The longest continuously operated, locally owned independent supermarket on the Central Coast has been tapped by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham as the small business of the month for January 2018.
Cookie Crock Market began in 1965 as a Cambria bakery, and evolved since then into two full-service supermarkets, one each in Cambria and Morro Bay. The small-town shopping resource often nicknamed “The Crock” is a place to buy groceries, meats, produce, local wines and more while you catch up with friends and neighbors you may not connect with anywhere else in town.
As Cunningham noted in a media release about the award, Central Coast residents and the economy depend “upon small, independent businesses like Cookie Crock,” not just for “the service they provide during their hours of operation, but also their willingness to give back to the community, even when their doors are closed.”
For instance, Cookie Crock has helped local students for a quarter-century. Company owner Del Clegg has served on the Coast Unified School Board for years. The firm participates in the Cambria Promise Scholarship, which guarantees that local high school graduates can get two years of free tuition at Cuesta College. Cookie Crock also is a platinum sponsor of Coast Union High School’s Bronco Boosters, and has given $500 scholarships annually to high school graduates.
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Other community service ranges from Clegg’s active participation in the Rotary Club of Cambria and Camp Ocean Pines, previous involvement with the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, and donations to a variety of causes for the environment, the arts, veterans, children, sports and others.
Many a deli platter served at a nonprofit’s event was donated or price-discounted by Cookie Crock, as have been tons of ingredients for a plethora of fundraiser barbecues and other events over the decades.
In a Feb. 12 phone interview, Clegg called the Cunningham award “an awesome kind of testament to … the caring nature of the staff,” and how much those professionals care about and respect the customers they serve. The staff “owns” the award, Clegg said, “and they’re proud of it. It’s a cool, cool thing.”
Asked why he’s spent so many years working with a variety of nonprofit organizations and service clubs, he replied simply, “They needed somebody to be involved. That’s part of my job … it’s not just pushing papers and selling cans of corn … Being a statesman” in helping to get some of those groups up, going and strong is an important responsibility, one he feels is an essential part of being a business owner.
Clegg said he doesn’t know much about the bakery that preceded the market, including who the baker was and whether the cookies were kept in crocks.
Several generations of the Clegg family have been involved with Cookie Crock. Del Clegg started as a box boy, became general manager in 1978, now owns “the Crock,” and carries on many traditions established decades ago by his parents, Delbert Clegg Sr. and Rose Clegg, after they bought into a tiny store in a tiny town.
Through the years, the East Village store was remodeled and expanded several times before it moved 1987 to its much larger, new hillside Cambria location at 1240 Knollwood Circle.
Del Clegg launched the Morro Bay store in 2008. There was a warehouse-style Cookie Crock store in Arroyo Grande, but it is no longer open.
Some of Cookie Crock’s employees have been on the payroll for many years.
Kathleen (Kirby) Miller went to work for her friend Del in 1979. She rose to the role of manager, a job she held for nearly three decades. She continues to work part time for the firm.
Among the other veterans are checker Vicky Conant, who started at Cookie Crock in 1983, and produceman Steve Lerum — both of them worked in the old store and still work at the new one.
Tim Hickey started at the Crock in 1991. Penny Sannella has worked there for close to 25 years, she said, and her late husband, Pat Sannella, was another longtime employee. Randy Arnett manages the Cambria store now, having started his Cookie Crock career in 1996. Cashier Patty Fox started in 2000.
Gloria Fiscalini, Diego Castillo, Chris Dockstader Dillow (who went on to open Harmony Pasta Factory, Fig and Fig@Courtney’s House restaurants), Cambrian columnist Dianne Brooke (Lady Ti Di) and many others worked there, some of them for years.
Brooke said by phone that she recalls that the East Village “building was so leaky that when it rained, we’d have buckets up and down the aisles” to catch the drips. The shop “was so small, we could stand in the produce section and listen to the gossip in the next aisles over.”
She worked there for several years and returned occasionally for short stints to fill in employment gaps.
Some customers, too, have longtime memories of Cookie Crock, and shared them with The Cambrian via social media.
Several responders, including Rick Cournoyer (now of North Carolina) and Dolores Eckert, mentioned “Bob the butcher,” former Cookie Crock and Soto’s butcher Bob Johnson, noted for his sausages and tri-tip beef.
Others reminisced about the Crock’s “tiny aisles” and the smaller footprint of the East Village store, where Las Cambritas is now.
Former Cambrian reporter Kathy Campbell said, “It was perfect for a poor reporter with two little kids — had everything we needed at prices we could afford. Saturdays were laundromat and Cookie Crock — got the shopping done during the dry cycle, then home with the week’s groceries, clean clothes and Saturday night with “CHIPS” or “Emergency” on our one TV channel. Those memories wouldn’t be complete without Cookie Crock!”
Former county supervisor Shirley Bianchi said that, for years, her “Aunt Helen Goodall was the cook at the grammar school,” retiring in the early 1960s. “I remember her having to make sure she did not do more shopping at the Cookie Crock than she did at Soto’s, and vice-versa!”
And Linda Foster Finley said one of her first memories of the Crock was on Halloween, seeing checker Lady Ti Di as a bag lady “in a ginormous dogfood bag … complete with dog biscuits in her hair. I knew then that I had moved to a very cool town.”
Later, Finley helped stock the shelves the night before Cookie Crock opened in its new Knollwood location.