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Auburn’s Steven Lease wields mean cookie sheet

Community Portrait
By: Story and photograph Michael Kirby
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There’s something special about being offered a cookie. Who can help but smile when eating a freshly baked cookie? It’s such a simple thing, sweet and delicious. Auburn’s Steven Lease believes it, so much so that he has baked 13,721 in the last nine years as of last Saturday. He keeps a running total on his smart phone and that total has probably already grown by several dozen. It all started on Lease’s 25th birthday in 2002. “It was a day or two before my birthday, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do for my birthday when I go to work?’” Lease said. At the time, Lease was employed at Intel as a design engineer. He remembered his mother always baked something for him to take to school on his birthday when he was a youngster. “With that in mind, I thought, ‘What do I like to bake,’ and I made a batch of cookies,” he said. Lease’s co-workers liked them, his wife Valerie liked them, and so Lease occasionally baked a few batches and took a couple of dozen to work. “So I gained a reputation of Steve’s Cookies,” he said. On his last day at Intel, and heading off to a new job with a start-up company in renewable energy, Lease thought, “What should I do on my last day?” “Most people go in, grab a few things, do some paperwork and leave. I decided to make about 700 cookies,” he said. “So on my last day I spent the entire day seeing everybody I worked with and handing out cookies.” When Lease left Intel his cookie production slowed to just family treats until he thought of a way to do something good for the community. Lease began packaging the cookies with a small label with his name as a way to business network. But the cookies were always a way to give back in a small way. “Put it this way. If there is a reason to make cookies for a good cause, I’ll do it,” he said. He has brought cookies to events hosted by Placer Arts, Placer High theater productions, Placer Community Foundation, and he recently baked close to 500 cookies for the Auburn Celebrity Chefs. Lease’s involvement goes deeper than baking cookies, and he tries to live by a personal motto. “I like to say my life is about three things — to live every day to the fullest, build relationships for tomorrow and help others with no expectation of anything in return,” he said. Lease currently works for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and is an Eagle Scout involved with Auburn’s Troop 19 for 10 years and Scoutmaster for the last three years. He is a third-generation Rotarian and a current member of Auburn’s Daybreak Rotary. Lease is also a member of the 49er Lions Club and an Auburn Elks Lodge member. He is a Placer Arts board member, currently serving as treasurer, and still finds time to be the Eagle Scout chairman for the Golden Empire Council covering most of Northern California. Every one of the almost 14,000 cookies has been made by Lease and he’s got the cookie baking down to production-like runs of usually four dozen. Four-pound bags of chocolate chips sit on his kitchen counter. Pounds of butter and flour will go into a large blender that rises to counter level from a cabinet. His daughter, Rose, who is almost 3, often assists Lease in the cookie production. The basic recipe is Toll House, but with Lease’s own variations thrown in. “Over time you learn the process, like the butter needs to be at the right temperature, and I always use the same brand,” Lease said. The baking is also down pat with two trays cooling while other trays are in the oven. Lease is also sensitive to how people like their cookies, on the softer side or crispy. Each batch also contains some mint chips or caramel chips. Lease lives in Auburn with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Rose. He is happy to serve his cookies at any community event and those interested can contact him at steven@stevenlease.com or call (916) 899-4026.