In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the most iconic female figures on our supermarket shelves—both real and fictional—who have shaped the way we cook and eat over the last century.
While the smell of freshly baked Mrs. Fields cookies is familiar to anyone who’s ever wandered the halls of a shopping mall (salivating over the scent of warm butter, flour, and sugar), the woman who created the massive company from scratch probably isn’t.
Debbi Fields—born Debra Sivyer in Oakland, California—had a humble start in life, growing up in a five-child household with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who made $15,000 per year working as a welder for the U.S. Navy. “My father believed that true wealth was found in family, friends, and doing what you love,” Debbi told Forbes of her happy but modest upbringing.
The future entrepreneur developed her taste for cookies early on, and would bake hers from scratch using the meager ingredients she could scrape together in her kitchen, like margarine and imitation chocolate. When she landed her first paid gig at 13, she spent her first paycheck on higher-quality ingredients to up her cookie game, including real butter and chocolate.
Though Debbi grew up with a passion for baking, it wasn’t until she married her first husband, Randy Fields, and settled down that she realized she wanted to forge a career path for herself. “I could hear my father’s voice telling me that wealth was doing what you loved, and what I loved was cookies.”
So, in 1977, Debbi managed to score a small bank loan—after tirelessly delivering batches of cookies and copies of her business plan to any potential lender she could find—and opened her first store, Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chippery, in Palo Alto, California.
The small bakery, which sold just homemade cookies fresh out of the oven, had a slow start, and the first day Debbi took to the streets offering cookie samples to anyone interested in order to sell $75 worth of cookies by end of day. Though the bakery soon took off, the businesswoman kept that first day drive alive no matter how successful they became: “It’s easy to get comfortable, but it’s important to never lose touch with that feeling of opening day—that enthusiasm and excitement.”
That pure drive, coupled with some addictively delicious cookie recipes, made Mrs. Fields’ bakery a runaway hit. In the early 1990s, shortly after beginning franchising, Mrs. Fields was sold to an investment firm, which helped to expand the company into the international phenomenon it is today. However, Debbi Fields has stayed on as the company’s spokesperson, continuing to passionately promote the cookie company that she dreamt up as a young woman. Today, there are over 300 Mrs. Fields locations in the U.S. and around the world.
In addition to her position as spokeswoman, Debbi has also written numerous cookbooks, including the “Mrs. Fields Cookie Book” and “Debbi Fields’ Great American Desserts,” as well as a memoir titled “One Smart Cookie: How a Housewife’s Chocolate Chip Recipe Turned into a Multimillion-Dollar Business.”
What started as a passion for cookies in Debbi’s home kitchen has grown into a $450 million dollar company and one of the world’s most recognizable names in baked goods. Debbi proved that with a little perseverance, passion, and the right kind of butter, even the humblest of treats can make for a lifetime of success.
For a thick, chewy chocolate chip cookie that rivals Mrs. Fields’, try making this recipe at home.