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Cookie Shoppe a downtown success story

The Cookie Shoppe owners Mona and Munir Qaqish pose for a photo outside their Jackson Street restaurant.

The Cookie Shoppe owners Mona and Munir Qaqish pose for a photo outside their Jackson Street restaurant.

ALBANY, Ga. -- For those who knowingly and adamantly proclaim "no business will ever survive in downtown Albany," two words.

Mona. Munir.

Not convinced? Then two more.

Cookie. Shoppe.

While a vocal group of citizens constantly rings the death knell for revitalization efforts in Albany's Central Business District with news of each unsuccessful business venture, there have remained constants. One of the most enduring is the little shop that could, Mona and Munir Qaqish's Cookie Shoppe at 115 N. Jackson St.

With 27 years and counting under their belts, the Qaqishes have continued to ladle cups of their homemade soups, build their trademark subs and sandwiches, and serve up cookies like grandma used to make to generations of customers who know the quality of the food and the service will be the same today as it was 15 years ago when they first visited the little sandwich shop with their parents.

"People always tell us, 'You would do such a great business if you were located on the other side of town,'" Mona Qaqish said during a recent rare pre-lunch slow period at the restaurant. "But we've been here 27 years, and the people of Albany have been good enough to support us and allow us to make a good living.

"We have no interest in being anywhere else."

Mona, whose Palestinian family came to Albany in 1941, and Munir, who came here from Amman, Jordan, in 1971, were looking to open their own business when she, in a sudden moment of inspiration, went to the owners of the Cookie Shoppe and asked if they were interested in selling. She was a dental hygienist at the time, and he worked at the local Firestone plant.

"We'd talked about opening some kind of mom-and-pop grocery -- thank goodness that didn't work out -- when I went to the owners of the Cookie Shoppe and simply asked them if they wanted to sell to us," Mona Qaqish said. "The timing happened to be on the dot; we were lucky."

There was one slight problem: Other than Mona's brief time as a teenage waitress at the Dog House and Villa Gargano, neither knew anything about the restaurant business.

"For the first two or three months, it was difficult," Munir Qaqish said. "We had to learn on the go, develop our own style."

What the Qaqishes came up with is a style that suits local patrons just fine. Munir arrives at the Cookie Shoppe early -- between 4:30 and 5 every weekday morning -- and makes the soups, egg salad, bacon, tea and other goods on the menu. Mona usually arrives 30 minutes to an hour later, and she makes the biscuits, cookie dough and some of the soups. She orders supplies and puts up stock, and then they're ready for the customers, many of whom are regulars who arrive like clockwork.

"Munir does the cooking, and I run the register," Mona Qaqish said. "We have a small staff -- only three other people -- and if one of them is out for any reason, the rest of us know we have to double up."

Asked if there are secrets to their success, some magic touch that has kept the Cookie Shoppe open while businesses around it fail, the proud owners simply smile.

"The rent is low ... we own the place," Mona says with a chuckle.

Adds her husband: "It's about the management, the way we run things."

The couple offer some general suggestions straight out of Business 101: Cut costs, keep labor down, don't be wasteful, make sure the quality of the food and the service is as good as it can be.

But there's more, something other business owners might note.

"This is our business," Munir Qaqish says. "Any success we have depends on us."

Adds Mona: "We've never had any kind of problem down here. A lot of that comes from the fact that we're grateful -- and we show it -- to anybody who comes through those doors."

Comments

Sister_Ruby 1 year, 11 months ago

They have great food, great service, fair prices. They are people of color. They will continue to succeed.

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 11 months ago

While a vocal group of citizens constantly rings the death knell for revitalization efforts in Albany's Central Business District

So Fletcher.......please lay out for us all the successes of the revitalization efforts!

Still waiting!

Still waiting!

Fletcher, you are such a dumbbutt.

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dickyboy 1 year, 11 months ago

Nothing negative about Munir and Mona...BTW you old timers.. Mona's dad was Paul Raffiti... Paul the tailor.. whose business was in the 200 block of broad...Great people.. been knowing them since bought the place from Red and Zoe...

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FryarTuk 1 year, 11 months ago

I will not say one critical word on this thread because it is about two of my favorite people in the world. I love them both dearly. I also like their food. The gazpacho with hummus and pita is my favorite and my wife loves their baklava. The food, restaurant and owners are treasures. Thanks for the article.

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sowegap 1 year, 11 months ago

The food is excellent and the baklava is the best I have ever had. They are some really nice people I never ordered without a smiling face before me, goes a long way in creating loyal customers.

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chinaberry25 1 year, 11 months ago

The folks at the Cookie Shoppe are models of what to do in business. They know your name, they own the building and the food is great. I have said many times, the could franchise this business and it would be successful anywhere. The same with Pearlies. Good down home cooking. When you walk in the door, you do not feel that you need to hold onto your wallet. The new restaurants that want so badly to do it right, miss the whole point. You will never ever get rich in one restaurant, but you can make a comfortable living. Get to know your customers on a personal level and treat your employees good. those are the first rule in business success.

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

Is Pearlies a local business? I have passed it a few times on Slappey before and have seen it but did not know it was a local business...figured it was just another hamburger drive thru. Are we talking about the same Pearlies?

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VSU 1 year, 11 months ago

It's locally owned! It used to be a Burger Chef, I loved their hamburgers, but then they changed it to a Hardee's franchise, and then to the current Pearlie's. To my knowledge it has been the same ownership.

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sowegap 1 year, 11 months ago

I remember an auditor from Atlanta asking me if I knew of any good soul food restaurants and while I was thinking a coworker said go to Pearlie's. I have only eaten there one time and that is southern cooking, but not my idea of soul food. Ms. Beas, and Jo's are Soul Food, I have eaten in both and know that their food is good, not as good as what my grandmother and mother used to do, they are a good second. I guess i will have to give them another try, the food was ok.

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

Well I NEVER EVER go to downtown Albany and I NEVER EVER eat anyplace in Albany but I must say this article made it worthwhile to take the drive to the city and eat some real food made by some real people. It sounds absolutely wonderful. Yes, yes, yes.....as the good Fryar said, thanks for the article, for how else would I, a grumpy old lady, who has a love of good food, ever known about this place, had I not read the article. Hooray.....thanks again. (PS...as soon as I dine there you can expect a review...hahaha....) Seriously tho, I do thank you for the article.

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URWrongAgain 1 year, 11 months ago

Best Reuben Sandwich anywhere and then you get to take home some delicious baklava. 2Die4.

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Amazed2 1 year, 11 months ago

A lot of businesses could learn a great deal about success from the owners of the Cookie Shop. Hands on management and attention to detail and service Even in the best of best there maybe an isolated slow order but people understand they are working hard to serve the customer. Congratulations Cookie Shop

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VSU 1 year, 11 months ago

The Cookie Shoppe is the Epitome on how to run a successful restaurant and is why they have been there so long. And that goes for Pearlie's too. If the drive through line gets too long they have employees that go out and take your order to speed up the process.

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 11 months ago

The food and the folks are incredible.

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agirl_25 1 year, 11 months ago

OK fellow squawkers...my husband and I have business at the MCLB this week so I will give my palate a treat and eat in Albany.....ta da......so I will let you know which establishment we dined at and how the food was....until then....thanks for the recommendations.

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LoneCycler 1 year, 11 months ago

Mr. Fletcher has gone way off the reservation in this article. A successful business in d-town Albany? The sympathetic interview with the Qaqish’s talking about their work ethic? Come on man. We all know if you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. From the State Department issuing visas in 1941 and 1971, to the street paving and police and fire department funded by taxpayers, to ADICA granting money for façade improvement, these folks are just exploiting government benefits. They’re probably part of the one percent we’re all supposed to hope the government takes down a notch or two in the income department. Mr. Fletcher will probably be complaining about the increase on that OASDI line in his paycheck next.

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chinaberry25 1 year, 11 months ago

Pearlies is fast food, but it is cooked food. Not a hamburger joint. Try it I can say most likley you will love it. Great biscuits! Same person has owned it for 40 years I know.

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stc1993 1 year, 11 months ago

When I was on jury duty they bought our lunch from the Cookie Shoppe. They have good sandwiches.

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waltspecht 1 year, 11 months ago

I guess the main thing is owning the building and not paying the high rents. That way you can control prices. Plus they are a hands on owner, not one that wants to sit back and coast while employees do work they could be doing. I think it is called work ethic, a thing sadly lacking in the newer generations.

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FlunkyMonkey 1 year, 11 months ago

Chicken salad on white toast and baklava!! WOW

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jglass 1 year, 11 months ago

waltspecht...............you hit the nail on the head. Owning the building and not paying the high rents. The Cookie Shop's food is good. I have eaten at Pearlies a couple of times and I can cook better meals.

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waltspecht 1 year, 11 months ago

I enjoy breakfast at Pearlies. As to your cooking better meals, for all I know, you are a Chef. My friends and family say I can cook as good if not better than any restaurant. I really think they are working a con on me so I will continue to feed them. Although my Smokin Tex has made me one heck of a better BBQ cook. It also does a good Prime rib and smoked fish that makes an outstanding dip. No, I don't smoke mullet.

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Engineer 1 year, 11 months ago

If you are looking for something for a sweet tooth, I highly recommend the baklava.

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Parent 1 year, 11 months ago

I love the Cookie Shoppe! I think I will go today for lunch.

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Cartman 1 year, 11 months ago

Who doesn't love the Cookie Shoppe? They are great examples of what a downtown business should be. The American dream story. Hard work pays off.

And they don't ask for taxpayer money to fund their business!

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Ihope4albany 1 year, 11 months ago

Lots of good points in this posting. Pleasant change.

Yet it is true, this business is "atypical" than the recent business ventures that have closed. If they were to start out today, the results may be the same for them to result in closing. The business dynamics are much different than they were when they started out almost 30 years ago before the "wealth flight". And let's face it; when rents take up over half of the business expenses, sustainability is very hard today.

Anyway, when can we have a community meeting (maybe at the Cookie Shoppe) or at the Our Daily Bread, to discuss new strategies. Look up what is happening with the Detroit Soup initiative - http://detroitsoup.com/ and they are in worse shape than Albany.

Albany, has so many assets. We just need to put them all together and tell a great story in the downtown and market like crazy to Albany and beyond.

Let's Good Life Albany!

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FryarTuk 1 year, 11 months ago

Use anothor thread for this blather please. Another time we are celebrating some really good people here.

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Hoodie 1 year, 11 months ago

Went one time line was long waited 10 minutes left went across town

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FryarTuk 1 year, 11 months ago

How bout you read the tea leaves like they lay. I will not say anything negative as I pledged earlier. I am biting my tongue. Mona and Munir are two of my favorite people and I love them. I like the cookie shoppe. Please do not put any snake oil pitches on the back of this wonderful article. You are just inviting a harsh response. Move along please.

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 11 months ago

And their successful ownership and endurance fly in the face of everything our current President stands for, has experienced, and advocates for America's future! Good Luck and God Bless!

Somebody ask them how they voted....??........!!

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FryarTuk 1 year, 11 months ago

Oh, poot, who cares? I love 'em.

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MajdaQaqish 1 year, 11 months ago

Hi Uncle Munir and Aunt Mona! Congrats on a great article! Glad to see the community is so supportive of the Cookie Shoppe!

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whattheheck 1 year, 11 months ago

"This is our business," Munir Qaqish says. "Any success we have depends on us."

The basic recipe for success in most businesses for those who realize this is how it's done.

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