Cooper Street Cookies expands their reach — and their impact on a local nonprofit’s clients
Mandelbrodt, also known as Mandel bread, is a popular Jewish cookie similar to Italian biscotti. It’s traditionally made with almonds, cinnamon, and chocolate chips, but a local business has amped up expectations with their highly addictive, low-calorie version: Cooper Street Cookies.
But one of the best parts of the company’s story isn’t the exotic flavors they offer — like white chocolate cherry or Key lime coconut. Or even that the cookies are all natural. Even better, the business is working with a local nonprofit to provide jobs for people with special needs.
Known as a wizard in the kitchen, Elaine Surnow perfected her low-calorie, nut- and dairy-free cookie recipe, and in 2011, right before her son, Max, was about to graduate from Michigan State University, they launched the business. The name comes from a street in Colorado where the family congregated for holidays.
“My mom would often make the cookies out there to share with the family; it’s a really special place for us filled with years of laughter and great memories,” says Max, now Cooper Street Cookies’ CEO.
Elaine frequently demos the products at grocery stores — and she’s the business’ top seller. Within the first year, Cooper Street Cookies doubled their production volume, and today the product can be found in stores like Sam’s Club, Whole Foods, Kroger, and more.
Sam, Elaine’s other son, left his job at a New York CPA firm to become the company’s financial controller. And Lisa, Elaine’s daughter, runs customer relations and social media.
As the family’s business continued to grow, Max decided to hire employees from Jewish Vocational Service of Southfield, a nonprofit that assists individuals with special needs.
“It started as my small way of giving back,” Max says. “JVS started off doing strictly custodial work for us, two people for three hours a day, two days a week, and now they handle 90 percent of the production. This company would be nothing without them.”
The majority of Cooper Street’s 50 employees are from JVS, making for a powerful partnership. “They are a critical community partner for us in creating employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities,” says JVS President and CEO Leah Rosenbaum.
While the cookie business is booming, the real takeaway is Cooper Street Cookies is still a family business — only with a larger family.
“It is extremely rewarding being able to give back to the community that has given so much to us, and help those who really need it, and most of all appreciate it,” Elaine says. “We are giving them a chance to be contributing members of our community, with a real job, real pay, and a great chance to learn much needed skills to make it on their own.”
Visit cooperstreetcookies.com for more information.
No Pizza? Now that’s Italian
DiMambro’s Restaurant on Grand River Avenue south of Schoolcraft Avenue in the 1940s through 1960s was an Italian oasis. My parents, immigrants from Italy, would never consider eating in a restaurant where you never knew what they put into food. DiMambro’s was the exception. Everything was made from scratch and satisfied even the fussiest Italian grandmother. I still dream of their wonderful lasagna and veal dishes. Oddly enough, they did not serve pizza, since to Italians of the time pizza was not really a meal.
Most Italian weddings took place on Saturday morning, and most brides’ families provided a lunch for those who attended the ceremony. DiMambro’s was the setting for most of my family’s weddings even though it required a long bus ride for east siders. While not fancy, the atmosphere was homey and cozy. The jukebox played Italian music and many of the patrons could be heard chatting in one of the Italian dialects. Today, there are many Italian restaurants around town, but none replicates my lifelong favorite.
—Armando Delicato, Beverly Hills
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National Spicy Guacamole Day
After some extensive research, we couldn’t find the source of this fiesta, but we did find out a few interesting facts about guac. Avocados apparently originated in Central America and were cultivated as many as 7,000 years ago. The word “avocado” is derived from the Aztec word ahuacatl. Thank Aztecs for the gift of guacamole; theirs was an avocado sauce with or without chopped tomatoes and onions and perhaps some coriander leaves. Guacamole contains heart-healthy fats, so use this opportunity to give your body a break before the holiday indulgence. —Spencer White