Originally posted by Angelina Hong on March 8th, 2019

Just in time for International Women’s Day! I want to feature and honor another “doughp,” female, food, business owner: Kelsey Witherow.

I had the pleasure of hearing Kelsey’s story, and I’m so excited to share it with you all! It is powerful, raw, and real. She also touches on some major points that I feel are so relatable. As someone who has struggled with mental health, it’s so refreshing to hear someone advocate so boldly for these types of conversations. Please enjoy!

How would you describe yourself and the identities you hold most close?
I’m a passionate millennial ready to change the world! I’m the founder of Doughp – an unconventional dessert brand dishing up edible, bakeable, and ridiculously tasty cookie dough. To burn off all the sugar I eat, I enjoy yoga and hiking to clear my mind! I’m 3½ years sober which lets me really soak up all that life has to offer. :)

Pronouns: She/Her
28 years old

I’ve read about your personal story behind creating Doughp, specifically your journey through addiction and sobriety. Can you tell me a little more about that? How did those experiences lead you from idea to fruition of Doughp?
My journey to Doughp was an interesting one. Though running a cookie dough bar as your profession doesn’t exactly have many “normal” paths. (Normal totally sucks anyway!) It wasn’t until after 10-years in the tech industry that I ditched the processor chips for chocolate chips and started Doughp. At 16, I began an internship with Intel that would take me through high school and college until becoming a salaried employee in 2013 when I graduated from ASU.

I grew up with pretty high standards for myself. I was that girl who would cry when she got a “B” on a test – heartbreaking. I wanted to be THE best at everything and desperately wanted everyone’s approval. The stress just compounded when I introduced my perfectionism issues to Corporate America while still just a kid. The need for approval transversed both school and personal life with this intense desire to also be “cool” – but I never perfectly fit in with any one group in high school. That’s when I found my “friend”, alcohol. In high school, I think alcohol filled two needs for me. One, I “fit in” and could use it to prove that I was cool and could hang, throwing back as many beers/shots as the guys (even if that inevitably ended with me being carried out of the party in a blackout). And two, it gave my brain a break. I drank to blackout regularly and it was when I was drinking that my brain wasn’t running on overdrive.
This continued into college…as did my budding career at Intel. From the outside looking in – as is often the case with alcoholism – I seemed to have it all together. As I aged, I could see this problem was 
growing. I tried to get sober at 21 (*this should’ve been a big red flag. LOL.*) and had the intention of “resetting” my drinking ways after 6-months sober. It was only a few weeks after that til my next blackout and a morning full of apologies.
Photo credit: Angelina Hong
Our society makes it crazy difficult to accept you have a problem with booze. The generation normalizes social alcoholism, so for a long time you’re told to shake it off, it’s just a phase, just count your drinks, just have water after each drink, and on and on. Nothing worked for me. And in September 2015, while living in Portland, Oregon… I found my rock bottom (which is sometimes referred to as the point in which you decide to stop digging). I like that concept – we all get to decide how low our rock bottom will be, to decide when we want to turn it around.

Well I turned it around! In late 2015, I was sober, figuring out what my new life would look like, and spending an ungodly amount of time in the kitchen! I had a longtime love of baking, but it often took a backseat to a hangover. It was great to be at it again, I was making cakes, cupcakes, truffles – you name it. I was loving life baking and started a little online/local delivery for my baked goods called “Monster Baby Bakery”. My first soiree into entrepreneurship and I was hooked. But then, that next spring, Intel moved me to a new position down in San Francisco and I put my bakery on hold to get adjusted to the new city.
As one does when they move to the Bay Area…I gave veganism a try! However, as more of a part-time vegan I was frequently using butter but leaving the eggs out of my recipes. That led to one day making a batch of cookies and feeling significantly less guilty saving half of the dough to chow on raw! Eggless but butter-filled – I had this delicious & safe-to-eat cookie dough recipe on my hands.

Everyone loves cookie dough, and I hated that we were forced to suffer with just cookie dough ice cream (pathetic little nibs surrounded by way too much vanilla ice cream – blah!) I had an opportunity to take my entrepreneurial spirit + a nationwide affinity for cookie dough and turn it into an epic dessert shop – unlike all the other girly dessert shops, we’d make something really chill, somewhere you’d want to get together with friends and hang out at night. I was going to make a really doughp dessert shop. The rest is history!

Can you tell me a little more about Doughp 4 Hope and mission behind that?
As the company grew, we hit a milestone on my 2-year sobriety anniversary (Sept 14, 2017) and opened a pop-up kiosk on Market St. Though only ~100 sq ft…it was ours! We threw a big grand opening on 9/14 and, after sharing my story about sobriety, offered a discount:  walk up and say “It’s Doughp to be sober.” – you got 20% off. :)
It was the first time I had shared my journey on Doughp’s platform and we got an incredible response from people. Many reaching out to share their personal struggles with it, some asking for help/advice as they were in early days of sobriety, etc. It just shook me – it showed just how shrouded these topics typically are and when you share just a little bit, you offer this platform for a conversation to begin. These people wanted to talk, to share their story, and there likely are many others who remained silent but so desperately needed to hear that someone else had gone through something similar to them – and made it out. Giving them some hope in the future…

So, it was born. #Doughp4Hope launched as my way to coordinate all of Doughp’s philanthropic efforts around one topic: Mental Health and Addiction.
1 in 2 Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder in their lifetime. If 50% of people (and this is arguably even higher given non-diagnosed populations) suffer from something – why in the world is it so taboo to talk about? #Doughp4Hope is about elevating the conversation on mental health – truly reminding people that it is ok to not be ok (addiction battles, mental health issues, etc.) and encouraging them to reach out for help when they need it. We do this in a couple of ways:

Creating spaces for booze-free fun; our Vegas storefront provides a “bar-like” environment;  complete with a “Happy Hour You’ll Actually Remember” mocktail menu.
Mental Health Certification for our staff to be prepared to see signs of suicide risk and be better educated to listen/engage/attend-to people as we bring up these topics in our stores.
Mental Health Policy – We offer two mental health days a year to each member of the Doughp Squad; a no-questions-asked relief from a shift if they need it. It opens up the conversation between employer-employee to talk about what’s reallygoing on in your life. We also help to subsidize mental health care, upon request.
Non-Profit Donations; in our storefronts, the #Doughp4Hope cookie dough flavor allows us to give back monetarily to nonprofits supporting mental health and addiction-treatment. We give 100% of proceeds from every scoop of #Doughp4Hope to a different rotating non-profit.
Photo credit: Angelina Hong
What difficulties, if any, do you face being a woman in the food industry? How do you counteract these?
I don’t look at these as difficulties. I just seem them as opportunities to get more creative! 

I think being a female and a CEO in general has its unique opportunities – recent studied showed less than 2% of female founded companies will ever reach $1M in annual revenue. I think a major driver in this is the challenges in accessing funding. Many VC’s have started to step up and enact some funding goals for female companies – but it really needs to be a genuine shift in human perspective of a woman’s worth/value, not a quota to hit. “Handouts” like this just undermine what we’re after.

I want someone to invest in me because Doughp freaking kicks BUTT – not because it’s run by a woman. I don’t love being referred to as a “female CEO” – one day I want to just be a CEO. (This is the same battle “female engineers” are going through – they’re like, “Hey! I’m an engineer just like you!”)

I may be young. I may be a woman. But I don’t act any different than some other older/male CEO would. I think commanding a certain level of respect can throw my “differences” to the side – I walk with my head held high and engage everyone and every opportunity like I’m a BOSS. Cause Beyonce said so. :)

What’s your favorite Doughp flavor?
Ooooooh. Long time favorite is Lavender Dreams. It’s an oatmeal, lavender, and white chocolate flavor sent from heaven. :) I’m a huge floral/herbal fan in desserts so this one won my heart — even if it wasn’t a crowd favorite from the public.

​Is there anything you want to tell me, or your customers? Any big news or upcoming events?
Big stuff coming in hot for Doughp! Our Las Vegas dessert bar will have a Grand Opening on March 16th, 12-4pm (even Chippendales is making it out for an appearance!). It’s located inside Planet Hollywood at the Miracle Mile Shops, 3663 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Please sign our #Doughp4Hope Pledge and help spread this important message: YOU. ARE. ENOUGH!

Getting hungry?