No matter how tough you are, it’s hard not to crumble over Nancy Portaleo’s cookies. Back when Portaleo was working as a caterer, everyone liked her food, but everyone loved
her cookies—big Rorschach tests of buttery dough and chocolate chips that she shapes with an ice cream scoop. About two years ago, she brought a batch to her Grant Park neighbor Liz Callahan, who was laid up from a knee injury she suffered when she was in Iraq, piloting UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Callahan bit into the cookie. Wow.
Portaleo was used to the reaction, but she was clueless about how to capitalize on her cookie. “I just don’t know what to do with it,” Portaleo told Callahan. “I do,” said Callahan, who was out of the Army and about to head off to Berkeley to get her MBA. The two became partners, and the Rooster 14 cookie company was born. They sell cookies, obviously, but as Portaleo tells it, it’s just as much about selling a feeling. Thus the retro logo, the quaint red and white stripes on the box, the fact that Portaleo refuses—adamantly—to wrap her cookies directly in plastic. It’s also why the handful of shops that sell her cookies store them in glass cookie jars, placed close to the cash register so you can’t resist them. Places such as Savi Urban Market in Inman Park, or the Oak Grove Market in Decatur. Neighborhood places.
You can order her cookies from the company’s website, rooster14.com, where you’ll get fourteen—Portaleo’s take on the baker’s dozen. Rooster ships nationwide. And if you won’t come to Portaleo’s cookies, her cookies are coming to you. This spring, you’ll see her behind the wheel of a food truck, maybe outside football games or office buildings at lunch. She’ll sell cookies (she’s experimenting with other kinds now, such as chocolate chunk pecan), plus milk and coffee. What more do you need?
Photograph by Neda Abghari