Our ingredients aren’t a secret – but they are part of the magic

I love stories, especially about businesses.  Not the ones about record sales, big profits, name-dropping customer lists, or other statistics.  But ones where I learn the back-story behind a business.  About the owners, the employees and the ingredients that when combined in a unique way, create a magical experience for the customer.

At the Spring Conference for the NC Specialty Foods Association, I was speaking with a group of marketing experts from The Fresh Market, a regional chain of specialty foods grocery stores.  I’m always anxious to learn something new from smart people.  The conversation moved to ingredients in food products and I shared the story behind two of ours – flour and vanilla.

As I was sharing the back-story of these suppliers and how they fit into the cookies and brownies we make at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, it occurred to me that I’ve probably shared stories like this a thousand times over the years.  It was a light-bulb moment and I decided to share a consolidated version with you and put it on our website.

If you look at the back of a package of our cookies, or click on the ingredient link on our website, you’ll see a list of everything that goes into our products.  We don’t hide behind ‘natural flavors’ or other words you can’t pronounce – it’s all there for everyone to see.

While we’ve made some slight changes over the years, most of what we use rarely changes.  We don’t chase ‘pennies’ or special deals to improve our margins by a fraction of a point here or there.  We spend a lot of time and energy finding and cultivating long-term relationships with our suppliers.

Part of the magic of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies and what we do comes down to this:  We’re in the business of consistently creating memorable moments for our customers and the recipients where we send our gourmet cookie and brownie gifts. 

The list of ingredients on our cookies and brownies are one part of that magical recipe.


We started using Lindley Mills flour when we bought in small quantities from the local Whole Foods Market.  As we grew larger and larger, we started buying direct from the mill.  While you won’t find them on any lists, I believe that Lindley Mill’s is among the oldest family owned businesses in America.  Founded by Thomas Lindley in 1755, they were a business before we were a country.  And while it was not in the family the entire time, Joe Lindley, Thomas’ decedent now runs the mill with his wife and daughter Caroline ready to carry on for another generation.

I could buy from a distributor, but there is something soulful about driving out to the country and picking up a load of flour from a mill located on a creek where the Revolutionary War Battle of Lindley’s Mill was fought in 1781.  I included the background in a post I wrote, you’ll find the story here.  Their flour is the basis for everything we make at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies and I’m confident they’ll be grinding wheat long after my earthly labors have ended.


We don’t use ‘cookie drops’, they are not chocolate.  We’ve changed chocolate a few times over the years, but we’ve been using Ghirardelli chocolate chips in our cookies for a long time.  We chose them some years ago because they were Feingold Certified, meaning that they did not use anything artificial or petroleum based in the product or the manufacturing process.  We’ve tried others, but our taste-test panel consistently agrees that for our chocolate chip cookies, these are the best.

For our brownies, we use dark chocolate callets and rich cocoa powder from Barry Callebaut.  We settled on these products several years ago after an exhausting blind taste test from several leading companies.  Our brownies are rich, dark, with just enough moisture to make them the kind where you take a bite, close your eyes and savor the moment.


We use pure cane sugar in our regular cookies and brownies.  We settled on Domino’s brand for consistent quality and the fact that they are non-GMO.  Some granulated sugars come from beets, which are often genetically modified.  While we don’t certify all our ingredients as non-GMO, we do try and stay away from these foods whenever we can.


We crack our own eggs.  It is possible to buy eggs in a carton, but we still prefer the old-fashioned way of cracking and measuring by weight.  Egg sizes vary with the season, so we make sure that every batch of cookies and brownies gets the exact same amount of real eggs.


We use real grade AA butter with no other ingredients, other than cream and salt.  While some baker’s prefer unsalted butter, we started that way and have adjusted our recipe to reflect the salt in the butter.  For us, the flavor comes out just right, so we’ll not be changing that any time soon.


We’ve always used pure vanilla extract in our cookies and brownies.  Early on, we started buying gallons from a large, established, well-respected manufacturer when the cost was around $79.  Over the years, the global vanilla bean shortage and natural disasters pushed the price of the pure vanilla to over $500 a gallon (no – that is not a misprint).  Still, we refused to substitute an artificial product which could be had for under $10 a gallon.

As the vanilla bean supply stabilized and the global price began to fall, our long-time supplier chose not only to keep their price high but also make it harder for us to order the quantities we needed.  After an exhaustive search of other manufacturers of pure vanilla, we were lucky enough to find Cook’s.  Not only do they make a superior product, their values and passion for excellence align perfectly with Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  They treat their employees, their customers and their growers with a level of respect and kindness that is rarely found today.

Salt, baking soda and baking powder

We use non-iodized salt in our cookies and brownies.  While there is no clear answer as to which is better, non-iodized salt means one less ingredient in our cookies.  To make those cookies and brownies rise, we use baking soda and baking powder – probably the same thing your grandmother used from her cupboard.

Well, there you have it.  The food ingredients that go into making cookies and brownies at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  It is possible that some things may change slightly over time, but you can rest assured we are not going to compromise on what we put in our cookies and brownies.

Clearly, there is more to a recipe that transforms simple ingredients into a magical experience people always remember.  The secret is not simply in the list of ingredients, but the process.  Two restaurants might use the same ingredients from the same supplier, yet one is a five star experience and one is mediocre at best.

For us, it’s how we mix everything in small batches, weigh every cookie and brownie before it is baked, answer the phone, enter an order, check the address before shipping, prepare the package, cut the ribbon, place the package in the box, top it off with the gift card and a host of other small touches, that when combined with outstanding ingredients, equal the Anna’s Gourmet Goodies experience.

“Okay” you say, “but what about sharing details behind the cookie or brownie recipe”?  We’re going to have to hold back on that one for now.  After all, that is a part of the magic.

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Spending time in good company

I enjoy being in the company of good people.  At Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, we’re blessed with an abundance of amazing customers, cookie helpers, advocates and cheerleaders.  When I get a chance to go outside the oven, I try and seek out people and events with those same qualities.  Spending time with Howie Rhee and the folks at Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship are always at the top of my list.

I first met Howie when he invited me to be a judge in the Duke Startup Challenge, an event where student entrepreneurs pitch their real-world businesses competing to take home a $50,000 top prize to help launch or grow their company.  Howie is one of the most generous and connected people I know on this planet.

He welcomed me into the Duke entrepreneurship community and introduced me to incredible entrepreneurs like Sean Lilly Wilson from Fullsteam Brewery, Jay Mebane of Bootstrap Advisors and Melissa and Doug Bernstein from the company that bears their name.  There’s nothing quite like spending time outside the oven in the company of good people.

Duke I&E hosts a variety of events and Anna’s Gourmet Goodies is proud to be a frequent alumni vendor.  Dr. Monika Hirschbichler ordered brownies for the first Transform event this April, a 3-day, invitation only event for Duke alumni entrepreneurs.  Howie invited me to attend and I eagerly cleared my calendar knowing this would be an opportunity to spend quality time with some of the best and brightest from Duke.

Roughly 100 people were scheduled to attend.  We were organized into teams – mine consisted of Kasper Kubica, founder of Carpe Lotions and Corey Creek who operates two businesses – and Kelly Garvey is building a new platform to help people understand the impact of public policy and Christine Schindler who built her company, PathSpot, to solve the problem of discovering food-borne bacteria using a cutting-edge digital scanner.  She built the first prototype with parts from Radio Shack, incredible.  Once again, I found myself in very good company.

We began the evening with an exercise called ‘The River of Life’.  Using markers with paper by Melissa and Doug we drew a pictorial view of our life, starting anywhere and ending here.  It reminded me of how I see the journey of starting a business.

“It’s like going whitewater rafting.  You want a good team in your raft, everyone helping paddle.  Someone must be the navigator.  Sometimes you float along gently, enjoying the scenery.  Sometimes you are in the throws of raging, violent turbulence, paddling furiously and trying to stay in the boat.  Sometimes you get stuck on a rock.  But in the end, the goal is to make it down the river safely, with everyone still in the boat and enjoy the ride.”

We shared our stories over dinner.  It was the perfect way to move beyond resumes and bios, getting to know the real story behind the team.  It felt good to have an amazing group of people in my boat.

Wednesday’s agenda opened with a team session, followed by a variety of breakout sessions on a range of topics including finance, technology, operations, social, cultural and emotional challenges.

During the morning break around 10 a.m., we heard a deafening boom that shook the room.  We stopped and looked around at each other, wondering what just happened.  It sounded like an explosion.

The news broke quickly and looking out the window, we saw the plume of black smoke rising into the air.  As it turns out, a few blocks away, a broken gas pipe resulted in a massive explosion.  An entire building collapsed sending debris throughout the downtown Durham area.  We learned later that in addition to several serious and life-threatening injuries, sadly, the sole fatality was the owner of the coffee shop where the explosion happened.  He spent his last minutes warning his customers to stay away from the danger.  Standing in a group of business owners made the impact of such a tragic loss even more personal.

Our building was closed and had to be evacuated.  Fortunately, one of the attendees offered up his spacious rooftop home in downtown Durham.  The entire group walked to our new location and gathered to continue the journey.  Howie led us in a moment of silence for the victims of the explosion.  This close-knit group gathered in, a little closer.

We continued the schedule for the day, not missing a beat.  I’ve been to conferences and seminars with breakout sessions, but nothing like this event.  Most are led by speakers and experts who have experience and knowledge, but are ultimately there because they have something to sell.  No one at Duke Transform was there to sell.  It was an event focused completely on sharing experiences, wisdom, being transparent, vulnerable, and in many cases, asking for help.

The day ended with a fireside chat from a man who knows what it means to transform an organization.  Coach Cutcliffe came to the Duke football program in 2007 at a time when it was not uncommon to give away game tickets just to fill the stands.  With some of his first team members in attendance as successful entrepreneurs after their football careers, Coach shared his stories of what it takes to win, to take a hit, and to get back up again.

One of his first actions as the new head coach was to cut the locks off all the lockers.  When you build a team of quality people like Coach Cut, you don’t need them.  Coach reminded us of the importance of surrounding yourself with good people.  “They will determine your future.”

The goal of Duke Transform was more than simply a conference where entrepreneurs gather and learn a few things.  It really was about creating an environment where people from all types of businesses, backgrounds and cultures were comfortable enough to not only share what they know, but where they need help.  That is the point where transformation is possible.

My favorite definition of transformation comes from my friend and mentor August Turak.  He describes transformation like this:

“When you give a thirsty man a drink of water, you transform his condition.  When a poor man wins the lottery, you transform his circumstance.  But when Mr. Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, he has a transformation of being.”

Ultimately, I think we all want to end up transforming more than simply our condition and circumstances.  Those measurements come and go.  At Anna’s Gourmet Goodies we always strive to go beyond simply making products and filling orders, to changing the way people feel after they receive a gift of our products.  People quickly forget what you say, but they always remember how you make them feel.

Getting outside the oven and spending time with good people who share the same struggles, challenges and passion is a great way to remember the real purpose of the journey.  And for these few days, my boat was full and I definitely enjoyed the ride.

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It’s not just about the cookies

I’ve been fascinated with marketing since my experience learning about business as a member of Junior Achievement in high school.  I’ve read books on marketing, followed marketing experts like Jeff Slater at and focused some of my studies at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in marketing, including a class from then professor and now Dean,  Bill Boulding.  Great marketers see the world through a different lens.  One of my favorite marketing teachers is Seth Godin.

Seth is a technology entrepreneur, a world-renowned blogger and a prolific author.  Seth uses simple, eloquent language, combined with his unique ability to look beyond the obvious, to inspire ‘ah hah’ moments.  I recently subscribed to his new podcast called Akimbo and the first episode I listened to was titled ‘It’s not about the chocolate’.

As a baker of chocolate chip cookies, it immediately caught my attention.  Listening to Seth tell the story of how criminal defense attorney Shawn Askinosie founded Askinosie Chocolate struck a few chords with some of my experiences at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.

Shawn was making lots of money as a lawyer.  And yet, he realized two important things:  he had no life outside of work; the stress of his job would, sooner rather than later, kill him.  He took his skills of the legal trade and applied them to learning all he could about chocolate.  Not only how it is grown, but how each step in the process turns a raw material into the finished product that we Americans consume about 9.5 lbs. of each year.

As Shawn built the company, he designed it so that Askinosie Chocolate has a purpose that goes beyond chasing sales dollars.  They were one of the first ‘bean to bar’ chocolate companies, working directly with cocoa farmers to convert their labor of love into a superior product.  Askinosie Chocolate does not focus on getting into big box stores or every specialty retail outlet that would have their product.  Instead, Shawn focuses on using the company and the profits to solve other problems.  Like providing 1 million school lunches to students in Tanzania and the Philippines where much of his raw material is sourced.  Like building a school for at-risk kids in Missouri.  It wasn’t just about the chocolate, but rather about doing something that makes an impact on people’s lives.

“Everything you do, from the way you answer the phone to the design of your packaging, from your location to the downstream effects of your work, from the hold music to the behavior of your executives, and even the kind of packing peanuts you use – all of it is a form of marketing your brand”
            -Seth Godin, This is Marketing

In his latest book, “This is Marketing”, Seth explains that marketing really comes down to all the things a company does and why they do it.  Marketing is not just ink on paper or a catchy slogan, it’s how a business operates in the world and how each part of that business interacts with customers, suppliers and employees.  The greatest marketers in the world understand their role is not to seek out anyone who can fog a mirror and call them a customer, but rather to attract those people who value the things that are most important to a business.

This past holiday season during one of our frantic days packing and shipping our gourmet cookie gifts, I was having a conversation with my friend, colleague and mentor, Jack Spain, who was there helping us get products out the door.  I shared a phone call from someone who received a gift box from us and called to share some feedback.  “Of course, everyone loved the cookies, but what made me do a happy dance was the fact that you used biodegradable peanuts for packing”.  It caught me a little off guard, but we are always happy to get feedback of any kind.

As Jack was putting together another package and inserting the little business card that encourages feedback, he reminded me, “Don’t you see Chris, this is all part of your brand, your marketing”.

It gave me pause to stop and thing about all the things we do at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies not only to make great products, but to take care of our suppliers and our customers in a way that makes them feel good about doing business with us.  How we answer the phone.  Spell check customer’s message on the gift card.  Double check shipping addresses.  Cut the end of our ribbons in a ‘V’ shape.  Include instructions on warming cookies.  And of course, using biodegradable peanuts.

The label for our chocolate chip cookies has a total of (10) ingredients.  However, the ingredients that go into building our brand and marketing our business are infinitely more complex.  Seth and Jack reminded me of that.  We want people to love our cookies and brownies, but if that was all there was to our business, it would be easy for customers to find another product they liked.

Askinosie Chocolate has done a remarkable job of scaling their business in a scant 12 years.  And while Anna’s Gourmet Goodies has yet to reach some of their milestones, I’d like to think we have a few things in common.  You’ll probably not find either of us in a warehouse club, a discount store, or food mart any time soon.  Anna’s won’t be opening a café where we’d end up selling sandwiches, coffee and other such things to keep the doors open.  We’ll continue to look for ways to impact our community beyond what happens in the bakery.  And we certainly won’t be saving a few pennies by cutting back on the quality of our ingredients.

We make, bake and ship cookie and brownie gifts for customers who understand that sending someone a gift is an act of kindness that can have profound benefits for many years to come.  And we do all those other little things that when added together, make up the recipe for our brand.  Because you see, it’s not just about the cookies.  But it doesn’t hurt that they are really, really good.

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There’s a story behind our most expensive ingredient

Josephine Lochhead is the third generation of the founder of Cook’s Vanilla.

One of the biggest challenges for any food business, especially a small business, is sourcing and managing ingredients.  We’ve designed our business and pricing so that the inevitable fluctuations in the price of flour, eggs (sometimes they double in price), butter and sugar don’t have too much of a negative impact on us.  But when the global vanilla crisis tipped the scale over the $500 a gallon mark, it was painful.  I cautiously started researching other suppliers and thankfully, I met Josephine.

No manufacturer likes to see the cost of materials rise.  Fortunately, we are not under the pressure large corporations face where they sometimes cut corners to keep everyone happy.  We’re always looking for better ways to manage our raw materials but refuse to shave a few pennies off by using inferior ingredients.  We upgraded our sugars awhile back to a brand-name that carries the non-GMO label, just to be sure we were giving our customers the best experience.

We’ve had the same vanilla supplier for a long time – one of the top manufacturers in the world.  We’ve watched the price climb from $95 to over $500 a gallon, sticking with the pure extract when imitation products can be had for about $6 a gallon.  But as the global supply constraints have loosened up and vanilla is more readily available, changes in their policies made it difficult to get what we needed.  My research led me to Cook’s Vanilla.

Angus Lochhead, Founder and Grandfather

When you call Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, there’s a near 100% chance you’ll be speaking with one of the owners, Debbie or myself.  When I called Cook’s I was pleasantly surprised that I got to speak with Josephine Lochhead, the third generation of owners.  I spent time on their website reading the company history and my initial conversation confirmed that the spirit of Cook’s was in alignment with our values at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.

The Cook’s story begins with Angus Lochhead in 1918.  He saw an opportunity for superior vanilla to be used in ice cream, baked goods and candies and built his first factory in 1919 starting Lochhead Manufacturing Company.  Despite losing the factory to fire in 1925 and the Great Depression of 1929, Angus persevered refusing to give up his dream and continued to grow his company.

His son Ray studied mechanical and chemical engineering at Cal Tech.  After a stint in the US Navy during WW II, he finished his studies at Cal Tech and joined the family business in 1948.

Ray Lochhead, his plane and his motorcycle

One of the things that inspires me about great entrepreneurs and business owners is the passion to ‘make it happen’ and the spirit of innovation.  Ray moved his family to Paso Robles, CA and built his own airplane to help serve customers on the west coast.  To save money, he cut his Honda 50 motorcycle (it’s really more of a scooter) in half and installed hinges so he could fold it up and carry it in the plane.  When he landed, he assembled the bike and went off to visit customers and sell vanilla.  On rainy days he hung out in the laundromat until the rain stopped and his clothes dried.  Here’s a business owner that is committed to making it happen.

Besides the mechanics of making a superior vanilla product, Ray understood the importance of ingredients and relationships with the supplier.  He forged lasting relationships with vanilla growers in Bali, Fiji, Tonga and Madagascar that continue to this day.

The Cook’s name came about in the 80’s when Ken Cook, President of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream teamed up with Ray and Lochhead Manufacturing to form a new brand, Cook’s Pure Vanilla.  When Ken passed away in 1991, Ray and his daughter Josephine acquired Cook’s and merged the two companies together.

Building relationships that span generations

I learned more about vanilla in that first conversation with Josephine than I’ve known since starting the business.  She wasn’t selling me on their product, talking about price, telling me my current supplier was not good or any of that non-sense.  She was the epitome of Simon Sinek’s mantra, ‘The goal is not to sell to people who will buy what you have, but to sell to people who believe what you believe’.  I hung up knowing that once again, Anna’s Gourmet Goodies had made the right connection.

She sent us samples and we tried them in our cookies and brownies, as well as some other baked goods we don’t sell.  We even sent out samples to some of our customers.  Our tests along with results from our trusted taste tester (no, you can’t have her job) led us to pick a winner.

We placed our first order with Cook’s and will begin adding their ingredient to our products over the next few months.  And just like our relationship with our friends at Lindley Mills, we’ve found another supplier that not only is going to provide us with a superior quality product, but who runs their business based on principles that have stood the test of time.  Both companies measure their longevity in triple digits.

I can’t say for sure that Anna’s Gourmet Goodies will hit the 100-year mark, but as we close in on 20% of that, I can tell you that we continue to refuse to compromise on the quality of our ingredients and align ourselves with businesses and people who believe what we believe.  I believe that’s a recipe that will stand the test of time.

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Bread, pasta, gravy and love

Food crosses all social and cultural boundaries, we all need it to survive.  One food that stands out as universal in some form, is bread.  Wikipedia lists more than 200 different kinds of bread, not including cakes, pastries and fried dough foods.  Making fresh bread is more than nourishment, it feeds the body as well as the soul.  That was our inspiration for serving the residents of the Caring House in Durham.

You may remember reading my post about the Angels Among Us event that raises awareness and money for brain cancer research.  In addition to introducing me to that organization, Kathy Tobin also told me about the Caring House.  They provide affordable housing, a healing environment and a positive support community for patients at the Duke Cancer Institute.

Sheridan van Wagenberg is the Executive Director.  She gave me a tour of the facility and helped map out a plan for providing dinner to the guests.  The Caring House has a wonderful kitchen with (3) ovens, large stainless tables, ample counter space and a nice selection of cooking tools.  In addition to providing dinner, I wanted to offer the opportunity for guests to help make the bread.

I settled on two kinds, Brother Bandera’s Italian bread from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking and unleavened bread from  It seemed only appropriate that we turn this into an Italian feast with freshly made pasta, tomato gravy, a spinach, artichoke and Parmesan salad, and of course, Anna’s Gourmet chocolate chip cookies for dessert!  After dinner, I also asked if we could hold a brief communion service for any guests that might be interested, sharing the freshly made unleavened bread.

Instead of the traditional buffet style dinner for the 25 or so guests, I wanted to offer them restaurant style service in their dining area.  A respite from a full day of doctors, tests, waiting rooms and in some cases, chemotherapy.

We reached out to a few groups for volunteers.  Two people from Debbie’s Bible study group stepped up.  We needed more help and a pastor for the communion service, so I reached out to Todd Moody at Revolve Church in Durham.  I met Todd at the Ronald McDonald House and he was all over it.  “Our mission is to find community organizations where we can serve and love on the people”.  This was the final ingredient I needed for this dinner.

The Caring House promoted our event to guests and two ladies signed up for my bread class.  Renee and Teresa had both made bread before and were eager to get their hands in dough to learn a bit more.  While making fresh bread is therapeutic, it is hard work and time consuming.  With a little advance prep work, we went through all the steps from mixing, to kneading, to proofing and finally baking.

After class, we had bread in the oven and the smell began to drift throughout the house.  Debbie started on the gravy, adding the aromas of olive oil, onions, garlic, herbs and tomatoes.  The perfect combination of smells to welcome our guests back home.

The volunteers arrived in force.  We held a brief pre-dinner meeting to cover the dinner menu, process and to delegate cooking and serving responsibilities.  Our Italian feast came together right on time and with the addition of a little Italian dinner music, we were ready to serve our guests and give them a tasty and restful end to their day.

When it came time for dessert, Tabetha and Ella carried around a basket of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies chocolate chip cookies for the guests.  I had a flashback of those days when Anna was about their age.  I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to serve our products to the guests.  Judging from the smiles, they appreciated the service, the food and the experience.

After dinner, we invited those guests who were interested to a covered patio area for the communion service.  This was not a formal, ritualized service found in many churches.  Todd lead a discussion of the Last Supper, it’s meaning, followed by sharing of the elements of bread and juice among friends.  As one guest noted, there were twelve of us in the room, imagine that.


Service is an illusion

We often use the word ‘service’ at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  Yes, we make products, but we’re in the business of serving our customers and creating a memorable experience for anyone that receives a gift of our cookies and brownies.  It’s a subtle distinction, but it is incredibly important in any business to understand your focus and as I’ve written about previously, your ‘why’.

My friend August Turak is an entrepreneur, a speaker and an author.  When it comes to talking about service and selflessness at work, he is an expert.  He recently published an illustrated version of his award-winning essay titled, ‘Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim and the Purpose of Life, ’.  I won’t give away the ending, but I will tell you that after reading the book, your view of the purpose of life and the role of service to others will be forever changed.

I share stories about what we do at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies in the hope that at least one reader finds the inspiration to act.  I believe that service to others is indeed, an illusion.  To stand back and watch someone serving, you might be tempted to think, ‘That’s nice that they are giving something back’.  The reality is that in most cases, it is the one doing the serving who receives the greatest gift.

Serving the guests at the Caring House in Durham filled up my tank.  With plenty of food left over, I’m pretty sure that our guests ate their fill.  And from the reactions on the faces of the other volunteers, I’m guessing they walked away feeling full as well.  All in all, I’d call it a dinner well-served.

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Reflecting back for Mother’s Day

I’m a fan of most Disney movies.  One of my favorites of the ‘recent’ releases is Cars.  I like all the characters, especially Tow Mater and his ability to drive forwards backwards.  Actually, the ability to look back while moving forward can be a valuable asset in life and in business.  It fits perfectly with my one word for 2018, ‘reflect’.

Early this year I turned 58 years old, the same age as my Mom was when she was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma (GBM), the worst of the worst of brain tumors.  It was a great opportunity to use my word and reflect back on my life and our business.

While Anna’s Gourmet Goodies was named after our daughter, she was named after my Mom.  Despite having said goodbye more than 30 years ago, Mom’s influence on my personal and business life is ever present.  I think of her not just on Mother’s Day, but almost every day.

I wanted to do something special to honor her this year.  One of my favorite memories was a visit back to Kentucky after her surgery when she had lost her hair.  I was driving a beautiful 1971 MGB convertible, it was late summer and she wanted to go for a ride.  I can still see the smile on her face and her blue head scarf flapping in the wind.  I decided to let my hair grow a bit so that I could donate it and help a patient who would like to have their hair once again, flyin’ in the wind.

As the winter months turned towards spring, I was thinking I’d like to tie this together with Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  One of the benefits of owning this business is being able to not only help support charities, but hopefully inspire others to pursue their passion.

I was making a delivery to our friends at Crossroads Infiniti and struck up a conversation with a customer in the waiting room.  She had a Duke Hospital badge on and I asked where she worked.  As it turned out, Kathy is the chief administrator for Duke Neurosurgery.  I shared my personal story and without hesitation, she immediately understood.

I told her I’d love to find a way to raise awareness, a little money and have some fun by finding a patient do the honors of clipping my pony tail.  She told me about the Angels Among Us fundraiser for the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Research Center coming up at the end of April and put me in touch with Ellen.

After exchanging emails and conversations, Ellen was able to get me a spot on stage at 9:30 and have a patient do the honors of cutting my hair.  We created a custom label for the event and would sell packs of cookies, donating 100% of the proceeds to the event.

We arrived early and setup our table of cookies.  I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a variety of fund raising events, but this was unlike any I’ve ever experienced.  I love hearing stories and my personal connection to brain cancer made them even more poignant.  Everyone I spoke with had one.  Some brought smiles and some tears, but in every case, there was a sense of hope and celebration of life.

When the time came for me to go on stage, Ellen introduced me to the survivor who would be wielding the scissors and doing the honors.  Nestor could not have been a more perfect match for me.

It turns out that three years ago Nestor was diagnosed with a GBM, the same tumor that Mom had 30+ years ago.  He looked fantastic.  After surgery, chemo and treatment at Duke, Nestor was a perfect example of extraordinary medicine, miracles and sheer determination to live life to the fullest.  Meeting him was indeed a gift.  Read more about Nestor here….

We had the chance to talk before taking the stage.  He told me some of his story.  I met his Mom, a delightful woman who moved from the U.S. Virgin Islands to be closer to her son.  I shared a few stories about my Mom, one that made us both laugh..

Finally, it was time.  After being introduced to the crowd, I shared my refection about turning 58, my Mom and my desire to honor her.  I talked about this event and the journey from an idea to standing there on stage – how everything seemed to line up perfectly.  How does this happen?  I suggested (and the crowd agreed) that there are indeed, angels among us – we just have to be watchful, grateful and pay attention.

Nestor clipped my small pony tail and we spent the rest of the day, selling cookies, listening to stories and alternating between wet eyes and laughter.  Near the end of the event, Nestor played the keyboard while a survivor sang ‘Angels Among Us’ made famous by the group Alabama.  I cried happy tears knowing that my Mom was smiling down on me that day.

At the end of the day, we handed over funds from cookie sales, happy that we were able to push the total raised (over $2.35 million) ever so slightly higher.  We ended up with extra packs of cookies and dropped them by the pediatric ICU waiting room at Duke.  When I reflect back on this day, I can easily say that personally and for Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, it was the perfect recipe for moments of happiness.  I’m pretty confident that Mom would agree.  Thanks and Happy Mother’s Day.

For more information on Angels Among Us, including ways you can help, please visit their website:


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