The rest of the story

I’ve probably told the story of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies and how it all started maybe a thousand times or more. From casual conversations to small groups to classes filled with MBA students, I’ve shared the ups and downs, the ins and outs of starting this business. But there is a piece of the story that I’ve never talked about, until now.

Our company namesake and my Mom's sister - an early influence in my baking career
Anna and Aunt Lois at Thanksgiving 2006

This picture features my daughter Anna (the primary business namesake) and my mother’s sister, Lois Bradley. Aunt Lois (as almost everyone I know calls her) is the one Aunt from my mother’s family that I’d have to say I have spent the most time with, all my life. From my earliest memories of childhood throughout my adult life, there are pages and chapters filled with memories that belong to Aunt Lois.

My mother, Anna Duke, was one of nine children and most of her brothers and sisters lived not too far from Louisville, Kentucky where I grew up. I don’t recall exactly how often we got together to have dinner, but it was frequent enough for me to develop two very strong memories; family and food. Whether it was simply going to Aunt Lois’ house for Sunday dinner, or a holiday gathering at our house, it seemed that getting together with my Aunts, Uncles and cousins was a common event. And there was always plenty of food and desserts on the table.

I can remember a number of occasions where Mom would take me over to Aunt Lois’ grand old house on Village Drive in Louisville. I remember that place almost as if I lived there. The cracks in the steps. The time weathered brick exterior. The fragrant, yet musty smell of an old house. And the kitchen.

On one occasion when I was probably about five years old, Mom dropped me off to spend the night sometime around the Christmas holidays. I walked into the kitchen where Aunt Lois was busy working and announced with a big smile, “I’ve got a surprise for you!”. “Well, what is it Christopher Robin?” she said. “We’re going to make some cookies!” I announced.

Aunt Lois laughed and you guessed it, we made cookies. Was that the tiny mustard seed that lay dormant for so many years before it turned into my work? Perhaps.

As it is with most families, the road of life is rarely straight and almost never a four-lane highway. Aunt Lois moved to Maryland and opened a business with my Uncle Brad. I went to college then moved to North Carolina.

In the late 80’s, I found myself in a particularly stormy time in life. Mom had died, my first business failed, and I landed back in Kentucky. Without a regular job or much money in the bank, I found a room and a bed at Aunt Lois’ house in Frankfurt. Her husband, Uncle Brad, died some years ago, and she was, not surprisingly, willing to take on a roommate.

The house had changed, but the feeling of being around Aunt Lois was still the same as when I stood in her kitchen almost 25 years earlier. It was both a difficult time for me in some ways, but magical in others. We planted a garden. We went on trips. And we managed to cook up some goodies every now and then.

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Aunt Lois use the word, ‘goodie’. It’s one of those words you learn that you always associate with someone. I can remember her tasting something, most often a cookie or dessert, smiling and saying, “Boy, that’s a goodie”.

Add another 15 years to the calendar, and I find myself in North Carolina. I was working full time, but Debbie and I were starting a business, out of our home. I had this idea that I wanted to make really great desserts (later, that turned into the current cookie business). We thought about a name. I had a silhouette of Anna we had made at the North Carolina State Fair on my wall. Why not name it after her? But what else?

We came up with a number of different ideas, but I kept coming back to this word, goodie that had become a part of my vocabulary. “How about ‘Anna’s Gourmet Goodies’?” We mocked up the logo. Debbie agreed, and well, here we are.

Just like any good recipe, ingredients come together to make something greater than the individual parts. As it goes with most of our lives, we don’t always see how these things will eventually came together, but I know that among the ingredients that make up Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, Aunt Lois most certainly played a role.

On Saturday afternoon, September 29th at precisely 3:00 p.m., Lois Bradley took her last breath and exited this earth leaving behind a life well lived. Her son and two daughters were there to see her off. I don’t know what your faith background tells you, but I’m absolutely certain that she was greeted warmly by, among others, her late husband, Colonel O.C. Bradley and my mother, the late Anna B. Duke. There is no doubt in my mind that God picked up a goodie on Saturday.

Born in 1921, Lois Bradley grew up one of nine children on a farm in Morehead, KY. She served in Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp in WWII. She raised her family. Working at an electronics company in Louisville, she gave a now famous young woman her first job, Diane Sawyer. She and her husband started a high end glass and gift business. She was cast as Hiawatha’s mother in a small independent film. And not too many years ago, she hung out with Gordon Lightfoot backstage after one of his concerts. Aunt Lois lived a rich, full and wonderful life.

It is never easy to say goodbye to a loved one who has, in so many subtle ways, had a profound impact on your life. But for me, the memories she leaves behind, are as rich and creamy as a double scoop of ice cream from our friends at Homeland Creamery.

On Wednesday, I’ll help carry her remains to her final resting place in the Lexington Cemetery. After words of hope and faith, we’ll hear the crack of rifles firing off a 21-gun salute. A solemn bugler will play taps.

Thank you, Aunt Lois, for all the things you did for me throughout my life. And whether I’m baking one, or a thousand cookies, I’ll smile and remember that the roots of that love of making something really good trace back, in part, to your kitchen on Village Drive. I hope that everyone who has the opportunity to bite into a cookie from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies will smile and say, “Boy, that’s a goodie!”

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Give without expectation and it comes back

Civitan Volunteers for NC Special Olympics

Bill and Darlene came by and picked up 600 oatmeal raisin
cookies bound for the NC Special Olympics

As a gourmet cookie company, we certainly get our share of requests for donations. We try our best to balance the needs of the business while giving back to the community. One of our favorite groups to support is the NC Special Olympics. We’ve been providing cookies to fuel these athletes for the past several years. Bill and Darlene McKenney are friends and members of the Wake Forest Civitan Club. Members of the club volunteer and serve lunch to the athletes.

This year, we added labels to the cookie packages with a few words of encouragement to support their quest to give their best effort. In addition to a great cookie, we wanted to add a little extra to help put a smile on 600 or so faces when they are giving it their all.

I received another request today from an organization, and while it might be a worthwhile event, I decided to pass. They asked for free cookies as gifts and prizes for a member reception. In exchange for the gift, I was to get my name in front of 100 or so ‘potential customers’.

I’m certain that I’ve lost out on plenty of promotional opportunities in the past, but that’s not the primary reason we donate. Supporting a group just to (hopefully) make a profit some time in the future is simply not my style. I like to think we put our support to work where it can really make a difference.

That’s not to say I don’t get repaid many times over when we give. It just seems to come back to me when I least expect it. A surprise. A small measure of gratitude. A sign post that lets me know I’m on the right path. Last week, it came from Tim Minard, a hot dog vendor at Waterfront Park in Louisville, KY.

The Two Annas

We ventured back to Kentucky for a weekend wedding. We spent a day driving around Louisville and decided to take my two Anna’s (that’s another story) down to the Waterfront Park on the Ohio River. The river is not for swimming, but it did not take the girls long to find water spouts to take the edge off the 95 plus degree heat.

We were walking around and Debbie left her purse in the car. She is the keeper of cash in our family. The girls asked for some water so I strolled over to the hot dog stand to see what I could find.

I asked if they accepted credit cards. “No, I’m sorry we don’t. What did you need”. I explained that I was looking for some water for my daughter and niece, but had only plastic for payment. He pulled out a couple of bottles and handed them to me before I could say no. “No charge” he said.

I noticed he was wearing a visor with the Special Olympics logo on it. Turns out that Tim is a big supporter of Special Olympics and recently helped raise more than $70,000. His company, Dogs on the Run, works with Special Olympics Indiana for Area 2. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he understood what it means to give something back with no expectation of a return. Just because it is the right thing to do.

It was not until after he gave me the water that I shared my story of donating cookies for the athletes. Maybe it was pure coincidence, but I said a quiet ‘thank you’, smiled and enjoyed a conversation with a new found friend.

If you happen to be in Louisville, I’d recommend you get off on River Road and look for the Dogs on the Run cart. Tim will serve up a fine dog, a cold drink and a friendly smile. And you can be sure that some small measure of what you spend will help an athlete you’ll never meet at next year’s Special Olympics. You can smile knowing that you made a difference in the life of someone out there giving their best effort. In my book, that’s what it means to give something back.

Have a charity and need door prizes, cookie packs or discount certificates? Visit our website and complete this form to get more information:

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Do you sleep in a storm?

There are a number of ad campaigns that have, to the creator’s delight, left an indelible mark in my brain. I was watching the Super Bowl when the original Macintosh ad ran – still gives me chills to think about it. I loved the Budweiser ad when the farmers clapped for the Olympic torch runner. And if you’re familiar with American Standard Air Conditioning, my friend Mike Minogue from DarkHorse Creative is responsible for the ‘Maybe it’s too comfortable’ series of ads.

But in my mental file cabinet, is one series for the Boy Scouts of America. It featured several famous people, including President Gerald Ford. The theme of the campaign was centered on the concept that you never know where scouting will take you. I was a Boy Scout, and while I can’t claim to recite the pledge and probably won’t become President, I do remember the motto, ‘Be Prepared’; two powerful words that provide a valuable lesson for life and business.

2010 Men’s Retreat

I recently attended the 2010 Men’s Retreat hosted by August Turak at his farm. A group of very successful entrepreneurs, attorneys, teachers, consultants, a black belt, and others from various walks of life, gathered not for idle chit chat about sports, females, or money, but to explore their faith and share their toughest and most intimate personal and business challenges. To understand what it means to ‘spend time in the desert’ as Joseph Campbell describes in his book, “The Hero’s Journey”. And, ultimately, to prepare for the challenges we will all face in our lives.

The study materials for the weekend came from the Bible and were based on The Book of Job. An article entitled, ‘The Cup of Trembling’ provided the basis for discussions among the group. Perhaps it was the stunning scenery, the abundant and wonderful food, or simply Augie’s hospitality, but I cannot recall spending time with a group of men so engaged and open about their triumphs, their tragedies, and the challenges that lay ahead.

Each one of us has faced, or will face, tragedy and setbacks in our life, our family, and in business. Augie once told me that, “A small business owner dies a thousand deaths”. I understand completely. Baking cookies is honestly a pretty good occupation, but running and managing a business with world class service, like Anna’s Gourmet Goodies is tough and there are ups and downs like waves in the ocean. The key to surviving and succeeding is to understand and accept that adversity and ‘time in the desert’ is a part of the process. You can embrace it and gain strength to persevere, or wallow around and ultimately die of thirst – it is your choice.

One of the readings from the weekend was an excerpt from Mitch Albom’s book, ‘have a little faith’ – taken from one of ‘The Reb’s’ sermons. In it, he describes a farm hand looking for a job. The man presents his letter of recommendation from his former employer that states simply, “He sleeps in a storm”.

After he is hired, a terrible storm comes up and the owner panics, calling for the hired hand to help secure the farm. But he does not answer. When the owner runs out into the storm to check the animals, the hay and the grain, he finds that all are secure, in preparation for the storm. The hired hand is sleeping.

Storms will come. Again and again. The question that I ask myself, and you might as well, is this; are you prepared? People ask me about Anna’s Gourmet Goodies all the time, and I’d be untruthful if I said that we have not weathered our fair share of storms over the past 9 years or so. And in my personal life, I’ve spent some time in the desert as well. But through it all, we try very hard to take care of our resources, to cover the hay and lock up the grain, so that we can sleep through the storm.

As I was editing the video for this blog post just after midnight, something happened to my computer that I cannot explain. All of the icons from my desktop disappeared and some of the files that I had saved were gone. But every day, I create a complete image of my machine. So I simply backed up the current files, started the restore process, and went to sleep, knowing that when I woke up, the sun would be out and my computer would be running again with everything in place, ready for the next storm.

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A Culinary Adventure at BugFest

Traditions are great for families. Anna loves them – just ask Debbie how many years we’ve been making waffle cakes for her birthday. Going to BugFest in Downtown Raleigh started for us about 6 or 7 years ago, and it has become an annual event for Anna and me.

Never heard of BugFest? It’s put on by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and sponsored by a number of companies including Whole Foods, Chick Fil A, Bruggers Bagels and of course, Terminix. It’s a one day event that celebrates all things about bugs.

You can learn about bee keeping, play with a Madagascar cockroach, or the little kids can pretend to be a dung beetle and roll around a large ball that represents what this small insect normally does on a daily basis. Live bands perform throughout the day, providing just the right measure of music for a fun day outdoors.

Visit their website at

One of my favorite bugs was actually a blast from my past – a 1968 VW Beetle. This was my first car. It was on display and for sale, by This local, faith-based organization accepts donated vehicles, reconditions them, and then gives them to individuals in the community that are on their way to getting back on their feet, but need a little help with transportation. I didn’t drive away in this bug, but enjoyed talking with Dick, one of the volunteers, and traveling back in time for a few moments.

And of course there were plenty of food vendors serving up the requisite festival food including ribbon fries, chocolate dipped cheesecake, and fresh squeezed lemonade. But one of the most interesting food venues, was the Café Insectica. That’s right, it’s your chance to sample a variety of cuisine made with, you guessed it – bugs.

If you’ve never eaten a bug, it’s actually not as far out there as you might think. There are bugs that are edible and some that are not. All these edible creatures were cleaned and cooked – no chasing anything off your plate. Meal worms and crickets seemed to be the most popular addition. We sample most everything, from chocolate ice cream pops, to quesadillas, hushpuppies, bread pudding, corn bread, and of course – cookies with crickets. The line was long and stretched around the building, so we were not the only ones up for a little culinary adventure.

Zack Lemann, an entomologist from the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans, baked up a big batch of cookies with crickets. He was very enthusiastic about his confectionery creations, so I asked a few of the younger patrons what they thought. Several of those I spoke with, thought that eating crickets in cookies was probably okay. And, since we were on an adventure outside the oven, we gave them a taste as well.

While they were not ‘disgusting’, and variety is the spice of life, Anna (our Official Taste Tester) and I both agreed that the recipes at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies will stay as they are now with NO plans to add crickets or any other crawling creatures to our cookies. It’s great to have some fun and get outside the oven, but you can be certain that’s exactly where we’ll leave the bugs – outside.

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Getting UnPlugged in Southern Virgina

August in North Carolina has been hot. So we were looking for ways to beat the heat and unplug before Anna started her new school. I’ve written about the importance of getting ‘unplugged’ before, and frankly, don’t take my own advice often enough. Our trip to Southern Virginia turned out to be just the ticket for beating the heat and getting away from technology, like email, cell phones and the iPod.

We’ve camped in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area before, and Hurricane Campground in Sugar Mountain, VA is our favorite. Although Ed, our campground host asked me to keep it a secret, Hurricane has been listed in National Geographic as one of the 10 most beautiful campgrounds in America. With an elevation of 2,800 feet, tall trees and a stream flowing through the campground, it is cool at night and comfortable during the day. Nice bath houses and clean camp areas offer enough creature comforts. There is no electricity and fortunately, you can’t get a cell phone signal there.

On Friday night, we ventured down to Abingdon, VA, about a 35 minute ride just off Interstate 81. We surprised Anna with tickets to see Annie at the Barter Theater. Founded in 1933, the theater is an intimate and welcoming place with a capacity of just over 500 patrons.

The name of the theater comes from the founder, Robert Porterfield and his innovative idea of trading produce and animals with local farmers for admission to the shows. It was a huge success, and to this day, you can ‘barter’ for admission at least once a year, with donations supporting the local food bank (Maybe we could trade them cookies for tickets – we’ll give that a try next time). After the show, we enjoyed some dessert in the theater café before heading back to the campground.

Saturday morning, we headed back to Abingdon and stopped at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop. It’s a family owned business with a friendly staff that will outfit you for a pleasant ride down the trail. They offer a shuttle service throughout the day to ferry bikers up the mountain for a ride down the trail. You can start at White Top Mountain or Damascus, VA and ride back to the bike shop, located at the end of the trail. The ride from White Top to Abingdon is 34 miles and Damascus is right in the middle, so you have a couple of options for selecting the type of terrain and distance you want to cover.

The trail from White Top to Damascus is mostly downhill and is an easy ride. There were families with children of all ages (yes there were a few riders with baby carriers) on the trail. There are plenty of places to stop along the way to take in the view, grab a snack, a meal, or some ice cream. The trail is very well maintained, includes 40+ bridges and winds through dense forest and open farmland.

We planned on riding all the way to Abingdon, but were ready to pack it in by the time we reached Damascus. We started late in the day and the ride from Damascus to Abingdon is flat to slightly up hill, so we opted to catch the shuttle back to the bike shop. If you’re going to ride the full way, you’ll want to start early in the morning.

This was our first family mountain bike adventure and hopefully not the last. One of the secrets to staying connected to family and friends is to take time to swap the noise of technology for the sounds of nature. We love baking cookies, to be sure, but taking a break is vital to staying passionate and motivated. Southern Virginia is now one of my favorite places to disconnect, rejuvenate and in turn, re-connect.

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How a Purple Elephant gives new life to computers

Recycle your PC's

The purple elephant is on the taller one standing on the right

Although we try not to accumulate too much ‘stuff’, like most folks, things do tend to pile up around our house. “Waste not – want not” was something I heard many times growing up and I use that as my rationalization for not tossing items that may have good use left in them.

As a technologist, I manage to accumulate PC’s and parts, some as I’ve upgraded, some have never been put to use, and others as I add or replace technology. Summer in the south has most certainly arrived, but I’m still doing a little ‘spring cleaning’ and felt the need to thin out some of my computer inventory. I expanded my cleaning frenzy just a bit and rounded up some items from friends and business associates as well.

In case you did not know, tossing almost anything with electronic components in the regular trash, especially silicon chips, is not a good thing for our environment. We try very hard to be a green company at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, and I like to help out and pay it forward whenever I get the opportunity. Fortunately, Raleigh has the perfect solution for recycling working computers and peripherals – The Purple Elephant Computer Factory.

The Purple Elephant takes donated PC’s and components, refurbishes them, and distributes them to kids of all ages – primarily those that are economically disadvantaged, at-risk, or from military families with members in active service.

Their mission:

“To bridge the educational and rehabilitative needs of children, and adults, by placing computer technology directly into the home.”

So, I packed up the car with several PC’s, a monitor and peripherals and dropped them off this past Friday morning. They have an impressive, well organized facility and a very friendly and helpful staff. Anna’s Gourmet Goodies has donated to their silent auction in the past and it was a pleasure to offer up something other than gourmet cookies to help out this organization.

Doing something for someone else that you will never meet and expecting nothing in return, is truly one of life’s greatest gifts. Being somewhat of a ‘geek’ at heart, it is particularly exciting for me to think that somewhere, some child will have an opportunity to step up into the computer world that they may not have had without an organization like The Purple Elephant. It may open their eyes and ultimately, open doors for them in the future.

Today is Father’s Day. I’m not totally sure what Debbie and Anna have planned, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get a nap in some time during the day. We’ll spend some time as a family, enjoy a nice meal, and perhaps open a card or gift. But I’m counting my trip to see the Purple Elephant on Friday as one of my Father’s Day gifts this year. Like many fathers, we spend a lot of time trying to teach our children that we should be grateful for what we have, always seek ways to be of service to others, give back, and pay it forward. In a small way, I got the chance to ‘walk the talk’ on Friday – to visit the Purple Elephant, and hopefully, make some kids happy. Seeing my own daughter smile is my best Father’s Day gift, and knowing that I may help bring a smile to some other children, well, that’s like a cookie stuffed with extra chocolate chips, pretty sweet.

Read more:

The Purple Elephant Computer Factory
Learn how and where to your electronics

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