Cougar Tails hold top spot nationally for specialty concessions
Sharon Offley, assistant doughnut crew supervisor, takes fried Cougar Tails off the conveyor belt once they're out of the proof box and through the automatic fryer Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, at the Culinary Support Center on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo. Offley has been creating Cougar Tails since their creation in 2006. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald
Jared Richardson, a sophomore at Brigham Young University majoring in pre-communications with an emphasis in advertising, flips Cougar Tails in one of the three fryers Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016, at the Culinary Support Center on the campus of BYU in Provo. The tails fry for about a minute on each side until they're golden brown. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald
Sharon Offley, left, and Tim Barlow move the measured and cut Cougar Tails to a tray to be placed into the proof box, left, to rise Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016, at the Culinary Support Center on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo. The trays hold seven tails each. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald
Tim Barlow, doughnut crew supervisor, places dough on a machine to be flattened more Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, at the Culinary Support Center on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo. Each loaf of dough weighs about 15 pounds and can create roughly 30 Cougar Tails. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald
As BYU and UCLA faced off Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, a nationally-ranked contender began emerging from Brigham Young University concession stands and into the hands of hungry Cougar fans.
Cougar Tails are the No. 1 selling specialty concession across nationwide collegiate concessions, according to BYU Concessions General Manager Aaron Black. In overall concession sales within BYU, they are bested only by souvenir cup refills and narrowly beat bottled-water sales.
Black estimates that approximately 5,000 of the extra-long maple bars are sold at each home football game. Cougar Tails are sold at almost every BYU sporting event, but football season is easily the peak of sales where a total of around 30,000 are sold during the season.
But how are so many Cougar Tails pumped out to the masses for each and every home football game? Believe it or not, they’re created by hand, one at a time by a handful of people.
The grand production is spearheaded by Tim Barlow and Sharon Offley, who create the majority of the specialty doughnuts throughout the year. Planning for the football-season rush begins in June, long before fans flock to the first home football game.
“We have to make sure we have enough product on hand,” said Barlow, doughnut crew supervisor. “We have to figure out a strategy of how we’re going to conquer it.”
To create thousands of Cougar Tails, one needs exponentially more of the ingredients that make them up.
To start, the tails begin as dough, mixed in-house at the BYU Culinary Support Center. The dough is separated into 15-pound loaves that yield about 30 tails a loaf. Then, a loaf is flattened out and cut into seven long strips which are each measured to 16-inches long, then cut horizontally.
As the doughnuts begin to resemble their signature form, they’re placed in a proof box with conveyor-belt-style insides that accelerates the rising process for the dough. After 45 minutes in the proof box, the tails are dropped one by one into a fryer, where they are rotated to cook each side evenly. Once cooked, the nearly-finished tails are placed in sevens onto trays and they are stored until they’re iced with their famous maple icing the day they’ll be served. To ice the estimated 5,000 Cougar Tails sold at each football home game, it takes 40 buckets of icing (weighing 43 pounds each) to complete the tails.
It’s taken years of trial and error to get the process refined. “We’ve made a lot of changes,” explained Offley, assistant doughnut crew supervisor. Improvements have had to be made over the years to keep up with the ever-growing demand for the specialty doughnuts.
But how did Cougar Tails become such a staple among Cougar fans?
Cougar Tails first came into existence in 2006 when BYU concessions and culinary services merged and Dean Wright, director of dining services, wanted to create something that would be unmistakably associated with BYU. Smith had a love for maple bars, and thought to merge three into one long bar, or tail. After workshopping some other ideas within concessions and culinary services, the Cougar Tail rose to the top and was first put into concession stands for the fall 2006 season.
But Cougar Tails didn’t sell well at first.
The first season they were introduced, only about 100 tails were sold at each home football game. People simply didn’t know what they were. A manager in the concessions department said that people just wouldn’t buy a doughnut at a football game. It just didn’t fit in with the football atmosphere of soft drinks and hot dogs. Sales floundered for the first year, but something changed as another football season came to Provo.
“They took off like lightning,” exclaimed Wright. In 2007, the Cougar Tail name was copyrighted and the doughnut began its rise to fame.
Originally, only two people were making Cougar Tails. Offley has been making the treat since its creation in 2006. But as its popularity grew year after year, production became more than just four hands could manage. So, Sharon and her former boss, whom Barlow replaced after he retired two years ago, began hiring students with one goal in mind: create more Cougar Tails.
“I sent in my application, then got a call for an interview a few days later,” explained Jared Richardson, a sophomore at BYU majoring in pre-communications with an emphasis in advertising. “I came here and it wasn’t even an interview, it’s like, ‘OK, can you start tonight? We have a high demand.'”
Now two days into work, he’s gotten the hang of his part of the process.
“When you fry Cougar Tails for four hours straight, you end up smelling like Cougar Tails,” he said, while he fried more tails. “Sometimes even after you change and shower you still smell like Cougar Tails. I kind of want to go on a date sometime and see how delicious I am,” said Richardson with a grin.
Sharon and Tim orchestrate the mass production of Cougar Tails, and with the help of two to five extra students, the crew can pump out up to 1,500 tails a night. The crew starts late at night, roughly at 11 p.m. once all other culinary duties have been finished. They work like a fine-tuned assembly line, Tim and Sharon creating the tails while students fry them.
They work into the early morning until they reach their goal for the night, “Or we pass out,” said Barlow jokingly, as he flattened more dough around 1 a.m. The students are scheduled to work from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., but Tim and Sharon work well past that some nights during the hectic football season.
The team’s dedication pays off once a day’s batch is on keepers, or tray holders, and ready to send out to satiate the sweet tooth of BYU’s fan base.
“It’s nice to know that it’s desirable, that everybody keeps going after it,” said Offley. “It gives me pride to know people are enjoying them and that they look really good.”
Barlow echoed her sentiments, “When you see all the keepers lined up and you know they’re all going to sell; it’s quite an accomplishment to pull off.”
Through the hard work of Tim, Sharon and their crew, the signature 16-inch-long maple bar has become a staple among BYU fans of all ages. Dean Wright explained, “They’re the heart of it. If it weren’t for them, the Cougar Tail would just be a doughnut.”