Wally Amos was born in Tallahassee, Florida on July 1st, 1936. He moved to Manhattan with his aunt when he was twelve, and he then enrolled at the Food Trades Vocational High School. Amos had always been interested in cooking, and it was from his aunt that he would get his recipe for chocolate chip cookies. He would improve on the recipe in the following years, as he dropped out of high school to join the Air Force, eventually got his GED and went to college to become a secretary. After graduation, he was hired by the William Morris Agency, rising from his clerical position to become the agency’s first black agent. His gimmick was to bake up a batch of his delicious cookies and send them to celebrities with his business card and an invitation to come in to his office. The cookies worked… Diana Ross and The Supremes were just one of his many clients.
Over the years, many celebrities told Wally that he made the best cookies in the world. Many also suggested that he open up his own cookie store. In 1975, Wally did just that, and Famous Amos Cookies were born:
The cookies originally came in the above tin, but would soon work their way into the deli sections of many grocery stores in white paper bags. I remember that a 5oz. bag cost $2.99 or $3.99 (outrageously expensive for a bag of cookies in the early 80s). Who cared though? The cookies were sublime. They had bits of chocolate that always seemed unbelievably sweet, gooey and fresh. They had “just enough” pecans to make them interesting, but not enough to overwhelm the chocolate. The batter itself was unbelievably buttery and brown sugar sweet. Hmmmmmm… “the sharp, almost malty ‘tang’ of molasses…” Mmmmmmmmmm… Where was I? Oh yes, the cookies. They probably had 500 calories each, but they were so good that you didn’t care!
Sadly, “real” Famous Amos cookies lasted only a few years. Financial troubles caused Wally to sell the company in 1985, and four different companies owned the brand for the next few years. During this time, the quality of the cookies varied widely, from close facsimiles of the original to lifeless cookies that wouldn’t give Chips Ahoy a run for the money… and then back to the original formula, then again back to some cheap basic “cookie”. In 1992, President Baking bought the brand, and Keebler Foods then purchased President in 1998. Keebler was then bought out by Kellogg in 2001. By this point, Famous Amos was just a “brand” that has no resemblance to the divine original cookies. It’s sad. You’d think that Kellogg might want to go back to the original (heavenly) recipe and have both “cheap” and “upscale” cookies with one brand. But alas, that hasn’t happened yet…
But we can always dream!