It’s such an American story. A man from Pakistan and a woman from East Africa meet, fall in love, and start a company in Southern California making cookies.
Shaffin Jinnah studied information technology in Canada and then moved to California. On a visit to the States, Alyza Jinnah met Shaffin in San Jose. A man with an entrepreneurial spirit, in 1988 Shaffin started a snack food distribution company selling muffins, cookies and cakes.
Their niece Faaiza explains, “The business Shaffin bought started was basically a distributorship with a delivery van, warehouse, vendors and clients. He built it and grew it from there.”
In 1998 Shaffin and Alyza opened a bakery in Torrance, CA, to manufacture their own products. “The goal for Gourmet Treats was to make higher quality snacks for people who spent so much time in their cars and offices. They sold baked goods, such as cookies to a lot of coffee shops, deli’s and convenience stores.”
With no formal training in commercial baking or food science, they developed and tested their own new recipes for soft and chewy cookies in classic flavors, using the best ingredients they could find to make an affordable cookie that tasted great.
The company’s products were not vegan in the beginning. Shaffin specialized in low fat, natural cookies that were healthier and tasted better than most snacks on the market, which he felt were artificial. He also wanted to reverse the negative implications of treating yourself to a cookie.
“There was this ‘walk of shame,’ from the vending machine to your desk,” Faaiza says truthfully but with humor. “People have been eating cookies for a very long time, so why should they feel guilty about it? He wanted to take snacking back to its origins with natural, healthy ingredients. He wasn’t a food scientist, but he was always experimenting with ways to make his products better.”
As a classic example of “luck favors the prepared,” Faaiza tells how the company’s focus shifted to vegan. “In 2014 there was an epidemic of bird flu, which created a severe egg shortage. Eggs became very expensive, and Shaffin realized he could either increase his prices or try to make cookies without egg. It helped that public awareness of vegan was increasing rapidly.”
“At that time, there were no other major soft and chewy vegan cookies. The ones that were available tended to be dry and hard. Shaffin’s a problem solver. He was sure they could do this, so he started experimenting. And he nailed it.”
“When he saw that at a blind tasting consumers couldn’t tell the difference between the non-vegan and the vegan cookies, he doubled down. His first priority was to satisfy his customers, and also keep the cookies within the price range of what a snack-buyer is expecting to pay. A cookie is a cookie, but he was very critical, focusing on making the very best cookie he could. He knew that a snack might be all a hard-working person gets during the work day. It should be nutritious and still indulgent.”
Encouraged by their distributors, the next step for Gourmet Treats was to enter the protein snack market. Shaffin applied the same standards of delicious taste and texture to these new protein cookies.
In 2015, Faaiza joined the business to help Shaffin and Alyza spread the word and expand their footprint. The Jinnah family continues to steadily grow this small business themselves. They are self-funded because they are committed to making a difference in the snack food category, not just making a business to sell. They’ve been working with many of their vendors and distributors for 20 years.
Shaffin says, “Our philosophy is that a great cookie should have amazing taste and flavor, soft, chewy and wholesome. After 20 years, we’re still creating delicious, craveable vegan cookies and brownies using real, non-GMO ingredients like 100% whole grain flour, fruits, seeds, and nuts. And we’re proudly based in LA, the best place to start and grow a company.”