In March 1975, a former talent scout by the name of Wally Amos borrowed US$ 25,000 from friends to open the first freestanding Famous Amos gourmet cookie store. Although Amos' cookie recipe was essentially the Nestle's Toll House Cookie recipe with extra chips and nuts added, the cookie maker's flare for publicity coupled with his contacts in the entertainment industry eventually propelled the Famous Amos brand into American folklore.
Within the first year of opening his store on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard, Amos had two more Famous Amos franchises on the West Coast. Meanwhile, Bloomingdale's department store in New York was selling his cookies at three dollars per pound. By August of 1975 – even before the first store was making any money – the New York Times had run a story on Famous Amos, and not long afterward a syndicated story appeared in other papers. As Amos would later write in his autobiography, "Famous Amos began to move, not only forward, but up, up, and away. Thanks to the media, Famous Amos became known as the cookie of the jet set."
Less than five years after opening his first store, Amos was a millionaire. The Famous Amos brand grossed US$ 5 million in 1980 and US$ 10 million in 1985. But even more than wealth, Amos was acquiring fame. His likeness in a Panama hat and Indian gauze shirt adorned bags of Famous Amos cookies in thousands of homes across the US. He later immodestly noted, "I opened the first gourmet chocolate chip cookie store in the world and set off a culinary explosion still reverberating to this day…. One hundred and fifty million Americans – 60 percent of the population – still know me as 'the Cookie Man.' They say, with apologies to Mrs. Fields and Pepperidge Farm, that I am the world's most eminent cookie maker" ("The Famous Amos Story," Doubleday, 1983).
Even so, Amos later insisted that it was not fame he was seeking when he started Famous Amos. The corporate name, he said, was simply a nickname he had acquired from knowing so many people in the entertainment industry. "All I wanted to do was make a living, I didn't even care about being famous," he said in an interview with Forbes (10-Mar-86).
Following a decade of success, corporate mismanagement forced Amos to gradually sell off parts of his company. In 1984, the Bass Brothers purchased a majority interest in Famous Amos for just over US$ 1M. Amos has written that it was then that he signed a quitclaim relieving him of the right to use his name or likeness in any enterprise that had food in its business. The agreement, meanwhile, made him an employee of Famous Amos with equity.
But a year later the brand was acquired by the Baer Group who in turn sold it to San Francisco-based venture capital firm the Shansby Group in 1988, leaving Amos’ with reportedly zero equity.
According to Amos, the Shansby Group "repositioned [the] cookies from a gourmet item to a lower-priced commodity product. Their strategy was to take a product in a limited, quality niche and mass-merchandise it…. Their strategy was well thought out, and it worked wonders. Sales soared, and [the company] recovered. When [Shansby] acquired the business, sales were US$ 6M per year. They built it up to over US$ 80M…. But the compromises they made to the quality of the product meant that the original cookie had become a shadow of itself." Amos continued, "[The] chocolate chip cookies now tasted bland and uninteresting," adding, "I created the original [recipe] and I know they...changed it" ("Man With No Name," Asian Publishing, 1994).
When Amos wrote to the new owners of Famous Amos to complain, he was reminded of the quitclaim he had signed in 1985 requiring him to stay out of the cookie business. In spite of Amos' bellyaching that he could not make a living without being able to use his name, a court of law held that the quitclaim he had signed was binding. So Amos began marketing his baked good under the name Uncle Noname. Meanwhile, after undergoing further changes in ownership, Famous Amos was acquired by the President Baking Company in 1992. The Keebler Company acquired President Baking in 1998 and with it the Famous Amos brand.
In an agreement worked out with Keebler, Amos was hired to once again to promote the Famous Amos brand. In exchange for his public relations help, Amos was allowed to use his name in the marketing of his own products, which he now sold under the label Uncle Wally's.
But the reconciliation would apparently only be temporary. In 2001, the itinerant cookie was acquired by the Kellogg Company through its purchase of Keebler, and according to a spokesperson Amos is not currently involved with the brand.
Although it’s debatable whether the original recipe has survived the trip, a Keebler spokesperson says that the cookies are differentiated from other cookies including Keebler's by a "special recipe for fresh, homemade taste."
Now targeted at women between the ages of 35 to 54, retails sales for 2000 were reportedly at US$ 100M – which is a lot of dough for a little cookie.