People can hear the “Cookie Lady” coming down the street more than a mile away – but after Friday, she will hang up her apron at the popular downtown Merced cafe.
Necola Adams, owner-baker at The Cookie Lady’s Bakery & Cafe, will undergo surgery to replace two degenerated discs in her neck. Despite the news that she’ll be off work for two months, Adams spent her last day Friday singing, dancing and joking with her four employees.
“She is such a big personality and so creative,” said Joanna Thatcher, general manager of the cafe in downtown Merced. “She’s just such a character – everybody just falls in love with her.”
The phone at the cafe rang all day with customers asking for some of her 21 flavors of gourmet cookies, and the Cookie Lady was happy to oblige. She remembered each of their personalized orders and referred to them by name.
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The 50-year-old mother of five runs a successful Merced cookie business, but Adams wasn’t always so lucky.
“I literally started my cookie business on welfare checks and food stamps,” Adams said. “I didn’t want my kids to see me living that life. I wanted to break that cycle, and I have.”
With a lot of determination and a little luck, Adams went from working three jobs in Merced to serving her cookies on the sets of 22 Hollywood sitcoms – even handing a cookie to King of Pop Michael Jackson.
“I went up to Michael and I shook his hand,” Adams said. “He was so sweet and nice. I gave him a vanilla raspberry cookie, and he put it in his pocket.”
Adams’ cookie business took off in Hollywood after an article in Women’s World magazine led to appearances on two talk shows. The Merced native found herself driving to Los Angeles four times a week – up to seven hours each day – to satisfy the sweet-tooth of her high-profile customers.
She made dozens of cookies to serve on the sets of shows such as “Seinfeld,” “Roseanne” and “Lois and Clark.”
But after two years, Adams said goodbye to the lights and glamor of Hollywood to focus on raising her children. She also needed time to recover from her father’s murder.
“It kind of made me realize I really need to spend time with my family,” Adams said.
Back home in Merced, Adams began putting together a business plan and opened her shop in February of last year. Since then, the business has had its ups and downs, including a slump in sales following claims of a roach infestation at the nearby Tioga Apartments.
“It did us a lot of damage, but we’re struggling to hold on after that,” Adams said. “We don’t have bug problems; I’m obsessive about cleaning.”
The 21 cookie recipes are made from scratch each day, Adams said, using fresh dough and ingredients. “Baking wasn’t in the family, but God gave me all the recipes,” Adams said. “There was lots of prayer.”
The Cookie Lady’s Bakery & Cafe was awarded as Small Business of the Year by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) in June. But the unassuming cafe, which also serves sandwiches and salads, can be hard to find on Main Street.
“I always say we’re the best kept secret in Merced,” Adams said. “I’m a little hole in the wall, but the best foods come from hole in the walls. This is a multimillion dollar company – we’re just getting started.”
Although the Cookie Lady will be gone for a couple of months, she said the gourmet cookies won’t suffer, because her staff – including 22-year-old daughter Kaila – will keep the business going.
“Customers are going to get the same quality because a lot of times they’re making the cookies anyway,” Adams said. “This is a major surgery I have to have, but I’ll probably be back down here in a month because I love what I do. This is my baby.”
Seeing her mother’s success has taught Kaila never to give up on her dreams, either.
“It taught me to be headstrong and set my mind to a goal and not give up,” Kaila said. “It was something she wanted to do – to provide for us so we could be comfortable.”