The Rocks N Rolls story
Back in those long by-gone years, many people around the Mediterranean were rather poor. Enterprising but poor. So, what has anyone to do if someone in their family was diabetic but still wanted to enjoy a bit of what life has to offer. To that end women in my family whose husbands were suffering of this terrible ailment concocted a sweet treat….. with what was at hand of course which wasn’t much. Some flour, some oil, not much, a drop of lemon juice and a tiny bit of sugar, just enough to provide a quick sugar kick to stabilize the sugar levels of their ailing husbands. Also because in those days in French Algeria, wine was cheaper than water, it became the binding element for those little treats. In our American version, we developed other flavors over the original one and substituted the wine with vanilla flavored water.
Push forward a number of years, by then my family as well as million others had exiled to France after a war in Algeria, had lost the little bit they had acquired through hard work and established themselves in the South of France. There, the family version of this incredible little treat was continued. Women would knead the dough and roll a bit of it with the palm of their hands to make a ring much like you used to do pretzels. When they got tired of making rolls, they would take the remaining dough and pinch little blobs of it to make rock like bites. (Many years later we came to find out that an overwhelming majority of our customers and fans people preferred the Rocks to the rings).
By then, for my second time, I had immigrated to the US and had the great fortune of meeting an incredible woman, Susan Sheppard whom at the time was a high school language teacher, teaching Spanish in Southern California. Susan and I are married and together successfully faced the vicissitudes of life and had started our Nth venture. Baking French Style Biscotti which at the time we were trying to sell to sprouting coffee shops around the country (traveling around the country while sleeping in my car and Susan teaching to support the whole affair. That was be before Starbucks.
One day, the inevitable happened. I got a call that my dad after long years of suffering had passed away from complications of diabetes. I flew to his funeral. Coming back from the burial, the whole family was sitting silently. In search of emotional comfort,
I broke the silence by asking my mother to make me those cookies which were one of the fondest memories of my teen years. To which she answered: “I am sorry, I don’t have the courage right now. Ask your aunt see if she wants to do some”.
My brave aunt Helene accepted with her engaging smile as I sat next to her to watch how she made them. The gifted lady had what we call the “Tour de Main" (slight of hand) when it came to baking and cooking.
As I got back home to California, I decided that I was going to make those cookies. My reasoning was: “If millions of people around the Mediterranean eat one version or another of those miracle cookies, and if diabetics can enjoy a few bites, why wouldn’t Americans enjoy them too?” So I told Susan.
For a woman who as a teenager had won at a county fair 1st place in baking and was sent to the Indiana State Fair to compete again and win, also for a woman who is an impressive cook who one day put my whole family to shame with her culinary talent, the Rocks N Rolls were not exactly what she had in mind when thinking about luscious cookies to bake for our nascent company. So, at first she balked at the idea saying that American prefer luscious, gooey, soft cookies.
I said - “That’s the only thing I can do well, my aunt showed me. Find a name for them because I am going to design a label for them, package them and that’s what we are going to make”.
After again balking at the thought, my always supportive wife thought about it for a minute and said: - “Since women make them as rolls and then as rocks, let’s call them Rocks N’ Rolls”.
Ok good enough for me, that was it. I got a few felted pens, a piece of paper, sat at the dining room table and drew the words. When it came to coloring them, I thought: "I am now an American" (I had first immigrated to America in 1964 but did not speak a word of English at that time, so after 2 years went back to Europe but kept up with my residency in the USA). I had 3 felted markers. A black one, a red one and a blue one. Red white and blue looked appropriate but as I still could not avoid being French by birth and culture, Blue, White and Red felt right too. Hence the colors of our ‘Rocks N’ Rolls’ logo.
A week later I presented the product to a Bristol Farm’s buyer and part of my pitch then was: - “By the way, these cookies are also Vegan”. - “What?" he exclaimed, in those days not yet familiar with the word vegan. A few months later a similar situation happened when we presented the cookies to the Whole Foods buyer of the South Pacific region as they were opening their very first store in Los Angeles. We’ve been on the shelves ever since and grew our business grew with them.
Susan and I spoke vegan – so to speak – long before it became common in American culinary vernacular. Well, in all honesty I learned that word myself when I was playing Hippie, hitchhiking across the USA in the early seventies.
Susan grew to love the Rocks N Rolls as did, funny enough, Bill and Arlene Sheppard my very dearest Hoosier in-laws. Today we are proud to say that we have been manufacturing them for the past 27 years and those unassuming little bites have carried our company through thick and thin. Yes we faced a huge fiasco after selling the product to a then emerging giant retailer who after 6 years of growing sales, decided to change the label to their own private label.. Sales declined rapidly with their own private label as people thought the retailer was knocking off (they were not) our product. That put us on our knees for a full 3 years, for all intent and purpose out of business.
Yep! But that was not counting with Susan's Scottish determination. One thing I know and always loved about my wife is that she is no quitter. We rented a table at a local bakery just to maintain the Rocks N Rolls going at Bristol Farms and Whole foods as I was doing menial jobs as a French and Spanish interpreter during the day and baking at night, Susan kept on teaching, counting pennies and lining up coupons. What a courage!
Then.... Started again when we found a bakery which had just been vacated in Costa Mesa. We again maxed out our credit cards and off again we went although no spring chicken anymore.
Forward to now because I do not wish to bore you with the sleepless nights, the stress, the money stuff, the million calls to stores and the countless buyers' rejections, years of distributing ourselves from our car, the 18 hour work days, 7 days a week even to this day (well, that's perhaps because we are 2 workaholic nuts who enjoy it) , plus the thousand and one other stories I could tell, all of which time and again put to the test our marriage's strength.
Today we are very, very excited to have gotten last April, out of the blue, a phone call from Ms Lori Greiner, one of the top stars of the famed Shark Tank TV show, whom to our surprise, told us how much she has enjoyed these bites for so many years to the point of wishing to feature them in her new magazine: Living Inspired by Lori Greiner.
Now you know how the ‘Rocks N Rolls’ got their name. We hope you enjoy them as we and many loyal fans have for years.
Susan and I Thank you for your support and good taste.