The Untold Truth Of Mrs. Fields

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Long before artisanal chocolate chip cookies became a hot food trend (we're looking at you, Levain), Mrs. Fields was a name worth knowing. The chocolate chip cookies at the heart of this Palo Alto brand have conquered hearts (and probably secretly appeared on a bake sale table or two) since the '70s. Known for their homemade appeal, Mrs. Fields may well be one of America's favorite cookies.

But there's a lot about this brand you don't know. From the real baker behind the name to corporate ownership, from the original recipe to more modern offerings, and from quick success to struggles due to market changes and more, the bakery once known as Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery has taken many twists and turns over the years. Luckily for you, we've got the inside scoop about the hard-working entrepreneur behind the brand and the struggles she went through to make her childhood dream a reality. So pull up a chair, grab a cookie (or two), and dig in.

Mrs. Fields is a real person

Supermarket aisles are positively bursting with brands referring to people who never really existed, from Betty Crocker to the Quaker man on boxes of Quaker Oats. Unlike these mascots, Mrs. Fields is actually a real person.

Debbi Fields (née Sivyer) was an early baking prodigy, according to MyRecipes. But her first cookies weren't nearly as delectable as the ones that became the staple offering of her cookie business. As a young baker, Debbi relied on inexpensive ingredients like margarine and imitation chocolate; as one of five children of a welder father and a stay-at-home mom living on $15,000 a year, these ingredients were all she could afford. When she got her first paying job at 13, she immediately spent her paycheck on real butter and real chocolate to make even better cookies.

While the business is still called Mrs. Fields, however, Debbi is now Mrs. Rose: She divorced Randy Fields in 1996, (via Inc). The entrepreneur married her husband Michael Rose in 1998, reports the "Encyclopedia of American Women in Business." Sadly, The Aspen Times writes that Rose passed away in 2017.

Mrs. Fields is extremely entrepreneurial (and very competitive)

Entrepreneurial from childhood, Debbi's natural drive is a huge part of what has made her so successful. MyRecipes says that when she was trying to get her business started, she delivered copies of her business plan (and batches of cookies) to potential lenders before finally securing a small bank loan. She was able to open her first store in 1977 when she was just 20 years old (via Funding Universe).

Hiding behind this entrepreneurial spirit is also a competitive streak that may well be the true secret of her success. Debbi's first husband, Randy Fields, didn't believe she'd succeed in her enterprise — and neither did her economist husband's friends or mother (never mind the fact that they loved her cookies). When she finally secured her bank loan, according to Funding Universe, even her banker thought she would fail, and Randy predicted she wouldn't sell even $50 worth of cookies, reports the Let's Talk Business Network.

A natural competitor, Debbi refused to fail. When she had been open for three hours without selling one cookie, Funding Universe says that Debbi started offering cookie samples to passersby — and, per the Let's Talk Business Network, ultimately earned $75 in sales that day, proving her husband wrong.

Mrs. Fields relies on top-quality ingredients

After growing up relying on inexpensive margarine and imitation chocolate, per MyRecipes, it's no surprise that Debbi Fields considers the quality of the ingredients she uses to make her famous cookies to be of the utmost importance. "When it comes to baking, I'm a purist," she writes on her blog. "I like to use real, premium ingredients to make real, premium treats."

Quality ingredients remain the top priority of the company to this day, according to Rachel Matheus, Mrs. Fields' baking expert and training specialist. "Mrs. Fields uses only the best ingredients — real butter, perfect walnuts, proprietary vanilla, and quality chocolate chips, to name a few — and we never skimp," Matheus tells SheKnows. 'We follow the same formula today that Debbie Fields created in 1977, and since then we have also bought the same ingredients."

It's no wonder the cookies continue to conquer hearts — and stomachs — around the world.

Mrs. Fields got its start in Palo Alto, California

While these days, you can find Mrs. Fields cookies all around the world, the empire got its start as just one shop Palo Alto, California. The original Mrs. Fields location, which opened in 1977, was called Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery, and it was located, reports Funding Universe, in Liddicoat's Market, described by SF Gate as an "international fast-food arcade," which closed its doors back in 1995.

Mrs. Fields quickly gained acclaim with locals, and Warren Simmons, the builder behind San Francisco's Pier 39 shopping area, offered Debbi Fields a space for a second shop just a year after she had opened the first. According to Funding Universe, Mrs. Fields refused the offer at the outset, only to decide to open the second location a year later after employees began growing antsy for growth opportunities. Her second store opened in the popular shopping area in 1979.

Even with expansion, Mrs. Fields has always refused to skimp on quality

It would have been easy for Mrs. Fields' quality to go downhill as she expanded to more stores, but her firm belief that quality cookies were more important than anything drove her business. According to Funding Universe, just two years after opening, Debbi Fields came under pressure to replace the pricey raisins in her cookies with less expensive dates.

"The point wasn't to make money, the point was to bake great cookies, and we sacrificed for that principle," she says. This attitude is what drives Debbi's insistence on freshness.

"Our cookies had to be warm and fresh and when they were two hours out of the oven," Fields tells Funding Universe, noting that any unsold cookies were donated to the Red Cross as snacks for blood donors, and new batches were baked. "We guaranteed everything we sold," she says.

There's a myth Mrs. Fields once sold the cookie recipe for $250 – now debunked

For years, a legend proliferated that a Mrs. Fields customer, so besotted by the cookies, asked for the recipe to make them at home. The customer was allegedly told they could not just have the recipe, but they could buy it for "two-fifty," which turned out not to be $2.50 but rather $250. The incensed consumer, in an effort to get back at the company, began sharing the recipe with anyone who would listen. Although it's entertaining, the story is just a legend.

According to Snopes, a similar myth has been attached to the chocolate chip cookie recipes from Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Woolworths in South Africa and to a red velvet cake from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. Whatever the version of the story, it appears to be pure fabrication, and in the case of Mrs. Fields specifically, at the height of the rumors, in 1987, Debbi Fields herself signed a notice stating:

"Mrs. Fields recipe has never been sold. There is a rumor circulating that the Mrs. Fields Cookie recipe was sold to a woman at a cost of $250. A chocolate-chip cookie recipe was attached to the story. I would like to tell all my customers that this story is not true, this is not my recipe and I have not sold the recipe to anyone. Mrs. Fields recipe is a delicious trade secret."

Mrs. Fields now bakes many varieties and ships nationwide

What started as a "chocolate chippery" has since expanded to an empire with more than 200 franchises around the world. And thanks to its production and distribution facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company website says, fans can get their fill whether they live near a franchise or not: Mrs. Fields now ships its wide range of cookies with mix-and-match flavor offerings ranging from triple chocolate to white chocolate macadamia to oatmeal raisin and more. The brand also now makes frosted cookies as well as brownies, blondies, and toffee fudge brownies.

Mrs. Fields has even recently launched a brand-new product: stuffed cookies. According to Inside FMCG, the cookies are available in two flavors: Nutella- and hazelnut-stuffed chocolate chip, and snickerdoodle-stuffed Biscoff (aka cookie butter). For the moment, it seems these latter offerings are only available in Australia, but maybe if they're popular enough they'll arrive on American shores.

Mrs. Fields no longer runs the day to day of the shop – but she still keeps busy as its spokesperson

Debbi Fields officially left the day-to-day operations of her namesake business back in 2000, she tells, a decision that, she notes, was quite difficult and something she compares to being an empty-nester. But despite the sale (to an investment firm — and to the tune of $100 million), she remains inextricably intertwined with the enterprise today. 

According to Top Business Entrepreneurs, Debbi Fields Rose now works as a consultant to Mrs. Fields Cookies and is also a board member at Outback Steakhouse. She has also written not only an autobiography — "One Smart Cookie: How a Housewife's Chocolate Chip Recipe Turned into a Multimillion-Dollar Business: The Story of Mrs. Fields Cookies" — but several cookbooks, including the "Mrs. Fields Cookie Book: 100 Recipes from the Kitchen of Mrs. Fields." With the recipes in that book, you can bake cookies just like Mrs. Fields herself.

Mrs. Fields and TCBY now share an owner

In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reports, Mrs. Fields and TCBY (The Country's Best Yogurt) united in an attempt to boost sales of their respective products. Painting the pair as "faded chains" in need of a "comeback," the outlet explored the then-new merger as a way of resuscitating the brands, which were suffering due to market saturation. 

At the time of the merger, according to the Los Angeles Times, Mrs. Fields had sold 60% of its stores since 1993. The owner of Mrs. Fields, the Times reports, had purchased TCBY back in 2000 before filing for bankruptcy in 2008. It was only after restructuring in 2011 that the chains were paired in new joint franchise shops, something that Mary Chapman, director of product innovation for Technomi, told the outlet was an excellent strategy.

"Pairing a frozen dessert with a bakery style treat hedges trends," she said. "If consumer tastes shift from one, the other is there to back it up."

The company came under fire for discrimination back in 2018

Despite its homegrown image, all has not been rosy for the Mrs. Fields brand. In 2018, the Denver Post reports, the company came under fire for discrimination against non-U.S. citizens working for the brand. 

According to the outlet, the chain allegedly requested certain documents from lawful permanent residents working at its Salt Lake City distribution center. Since the company did not ask that its U.S. citizen employees provide the same documents, this request, investigators told the outlet, violated anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Specifically, according to the United States Department of Justice, the law precludes companies from requesting specific documents from work-authorized individuals who have the right to choose which documents they wish to use to prove that they have the right to work in the country.

"Workers should not have to face discrimination because of citizenship status or national origin in the employment eligibility verification process," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in a press release. "We are pleased that Mrs. Fields has agreed to work with the Division and ensure that its staff is trained on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, and we look forward to working with the company to reach this shared goal."

The company settled the claim and paid $26,000 in penalties, according to the Denver Post.