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west side mom's business featured on rachael ray

by reid spagna

sara leand knows how the cookie crumbles.

fun, quirky and unique are a few of the descriptions that have been applied to the west side mother's gourmet dessert business, based in manhattan.

as ceo of sara snacker cookie company, her delectable delicacies have been featured on the rachael ray show and can be found in gourmet grocery stores all over the city, including zabar's, gourmet garage and amish market.

leand's interest in baking first blossomed in new jersey with an easy-bake oven and the help of her mother and grandmother.

it continued at the university of arizona, where she obtained a bachelor of fine arts in television production and frequently hosted dinner parties that featured her homemade cookies.

"my friends always said, 'you should try to sell the cookies,'" she said. "i thought it was a joke at first."

leand soon took their advice, however, and started baking cookies in her dorm room, packaging them with saran wrap and printed stickers.

that original cookie business was sidelined to focus on academics but was finally re-started three years ago, after leand spent over a decade in los angeles working for paramount pictures and as an agent for production companies. during the last five years of her career, leand produced shows on e!, lifetime and tlc.

it was after leand left l.a. for new york that she began baking again. pregnant with her first child and stressed by an ongoing job search, she decided to fire her cookie business back up.

"i always knew that i was going to go back to baking, but i didn't think it was going to be right then. i thought it was going to be when i was a grandmother," leand said.

retooling her dorm-room entrepreneurship into a full-fledged business, leand wanted her company to have an original flair.

"my husband always joked that my chocolate chip cookie was so great," leand said. "as nice as that is, i didn't want it to be the 100th cookie on the shelf, so i played around with a unique combination of ingredients."

her experimenting produced the chipn'etzel, a sweet and salty cookie that combines potato chips with pretzels. she created the snack as an alternative for children with nut allergies.

the company sells a variety of other treats, including candypop cookies, a cookie containing lollipop bits and topped with a gumball, apple hand pies, miniature apple pies, and homemade tootsie rolls.

"the cookies are for younger kids as well as parents that remember the taste of their childhood," she said.

leand has trouble picking a favorite among her creations.

"honestly, i love the t.w.ookie [the world's best cookie], the vanilla milkshake, lemonade cookies, and the chipn'etzels are close to my heart."

leand's family has been her biggest supporters. her husband is her official taste-tester, while her 14-month-old daughter always finds her way into photo shoots and work-related events.

"she knows where the cookie room is now, because the dining room has turned into the cookie room," leand said. "as soon as she goes in, she knows that she's going to get a lot of treats. it's very exciting for her."

even with the massive amount of work that it takes to create the sweet treats, leand said that she places an emphasis on her family and their well-being.

"i definitely think that you can have a healthy balance," she said. "you can have a cookie but you don't have to eat all of the cookies. you don't have to overindulge all of the time."

as the old saying goes, "a well-balanced diet is a cookie in each hand."

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