Tough cookie

How Sacramento’s cookie maven survived downtown redevelopment

Terry O’Reilly has cookie sheet, will travel—but only two blocks.

Terry O’Reilly has cookie sheet, will travel—but only two blocks.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

When your sweet tooth is itching to be scratched, you know where to go: that nearly closet-sized, hole-in-the-wall cookie shop Goodie Tuchews. It’s Sacramento’s bona fide cookie castle, where Terry O’Reilly, owner and lone baker, reigns as the Cookie Queen.

It’s amazing when longtime downtown residents and workers say they never noticed the cookie heaven at 1006 10th Street. Well, you can’t blame them entirely. Goodie Tuchews isn’t one of those cookie-cutter establishments (pardon the pun) with a chic storefront and a sophisticated décor, and the corner of 10th and J streets is hardly a garden spot. Most people hurry past the narrow shops, coming and going between J and K streets.

With the pending opening of the new boutique Citizen Hotel and upscale retail outlets in the street-level shops, this is all about to change. Those who love and support Goodie Tuchews feared downtown development would force O’Reilly from her shop of more than 25 years—and they were right. The landmark Goodie Tuchews has closed. However, what started out as a moment of anguish has turned into a phenomenal opportunity for O’Reilly and cookie-philes everywhere. Goodie Tuchews is relocating to a shiny new location at 1015 L Street, and should open for business by early May.

The road to L Street has been bumpy. Most of Goodie Tuchews’ clientele in the old Cal Western Insurance building had vacated over the past three years. This loss of customer base cost her nearly 50 percent of her business.

“I was hanging on by my bitten-down fingernails,” O’Reilly said about some of her worried days. “All of my customers said, ‘We’ll still come.’ But it’s a convenience thing—they didn’t come. And, with all the construction, many people thought I was closed.”

At first, the building’s owners told her she didn’t have to leave and had nothing to worry about. O’Reilly never saw them again. She realized there was plenty to worry about when her lease option was not extended.

“This is not a hobby!” she said, describing her reaction to the news. “I’m supporting my family! But we were nobody to these people.”

Soon after, the city and the Downtown Sacramento Partnership got involved. They provided assistance with relocation funds and, in O’Reilly’s words, “things just started happening.” She found the new location on L Street and closed the 10th Street store on March 9—the end of an era.

O’Reilly’s love affair with cookies pre-dates Goodie Tuchews’ 1981 opening. For five years, she honed her cookie skills as a regional manager for Cookie Magoo, a Berkeley cookie chain that eventually succumbed to the popularity of Mrs. Fields. O’Reilly had a short-lived break on the road to cookie connoisseurship when she went to live in Europe. Three months later, she was back in Sacramento working at the family-run Goodie Tuchews.

O’Reilly’s dad found the 10th Street location. Though lackluster, the rent was cheap. And the name? Just a fun play on words. They found out after the fact that people used to call the Cal Western building the “Goodie Two Shoes Building” because it housed so many non profits.

O’Reilly, along with her father, Gerald, and six siblings, crafted their cookies. Six Cookie Magoo recipes (which O’Reilly was granted as long as she stayed out of the Bay Area) evolved into 19, and a local cookie legend was born. Eventually the other family members left the business and O’Reilly became the cookie maven in 1994. In more than 25 years at the 10th Street shop, O’Reilly has baked thousands of cookies. (Her largest order to date was 300 dozen.)

“Everything happens for a reason,” O’Reilly said about Goodie Tuchews’ move. “The new space is luxurious and a better location.”

Though it’s joined the ranks of prettier storefronts, Goodie Tuchews cookies will never be cookie-cutter. Each one is made with love. The most popular cookie is the semi-sweet chocolate chip without nuts. The only cookie to ever be retired was the gingersnap, due to lack of interest. And rumor has it that the chocolate cookie with peanut butter chips is a real “adult cookie”—try it with red wine. For something truly special, ask for a custom-made ice-cream sandwich: vanilla ice cream squeezed between two of your favorite cookies.

“People said, ‘We thought you’d never make it!’” O’Reilly said. “I never imagined after 25 years that I’d still be doing this. I made myself a job that I love. My motto has always been ‘Peace and cookies on Earth!’”