National Cookie Day: Wally Amos is a pioneering Black entrepreneur

By Tonya Pendleton
National Cookie Day has been celebrated since 1987. Entrepreneur Wally Amos, once known as Famous Amos for his best-selling cookie brand, has persevered, despite some struggles. File Photo by Charles Blagdon/UPI
National Cookie Day has been celebrated since 1987. Entrepreneur Wally Amos, once known as Famous Amos for his best-selling cookie brand, has persevered, despite some struggles. File Photo by Charles Blagdon/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 4 (UPI) -- National Cookie Day is celebrated on Sunday. As the origins of cookies go back to Persia in the 7th century AD, it's more of a wonder that an official Cookie Day didn't happen until 1987.

The day was created by someone with a vested interest in sweet treats. Matt Nader, who founded San Francisco's Blue Chip Cookie Co., is credited with establishing the observance as something fun that would help market his cookies. It worked and was further popularized by Sesame Street, whose beloved character Cookie Monster has been shown enjoying the day.


Nader and National Cookie Day owe a debt to Ruth Wakefield, who ran the Toll House restaurant near Whitman, Mass., in the 1930s. After baking sugar cookies, she decided she wanted to make them chocolate instead and added some cut-up Nestle pieces to the recipe.


Restaurant patrons enjoyed the cookies so much that Wakefield was took her new recipe to Nestle, which eventually developed chocolate chips and the cookies we know as Tollhouse.

That's where Walt "Famous" Amos steps into cookie history. The now 86-year-old entrepreneur thought he could improve on Nestle's recipe, releasing Famous Amos cookies based on his aunt's recipe in 1975. Born in Florida, Amos moved to New York City as a teenager. While there, he attended a vocational high school specializing in food trades, then dropped out to join the military.

After completing his service, he moved to Los Angeles, got his GED, and joined the William Morris Talent Agency as a mailroom clerk. He became the firm's first Black talent agent, working with Simon Garfunkel, The Supremes and Marvin Gaye. Gaye and singer Helen Reddy loaned Amos $25,000 to start his Famous Amos Cookie Co.

By 1982, with Amos as spokesman, buoyed by his bearded good looks, signature Panama hat, charisma and tasty cookies, Famous Amos was bringing in revenues of $12 million. But after a series of poor business decisions, he lost his company and the right to use the Famous Amos name.

''I'd lost the company really because I didn't use to listen to people a lot because I was Famous Amos,'' he told The New York Times in 1999. ''The first couple of years after I left Famous Amos, I didn't even make cookies anymore, and I used to always make cookies at home. I didn't even want to talk about chocolate chip cookies, really. I shaved my beard and stopped wearing hats.''


The company changed hands multiple times, finally landing at Keebler. Although Keebler allowed him to use his name to promote the brand in 1999, Amos eventually parted ways with the company, feeling diminished in the role of a spokesman instead of an owner.

"If you sit around starting to feel sorry for yourself, and blaming everyone else for your position in life, it is like being in quicksand,'' he told the Times. ''In quicksand, if you start flailing all about and panicking with each movement you go in deeper, but if you just stay calm and look about, chances are you'll see a twig or something you can reach to pull yourself out. Or, if you stay there long enough someone will come and rescue you.''

Amos switched over to muffins and for a while, Uncle Wally's Muffin Co. was thriving, sold in Costco and Walmart. He wrote a memoir, Man with No Name: Turn Lemons Into Lemonade, and an empowerment book.

But two forays into new cookie brands, Uncle Noname and the Big Kahuna failed. At one point, Amos lost his Hawaii home and was turned down by the sharks on Shark Tank after pitching his Kahuna brand in 2019 at the age of 80.


In 2019, Keebler sold its Keebler, Famous Amos, Girl Scouts and other cookie brands to confectioner Ferrero for $1.3 billion.

Amos lives in Columbia, S.C., and is working on a new brand that pays homage to the aunt that got him started -- Aunt Della's Cookies.

"This is my last company, I can tell you that for sure," Amos told Charlotte magazine in 2018. "Put that on my tombstone: 'He died starting one last cookie company.'"

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