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Amos, Wally - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Wally Amos

cookie company chip cookies

(1936-)
Uncle Noname
Cookie Company

Overview

Wally Amos gained prominence as an entrepreneur in the mid-1970s when he developed and marketed a brand of chocolate-chip cookies under the name “Famous Amos.” In a world of mass-produced food products, Amos seemingly hit upon the universal “soul food”: the American home-style chocolate-chip cookie. Two years after opening his first store in Los Angeles, Amos was at the helm of a large corporation, selling cookies as well as other “Famous Amos” paraphernalia, worldwide.

Personal Life

Wallace Amos, Jr. was born July 1, 1936 in his parents’ home in Tallahassee, Florida. He was the only child of the marriage of Wallace and Ruby Amos. The senior Wallace Amos, whom his son once described as a “good person . . . who always remained true to himself,” worked in Tallahassee at the local gas company. Neither parent could read or write. The Amos household was characterized by a strict code of personal behavior. His mother, especially, was an uncompromising disciplinarian.

Amos later recalled that the person of greatest influence in his childhood was his father’s mother. In Current Biography Yearbook, Amos reported that his grandmother treated him “with a very tender and understanding kind of love.” In his autobiography, The Famous Amos Story, Amos said that his parents rarely laughed and seldom displayed affection toward him. He added that they were both conscientious churchgoers who regarded “anything that appeared to be fun, like dancing” as a sin.

At age 10, Amos began attending a school established in his mother’s church. Amos said: “We were made to think, to be curious, to seek solutions, and not add to problems.” At school, he claimed that he had developed an intense desire to become successful and to make money.

When Amos was 12, his parents separated and later divorced. At the same time, he moved to New York City to live with his mother’s sister, Della. He described his Aunt Della as “happy all the time,” and as a woman who loved to cook and bake, especially chocolate-chip cookies. Of his experience living with his Aunt Della, Amos noted “for me, chocolate-chip cookies have always been an expression of love.”

In 1951 Amos moved in with his mother and grandmother, who had also moved to Manhattan. That same year, his fascination with cooking led him to enroll in the Food Trades Vocational High School. He quit after two years, however, and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953 where he earned his high school diploma equivalent.

Amos has married three times, first in 1958. He has three sons and a daughter and lives in Hawaii.

Career Details

After his discharge from the Air Force, Amos enrolled at the Collegiate Secretarial Institute in Manhattan. He attended classes there and worked also as a stockroom clerk at Saks Fifth Avenue department store until 1961. He then started another job, in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency, a leading theatrical booking and hiring agency. Because of his intelligence and high motivation to please others, he went, in a few short months, from mailroom worker to become a personal secretary to Howard Hausman, who was a senior vice-president with the firm. Amos ultimately advanced to the position of a full-time William Morris talent agent where he contributed to the careers of such entertainers as Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Diana Ross, Sam Cooke, and Marvin Gaye.

In 1967, five years later, feeling “burned out” and “stagnant,” as he put it, Amos left the agency and went to Los Angeles to create his own entertainment agency. Working in the business in Los Angeles was frustrating, and Amos was nearly always in debt. As he wrote in his autobiography, he began slowly to console himself and his frustration by making chocolate-chip cookies in the style of his Aunt Della.

At first Amos used the Nestle’s recipe printed on the side of the chocolate-chip bag. He began using these cookies, later, as “calling cards” when meeting with clients, and when attending meetings with producers. “The cookies’ reputation began to grow as my contacts multiplied,” he recalled in his book, The Power in You.

Amos decided to sell his cookies as a full-time occupation in October 1974, after a long and searching conversation with a close friend. To establish his store he raised $25,000 from entertainment friends including singers Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy. The store opened on March 9, 1975, on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Formosa Avenue in Los Angeles. On the first day, customers were lined up outside. Within two years, his business operation evolved into a corporation which sold cookies nationwide in a variety of upscale stores. The cookies now carried with them a line of paraphernalia for the “Famous Amos” fans who desired them: t-shirts, umbrellas, duffle bags, and “Famous Amos” jewelry. His two factories were then making six tons of chocolate-chip cookies a week.

By 1985, however, the Famous Amos Cookie Company was suffering debilitating financial losses, and Amos sold a controlling share in the venture to a Texas investment group. He retained a position on the board of directors but was relieved of day-to-day responsibilities in the company. In the late- 1980s the company changed ownership several more times, and Amos ultimately became a mere figurehead with no role in the operations of the company he had founded. He finally parted with the Famous Amos company in 1989. Recalling the episode in the Providence Business News in 1995, Amos said, “I was irresponsible. I didn’t have a good management team . . . . Ultimately, I started having cash flow problems. I started losing the company in 1985. By 1989 it was gone. The new owners came in and I was outside looking in.”

Within two years Amos returned to retail marketing based on a chocolate chip theme with his Chip & Cookie concept. Located within department stores, Chip & Cookie included baked goods, storybooks and a variety of merchandise. He was sued by the owners of Famous Amos who successfully contended that Amos had relinquished the rights to use his name and likeness in marketing a food product.

Barred from using his name in future cookie ventures, in 1992 Amos developed and marketed Uncle Noname (pronounced no-NAH-may) baked goods, the name being a play on his enforced anonymity. Among the products developed by the company are pound cakes in such flavors as banana blueberry and orange cranberry, and fat-free muffins in a variety of flavors, including corn and honey raisin bran, apple cinnamon, chocolate passion, and blueberry.

Amos is a popular motivational speaker who has used his celebrity status to promote literacy and to support drop-out prevention programs. Amos is also the author of four books: the autobiographical volume The Famous Amos Story: The Face That Launched a Thousand Chips (1983), the motivational work The Power in You: Ten Secret Ingredients for Inner Strength (1988), The Man with No Name (1994), and Watermelon Magic: Seeds of Wisdom. Slices of Life (1996).

Social and Economic Impact

In developing his cookie business, Amos’ approach was highly personal. He had enormous enthusiasm for his products, and he used his boundless energy and personal popularity to promote them. Amos was disciplined, cared about quality-control issues, and was not afraid to leave one endeavor to explore another. As an article in Current Biography Yearbook, states: “In the process of promoting his client, whether an entertainer, or a cookie, Amos himself became a star of sorts on the American scene.”

On June 13, 1977, Amos’ picture was on the cover of Time magazine, which ran a lengthy article about him and his success. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan formally presented to Wally Amos the President’s Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

Chronology: Wally Amos

1936: Born.

1975: Opened first Famous Amos retail outlet.

1986: Won President’s Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

1987: Won Horatio Alger Award.

1989: Ended relationship with Famous Amos Cookie Company.

1992: Started Uncle Noname Cookie Company.

1996: Uncle Noname released line of low-fat baked goods.

“I am in the people business, not the cookie business . . . I deal in love.” With this remark, made by Amos after he sold his cookie business, Amos turned to the new passion in his life—lecturing on inspirational issues. With his vision of obtaining, maintaining, and increasing the quality of love in his world, Amos has been recognized for his passion, conscience, caring, and charity.

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about 6 years ago

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