FRAMED BY A PANAMA HAT AND GRAYFLECKED heard, his was the face that launched a thousand chips back in the 1970s. But though his name is still emblazoned on every Famous Amos bag, Wally Amos himself, now 55, is long gone—after a series of missteps—from the cookie company he started.
His troubles began, Amos admits, mostly because of his own mismanagement. Despite robust sales, by 1985 his business was losing money. To stop the hemorrhaging, Amos brought in outside investors. Soon the company had changed hands four times. Each time, the new partners gobbled up more of share until, he says, “I lost all equity in the company.”
Frustrated—but still being paid $175,000 a year as a pitchman—Amos, a high school dropout who grew up in Harlem, quit in 1989 and signed a two-year “noncompete” agreement. “I thought it was more important for me to be free and start again,” he says, “than to be tied up with people that didn’t want me.” He began giving motivational speeches at $5,000 a pop and drew on his pension funds and IRAs As when engagements were slack. Then last year, when his noncompetition agreement ended, Amos began his comeback.
His new venture, called Wally Amos Presents…Chip & Cookie, includes new munchies with the old pecan-packed chocolate-chip recipe (which Amos feels his old company’s new owners have tampered with) as well as Chip and Cookie dolls, children’s hooks, T-shirts and cookie jars. Launched last fall, the new cookies and their companion merchandise are already being sold at five J.C. Penney stoics in Hawaii. where Amos lives with his third wife. Christine, 44, and their daughter Sarah, 8. Next, he predicts, will be a mail-order division, possibly by year’s end.
This time, says Amos, he has assembled a money-wise management team and vows not to get burned again. “If Famous Amos was the movie,” he says, “this is the sequel.”