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Tom‘s Mom‘s Cookies

Kristi Kates - March 22nd, 2010
Tom‘s Mom‘s Cookies Made Famous in Harbor Springs
By Kristi Kates
Located less than 75 miles south of the Canadian border, the sleepy
town of Harbor Springs, Mich. (pop: 1,600) may be known as the
birthplace of the Shay Locomotive, but today, it is also famous for
being the location of Tom’s Mom’s Cookies...

So reads the Luxist introduction to the famed local cookie-maker;
impressive, even if their geographic details are a bit shy of correct
(it’s closer to 100 miles.) Luxist, a high-end, AOL-sponsored website,
covers what they call “the best the world has to offer on a variety of
luxury and fine living topics” - and Tom’s Mom’s Cookies were up for a
Luxist Readers’ Choice Award in February for Best Cookie, as one of
only five cookie shops nominated.
Voting time has now passed, and Tom’s Mom’s came in second place to
winner Tate’s Bake Shop in Southampton, New York, a similarly well-
heeled resort town on Long Island; but the little Harbor Springs shop
still got a lot of attention and well-deserved kudos for their popular
cookies, which many visitors to Northern Michigan consider a “must-
buy” every time they travel Up North. Local residents, of course, buy
Tom’s Mom’s Cookies all the time, from the tiny, blue-and-pink-painted
shop that’s tucked away on a Harbor Springs side street for cookie
fans to find.

“The original Tom’s Mom’s Cookies opened in Charlevoix in the late
1970s,” Tom’s Mom’s current owner Sheryl McCleery explains, “the shop
in Harbor Springs opened Memorial Weekend, 1985, as the first of a
small franchise which fell apart a few years later. Now, we are the
only Tom’s Mom’s Cookies in existence today and have been for many
McCleery explains that she decided a long time ago to focus on making
cookies, and cookies only - no cakes, no cupcakes, no candies, just
“I wanted our cookies to be the best they could be, and I felt
diversifying would detract from attention and quality,” she explains,
“so, we’ve focused rather on adding different varieties of cookies
over the years. We had three in 1985 - today we sell 17 varieties in
our regular lineup, and we also have a couple we make for special
dates, such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day.”
Many Northern Michiganders and visitors alike have grown up with Tom’s
Mom’s Cookies, and McCleery says that now, some of those people are
using them as party favors - or even as an unusual change from regular
wedding “cakes.”
“We now bake cookies for several weddings each year,” McCleery says

“I think simplicity reigns when it comes to making a basic cookie
dough,” McCleery says when asked what makes Tom’s Mom’s cookies such a
standout. “We use the same basic ingredients you’d find in a Toll
House cookie, but we make sure we use great ingredients - real butter,
real vanilla, pastry flour instead of regular flour, and of course,
terrific chocolate.”
Tom’s Mom’s “chunks,” or breaks up, the chocolate by hand, and also
takes great care with their ingredient proportions and mixing methods
- the precise details of which McCleery is probably not going to
divulge any time soon.
“Let’s just say that the end result is a soft cookie which remains
soft for days and makes a wonderful delivery system for nuts,
cherries, coconut, peanut butter, or just those great chocolate
chunks,” she says.

McCleery credits, in part, the “tremendous number of summer residents
and visitors” to Harbor Springs for taking Tom’s Mom’s Cookies all
across the country.
“I have always said that I owe our national popularity to being
located in Harbor Springs,” she says, “now that there have been two
generations who have grown up eating Tom’s Mom’s Cookies, our
popularity keeps expanding!”
McCleery decided to make the cookies available via mail order in 1997,
so that summer residents and visitors could enjoy the cookies year-
round, just like the locals.
“After the first winter of doing mail order, I realized that it could
be a great source of income during the off season, so I put up a
website in early 1998,” she remembers. “that decision was probably one
of the best things I’ve ever done. We’ve been found by so many
organizations just because of a web search - that’s how the Rachael
Ray Show found us, as well as Family Circle Magazine.”
Tom’s Mom’s appearance on The Food Network, however, is a different
“They were in town in approximately 2000 or 2001 to do a feature on
Carol Costello, one of our great local chefs, when the scout noticed
our shop,” McCleery says, “for the next couple of years, I got calls
from various people at the Food Network indicating their interest in
doing a feature on us. Each time I would hang up and basically say to
myself ‘too good to be true!’ Then, in July 2002, they arrived with
their cameras and spent about five hours shooting various scenes at
the shop and in the town itself. In May 2003 it aired for the first
time, and changed the business forever. Because of that, we’re now
open every day but three all year long, and employ two full time
people and between two and ten part-time people each year. Prior to
that we had only part time people in addition to myself, and we were
closed two months of the year.”
Note to other growing businesses - what a difference a website makes.

In addition to rubbing shoulders with Food Network celebs and Rachael
Ray, Tom’s Mom’s can also count a president among their cookies’ fans
- McCleery says that back in the early 1980s, President Reagan used to
get Tom’s Mom’s Cookies. And, of course, there’s that Luxist
nomination, which has introduced Tom’s Mom’s to a whole new network of
potential cookie fans.
“I’m not sure how we got nominated, but I think it was probably
through a call for nominations to AOL subscribers,” McCleery says,
“since we have a large web-based customer following, we were lucky.”
While honored by the nomination - which put Tom’s Mom’s in such
esteemed nominated cookie company as New York City’s Eleni’s and
Levain Bakery; Berkeley, California’s Sweet Adeline Bake Shop; and the
aforementioned Tate’s - McCleery isn’t stopping for one minute to
ponder her second-place finish, as there’s too much to be gained for
Tom’s Mom’s from all of that internet momentum.
“2010 is our silver anniversary in Harbor Springs, and I’m planning a
celebration on Memorial Day this year,” she enthuses, “this will
include our selling cookies at 1985 prices - $5.00 for a dozen rather
than today’s $17.50 for a dozen - and we’ll also be unveiling a
commemerative tin in the shape of our current cookie box. I hope it
will be a big hit. Beyond this year I have no special plans other than
doing what I’ve been doing - keep it small, keep it simple and keep
it good,” she concludes.

Tom’s Mom’s Cookies is located at 267 Spring Street in downtown Harbor
Springs, telephone 231-526-6606, or visit their website at

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