Gourmet Cookie Market Gets New Recipe From 'High-Tech Deaf' Bakers
Apr. 12, 1985
WEST ORANGE, N.J. (AP) _ As competitors in the national gourmet cookie race, the bakers at Gimmee Jimmy's Cookies mix their chunky batter and slide trays in and out of ovens with precision. But the bakery runs in silence, cues coming from flashing lights on a wall.
Most of the bakers can't hear.
''We call it high-tech deaf,'' said Ellen Libman, whose brother, Jimmy, founded the bakery about two years ago.
Deaf since birth, 28-year-old Libman also designed the strobe light system to aid his 12 employees, nine of whom are deaf.
A blue master light under a counter flashes briefly, catching the attention of the workers as the light reflects off equipment in the room.
The workers know then to look up at a row of lights: Green means a customer is at the door, orange means the cookies need to be removed from the oven, white means Libman's special telephone for the hearing-impaired is ringing, and red means something is on fire.
The system has worked well so far and certainly is an improvement over the company's humble beginnings in the Libman family's kitchen.
''My dining room table was the assembly line,'' recalled Libman's mother, Dody, who provided the recipes for the chocolate chip, walnut chocolate chip, peanut chocolate chip, coconut pecan and oatmeal raisin cookies.
It was Libman's mother who suggested that her son open the business. Friends urged her for years to sell her cookies but she never took the idea seriously until her son, who was working as an optical technician, said he wanted to try a new field.
As soon as the plan was hatched, Mrs. Libman went to a nearby produce outlet and got a commitment to buy 30 boxes of cookies.
Libman and his sister soon were working from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., and the Libmans decided to make the operation more professional, ordering a confectioner's oven for their family room. When it would not fit through the door, Libman and his 33-year-old sister set up shop in the living room for six months.
Then, with a $70,000 Small Business Administration loan at 3 percent interest and $18,000 of his own money, Libman opened the small but spotless bakery here.
He interviewed potential workers recommended by the New Jersey Department of Vocational Rehabilitation which, along with Goodwill Industries, trains and helps place hearing-impaired people.
''Everything here is my responsibility,'' Libman said through Lou Ann Walker, a sign language interpreter.
Libman, who bought a computer to handle the paperwork, does the inventory, ordering and other day-to-day duties while his sister is in charge of marketing and promoting.
Gimmee Jimmy's now has 50 accounts in New York and New Jersey, mostly in upscale supermarkets and gourmet shops. A pound of cookies sells for $6.90 to $7.50.
Jimmy's sister, who is the vice president, said the operation grossed $100,000 for the 12 months that ended in February and had a profit which she declined to disclose. This year, Gimmee Jimmy's hopes to double its sales.
Libman said he is much happier having taken the plunge into a new business. ''I used to think I would set up an optical business. But that's too easy a life.''