1. The Beginning (of G Mommas)

Robert Armstrong
9 min readMar 17, 2022

I started writing this a few months after I had to shut it all down, so you can imagine how raw I was. I read through it the other day and laughed at what I wrote! Here is a sample of one of the lines:

“…..this journey of the cookie business has been. 3 words ….pile. of . shit.

It’s funny now that I’ve had time to get some perspective and out from under it!

The business failing is honestly one of those pivotal things in my life that’s made its mark on me. I know it sounds cheesy, but we all have those things or events that define who we are and this is one of those for me.

Writing about it was suggested by my counselor when I was in a tough spot and so many people have asked what happened I thought I’d share some of the details from beginning to end.

So here it is, the story of the Selma Good Company and GMommas Cookies.

Here is how it started…

2009 in Gammy’s kitchen

My grandmother on my Dad’s side, we called her Gammy (pronounced Gah Mee). She made these bite size chocolate chip cookies that were crispy, buttery, and addictive. Our whole family loved them …and one day my dad said she “ought to market them”. I heard it and thought it would be a great idea….the idea never left me.

I went to the U of Alabama, and would bring some of them back to Ttown when I had spent a weekend in Selma. My buddies would all talk about how good they were… I had a lot of stoner buddies so maybe it wasn’t the best audience to test.

So, to get on to the point I’ll skip ahead a bit. I graduated in 4 years and it was a really bad time to be looking for a job. It was 2008 and the Stock Market had just gone from 14k to around 6k. We were in the “great recession”. It took me 6 months to find a job and when I did I moved to Bham. The job was an entry level sales job which consisted of cold calling and feeling like a total idiot most of the time. It was mostly a humbling experience …. but I did get my feet wet in sales. I’m sure most people can relate to feeling like you’re just a fish out of water…and that’s how I felt.

I quickly realized the product I was selling wasn’t quite ready for the market and I could no longer sell it with any sort of passion ……that’s another story. So I quit, decided to move back to Selma with a few business ideas and possibilities I thought I’d try.

Side note: I’ve always loved Selma, and my childhood here. I feel like it has a lot of potential and one of the driving forces behind starting a business in Selma was to be a part of helping it live up to that potential.

I ran thru a few of those ideas, sold most of what I owned on ebay, and eventually decided to give the cookies a go.

I talked to Gammy, who thought it was hilarious but of course agreed to help any way she could. We baked a few times at her house, I took a lien against my car from a local bank, and a local restaurant only open for dinner agreed to let me use their kitchen during the day to bake.

I created an LLC, called it Selma Good Company. The name was sort of prophetic I thought; Good things can come out of Selma was the thinking behind it…which would be part of the mission of the company.

I worked with a local design firm, printed some labels, identified packaging, pre-sold to 3 local stores, and then asked the local newspaper to run an article to help get it started.

I picked the day to bake, got my supplies and showed up early at the restaurant. I started just how Gammy taught me and had the temp of the oven just right …..but it rained that day. Not being a baker I really didn’t know baking could be so dang complicated! I baked over 3000 cookies and by the time I was finishing up I realized they were all ruined….they were mush!! That day I learned baking was not as straightforward as I thought, and humidity would be one of my main enemies.

At the time I didn’t quite know what was going wrong — but I thought it could be the oven. So I tried one day at the local YMCA’s kitchen…no go. I tried at First Presbyterian Church which wasn’t really a good option…and I also tried one day at Joyce Riley Catering, which was waaayyy too crowded with the both of us.

A funny side story; I was pretty desperate to find a place to bake at this point ..so I even tried the Southern Sportsman Lodge, a hunting lodge in Trickem, Alabama. There are 2 owners and I knew one of them well….but he didn’t tell the other owner that I would be there the morning I planned to bake. The owner I knew well told me where the key would be ….so, I’m in there baking cookies at about 5 am and in walks the owner who has no clue who I am. He slowly walks in sort of stares at me ….and asks “what the hell are you doing?” I said, “baking cookies… I guess Mr. Dave didn’t tell you”. He looked at me like I’d just said it in Chinese, and said, “oh …OK” with a slight grin.

All of the jumping from place to place and the fact that I was baking cookies was pretty humbling to say the least….it’s not the most masculine thing to do in the world and it all felt pretty embarrassing. I’m sure he felt like he was in the twilight zone seeing some young guy baking cookies in his hunting lodge before daylight.

That oven didn’t work either and neither would the setup ….so I was back to square one. I was almost out of the money I borrowed, I had no income, the 3 stores that ordered were still waiting, and I had no place to bake the cookies…..and to top it off there was an article set to run in 2 weeks in the Sunday paper. As a young entrepreneur I was pretty frustrated and stressed.

Out of the blue….My cousin Paul, who is an unreal guy, called me with an idea, and mentioned an old kitchen he had seen in a building downtown. It was once a restaurant but was being used as storage. He told me who owned it and I gave the man a call.

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, especially one in the rural south you know folks will help you without you having to ask them. That was the case for me getting started ….rent free for a while and a local banker had some repoed baking equipment he gave me. Super grateful for it is an understatement.

Building where my kitchen was located

I spent the first couple days getting the place cleaned up, getting utilities on, and trying to figure out the ovens. The 2 ovens that were there had no temperature reading so I just had to guess as to what the temp was and start working my way around the dial. I finally just settled on a position on the knob, marked it with a sharpie, and then I baked my first 3 orders.

I was pretty pumped….I had generated my first little bit of income from nothing. Felt good.

At this point I took working hard to the extreme! I would get up some mornings around 3:30 and some days I baked until after 10 pm. I would google “specialty food store in Montgomery” ….find a few stores and after I baked early in the morning I’d head out and try to make some sales.

Over the course of the next 18 months I got into about 35 stores spread out around Alabama. It was slow going as I made each cookie by hand …..I think I was making about $4/ hour.

FYI, I have a college degree. I actually turned down some pharmaceutical sales jobs at the time… making about 10 times what I was making then.

I wasn’t paying myself but a few hundred dollars per month, and so I picked up a side job selling wine to some of the same stores that sold my cookies. It helped keep me afloat.

The baking process was pretty brutal, I literally started with 2 spoons and would scoop out each cookie which weighed about 2 grams per cookie. So in order to make a bag I would have to scoop about 35 cookies …pretty freakin slow!

I did as much research as I could online by searching, “automate forming cookies, automatic baking, etc.”, and ran across a machine called Kook-e-King. I found one on eBay and bought it …determined to help speed up the process. I was trying to save some money so I told them to ship it as cheap as possible, bad choice. Half the machine showed up, and the USPS lost the other half. Learned my lesson …make sure it has insurance and tracking next time!! It was a low blow for sure.

I eventually met with a local engineer who felt bad enough for me to lend me a little advice …we came up with a stainless steel nosil that would fit down in an empty caulking tube and then a metal plug on the other end would push the dough out. I would connect this to a pneumatic caulk gun and “squirt” out the dough in a rope form …then just cut each “dollup” as it came out of the gun. This doubled my speed …but I was still extremely far from making any real money.

This was the first iteration made from aluminum …we also had one made from stainless.

After agonizing over what to do for a few months, I decided to shut down the business. I thought that I would one day come back to it, but wasn’t sure how that would look.

I was excited about the next chapter of my professional career if you could call it that….and after spending my last 2 years in “cookie prison” I was chomping at the bit to get out there and try some of the other ideas I had.

I’ll skip over the details of the next thing(s) I tried but they consisted of these: Parts Wholesaler to the Military, Job Posting Website for Tuscaloosa, GPS Monitoring Service for Juvenile Offenders, Christian T-Shirt Brand, Freelance Web Designer, and Pork & Beef Sales to the Military.

In 2012, sitting in the parking lot of the Selma Post Office I realized that what I was looking for I had actually proven with the cookies….or at least I thought I did.

People would actually pay money for the cookies ….I proved they would sell. I just didn’t know how to make all the pieces fit together so it could be a real business.

“Chicken or the egg” is the analogy. You need the large production capacity to get the larger customers, but you also need the customers to justify investing in the capacity (i.e. equipment, etc.).

I had a plan though so I decided to Relaunch it….

NEXT: The Relaunch

If you want to read them all now here are the links:

  1. The Beginning
  2. The Relaunch
  3. The Early Mishaps
  4. The Wandering
  5. The Facility
  6. The Progress
  7. The Growth
  8. The Crumbling (pun intended)
  9. Putting it to bed
  10. Reasons it failed and what I’d do different

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Robert Armstrong

I like to build things. Founded @gmommasays . Grew it to 2000 stores & failed. Currently helping others not make the same mistakes.