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VOL. 127 | NO. 49 | Monday, March 12, 2012

Ricki’s Keeps Memphis’ Sweet Tooth Satisfied

By Sarah Baker

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The concept of Ricki’s Cookie Corner began at the Memphis home of Ricki Krupp more than 30 years ago and grew over the years thanks to a mixture of made-from-scratch Kosher recipes and family support.

Ricki’s Cookie Corner was started by Ricki Krupp, left, in 1980 in her Memphis kitchen. In 2000, she opened a retail location, which she runs with daughter Aviva Lewis, right.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Krupp learned the art of baking from her mother. A mother herself in the early 1980s, she found herself frequently baking for the school PTA of her six children.

“I’ve really never had any professional bake training,” Krupp said. “It all just happened.”

It wasn’t long after Krupp started baking her homemade blend of soft, chewy chipsticks and airy Challah bread that friends started raving about her creations.

“Someone said, ‘Oh, these are good. Why don’t you sell them out of your home?’” Krupp said.

And so the business now known as Ricki’s Cookie Corner began. Every Friday – the day before the Sabbath, or the Jewish day of rest – Krupp would sell her treats on her 12-foot-long dining room table. But before long, the word was spreading faster than the ovens could produce.

“It just got too big. I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore in the home,’” Krupp said. “I’m not a risk-taker at all, so it was a hard decision (of) ‘should I try?’”

In 2000, Ricki opened a retail location in Eastgate Shopping Center to meet customers’ demand. The 1,200-square-foot space had always been a bakery, so at that time, Krupp didn’t have to invest in any equipment.

“The oven here is more than 50 years old,” Krupp said. “When I came here 12 years ago, it definitely was cheaper rent, down this way. And I also already had a following.”

About five years ago, Krupp added about 1,000 square feet to the rear of her shop to keep up with demand. Over time, she also added a website for her out-of-town corporate clients.

“I’ve never not made money,” Krupp said. “I’ve always been profitable. Even with the economy, it’s not like it’s hundred-dollar items, so people still come.”

Krupp feels fortunate to have the backing of her family intertwined with her business. In true Martha Stewart fashion, she said, “it’s a good thing.”

“To run a small business it does take a family effort,” Krupp said. “I have a great husband; we’ve been married for 40 years. Because I’m here some weird hours, he’ll be up here with me, either helping me, just keeping me company. He picks up stuff for me, he is my maintenance man, he’s just great.”

Krupp’s daughter, Aviva, also has strong ties to the enterprise. She works full time at the shop and will likely take over the business one day.

“Having her here has made it here has made it very nice,” Krupp said. “I was in it long enough that I was ready to have some help. They kid her, they say she’s a mini-me. We’re great together. I couldn’t work with my mother, for sure not.”

Even though the business has expanded well beyond her kitchen at home, Krupp continues to add her personal touch to every item that is baked. She’s considered selling her famous baked goods in other markets but is hesitant about compromising the quality.

“Everything here is done by hand, from scratch, so to duplicate that really means that I have to train bakers to do what we do in another place,” Krupp said. “It’s different once you go from small – I can’t explain it. My son lives in Baltimore, wants me to open one there. My brother in New York wanted to open one. If I could perfect the way it’s run, I would do it. I’m just not a risk-taker and I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I’m both hesitant and not even sure.”

Krupp has begun selling her items at the nearby Kroger at Sanderlin Avenue and Mendenhall Road, and into Easy-Way Produce Stores in Bartlett and Midtown, solely as a convenience option for customers.

All of Ricki’s Cookie Corner’s treats are Kosher and lactose-free, made with soy milk and canola oil. Chipsticks without nuts – the starting point of the whole operation more than three decades ago – continue to be her best seller, while her various flavors of Challah bread (plain, whole wheat, cinnamon raisin and chocolate) come in a close second.

“I sell a lot for French toast,” Krupp said. “I’m really lucky to be in this kind of job because almost everybody walks out of here happy.”

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