Virginia Dobles never regarded her mother, homemaker Patsy Roberts, as a professional role model. But after Dobles lost her job last year, she spent two weeks soul-searching, mostly under the bedcovers in her Park Slope apartment, and had a revelation.
With her 30-year advertising career kaput, Dobles, 53, wondered whether baking—always her mother’s passion—might hold the key to her happiness, too. “She was a real mom’s mom. Everyone in the neighborhood used to get a tin of her cookies for their birthday—everyone. That she became my inspiration sounds hokey, but it’s true.”
Dobles mixed up the butter cookies that had made Patsy, now 84, a local legend decades earlier in Rockaway Beach, Queens, and a nebulous plan took shape: Why not distribute bundles to 50 friends for Thanksgiving and let kismet take its course? Dobles’s husband, Christian, a former ad agency creative director, whipped up retro-cute labels featuring Patsy in her prime with a fitting tagline—”Sweetness is the main ingredient”—and Patsy’s Cookies took flight.
Friends told friends about the Dobles’s prettily packaged cookies and they sold 500 boxes for Christmas. Soon they were selling three varieties—cookie-pressed butter cookies, dusted with sugar crystals; chocolate-chip butter; and walnut and maple syrup—to Union Market and Back to the Land in Park Slope and the Blue Bungalow in Rockaway Beach, even the Garden of Eden Gourmet Market in New Jersey.
Dobles believes the “sense memory” resonates with customers. At the couple’s in-store samplings, shoppers take a bite and wax nostalgic about their own mother or grandmother’s buttery renditions. She says some even well up.
These days the Dobles’s sprawling Slope apartment is “corporate headquarters,” while their cookies—along with brownies and walnut crumb cakes—are baked in a certified kitchen in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Dobles substitutes real vanilla for Patsy’s cheap stuff, chops nuts in a Cuisinart instead of, ahem, a meat grinder and mixes dough in a KitchenAid stand mixer. “My mother did it like this,” she says, stirring an imaginary bowl.
The resultant cookies are lighter, but Patsy Roberts wholeheartedly approves. “The first time I showed her the packaging with her face on it,” recalls Dobles, “she said ‘Now I feel like I have a legacy’ and it made me so proud.”
Editor’s note: As of July 2015, Patsy’s Cookies is no longer in business.