which physically displaced King from the business…