Episode 86 – Featuring Wally Amos

“Famous” Was His Middle Name…..Until It Wasn’t: How Wally Amos Gained, Lost, and Regained His Business Mojo

As Wally Amos grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and then Manhattan, he had two loves: cooking and people.

It was the former that got him through school, having enrolled in a Manhattan-based cooking trade school, based on his aunt’s encouragement, as he had taken her recipes for cookies and other foods, and put his own spin on them, taking them to a whole other level.

It was the latter that got him his first job following his college graduation, and a stint in the U.S. Air Force. Wally took a clerical job at the William Morris talent agency, en route to becoming the agency’s first African-American talent agent. Among his clientele were music icons Diana Ross and the Supremes, as well as Simon and Garfunkel.

Wally showed his savvy in both areas early on, as he sent his cookies to prospective clients as a friendly icebreaker.  These cookies were such a hit among the high-rollers in the entertainment industry that in 1975, at the suggestion of a friend, Wally opened up a “Famous Amos” cookie store in Los Angeles, thanks in large part to the financial backing of legendary singers Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy.

Wally was off and running.  The store was a hit.  “Famous Amos” cookies made their way to supermarket shelves nationwide. And Wally, complete with the same signature hat and salt-and-pepper beard found on packages of his cookies at the time, became a celebrity in his own right, giving motivational speeches, appearing on talk shows, and even scoring a cameo appearance as himself on the TV sitcom “Taxi”.

But as quickly as Wally rose to fame, it all soon went away, thanks to the financial woes that would befall his company.  The nadir could very well have come in 1988, when Wally was forced to sell the company, including his personal rights to the name “Famous Amos”, which had been trademarked to the company that was no longer his. He even shaved his iconic beard.

Gamely, he tried to fight on, rebranding a follow-up effort as “Uncle Noname’s Cookie Company”, but it was no longer the same.  Wally wanted nothing to do with cookies anymore, and it seems everybody had written him off.

Except Wally Amos.

Six years after selling the Famous Amos company, he was approached by one of the company’s distributors about starting a new project, based on a nutritious, fat-free muffin.   And soon “Uncle Noname’s Gourmet Muffins” was born.  And five year’s later, he got his name back….sort of….as the company rebranded as “Uncle Wally’s Muffin Company”.

Eventually, the full-circle path would continue for Wally, all the way back into the cookie business. And while he is no longer “Famous” Amos, he is now the “Cookie Kahuna”, spearheading his revival based on the pure ingredients that made him “famous” in the first place.

(And he even made his way back to TV sitcoms, making a cameo appearance on “The Office” in 2012.)

Throw in his side project of being a strident activist for literacy, and you have the makings of a truly remarkable entrepreneurial story, one which we at The Raja Show will be proud to feature.  Raja goes one-on-one with Wally Amos, to discuss Wally’s amazing career, and what lies ahead for the seemingly ageless entrepreneurial icon.

Episode 86