He is a pioneer in the cookie industry!
Born Wallace Amos on July 1, 1936, in Tallahassee, Florida, Amos discovered his love for cooking at an early age, Biography.com reports. Following his parents’ separation, he was sent to New York at the age of 12 where he lived with his Aunt Della.
“We certainly had no monetary wealth, but Aunt Della’s home was always rich in the principles and qualities vital to a child’s upbringing. And it was filled with the aroma of her delicious chocolate chip cookies,” Amos later recalled of his formative years.
There they often baked homemade chocolate chip and pecan cookies, his passion for baking leading him to enroll at the Food Trades Vocational High School, where he studied culinary arts. Amos then spent four years in the U.S. Air Force before returning to New York in 1957 where he began working for the William Morris Agency. He started out in the mailroom, eventually working his way up to making history as the first Black talent agent in the industry. Focused on signing the next big thing, Amos spearheaded the agency’s rock ‘n’ roll department, discovering Simon and Garfunkel. He went on to work with some of the biggest names in the industry including The Supremes, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and Dionne Warwick, History.com reports.
While he experienced some success in the talent market, Amos became weary with show business after moving to Los Angeles. To cope with the stress, he began baking cookies.
“I’d go to meetings with record company or movie people and bring along some cookies, and pretty soon everybody was asking for them,” Amos previously said in a 1975 interview.
With the financial backing of Hollywood supporters like Gaye, Amos launched his “Famous Amos” brand and set up a cookie store on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, just a few blocks away from his office next to Quincy Jones. He launched with a star-studded gala featuring Hollywood’s A-list. Newly divorced, Amos’ son Shawn helped him run the business, boasting three offerings: chocolate chip peanut butter, chocolate chip with pecan and a butterscotch chip with pecan, all sold by the pound.
His zero-preservative homemade cookies were a new concept on the market and it put Amos ahead of the pack. By the end of 1975, he had opened two more West Coast franchises, sold $300,000 worth of cookies, and landed his gourmet cookies in Bloomingdale’s in New York. By 1982, Amos reported $12 million in revenue. His distribution eventually spread to Macy’s and from 1977 to 1981, Amos appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. His goal was to assimilate what appeared to be a common snack into upscale culture, appearing on hit TV shows like “The Jeffersons,” and holding an annual holiday block party with guests like Muhammad Ali and Andy Warhol.
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His premium chocolate chip cookies soon opened the market for competition with brands like Mrs. Field’s Original Cookies, Duncan Hines, and Nabisco all vying for a piece of the cookie pie. Amos soon struggled to keep up with the brand’s growth and began selling shares of his company in 1985. Despite his decade of success and his amazing marketing prowess, in an effort to keep the business afloat, Amos also sold off his rights to his name and likeness, preventing him from using his own name on any food product branding. In 1998, the Keebler Company purchased the Famous Amos brand and Amos returned to the brand, this time as a spokesperson.
Over the years Amos would continue to launch various snack brands including Uncle Wally’s Family of Muffins, but none of them were quite as successful as Famous Amos. Today he continues to serve as a motivational speaker, while also advocating for educational literacy around the world. Amos is the author of 10 books and one of the most successful Black entrepreneurs to date. His story continues to inspire generations globally and we pay homage to the life and lasting legacy of Wally Amos.
Cover photo: Meet Wally Amos, the founder of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies/Photo Courtesy of Peter Taylor/Charlotte Magazine