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.
Not convinced? Then two more.
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."