By Verna Gates
MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - At family holiday gatherings, Robert Armstrong had two goals, to beat his cousins to his grandmother's cookie tin and make sure he saved room for dinner.
Years later and armed with a business degree, Armstrong, 28, is turning his grandma's cookie recipe into a national brand, G Mommas Southern Style Cookies, featuring chocolate chip pecan and "buddascotch" oatmeal flavors.
In February Oakland, California-based specialty retailer, Cost Plus World Market, with 265 stores in 31 states selling home decor, gourmet food and drink, started selling the cookies. They will also be in 800 Cracker Barrel outlets this fall.
After graduating college in 2008 and unable to find a job, he asked his grandmother, Anice Morris Armstrong, to teach him how to bake, which he thought would take an afternoon.
"It was harder than college," he said.
With basic cooking utensils and an oven in an abandoned kitchen, he set up his own business, Selma Good, and began churning out cookies in an old warehouse. Baking 10 to 12 hours a day, he managed to deliver cookies to 35 stores.
His grandmother helped him develop the buddascotch recipe before her death, aged 88, last July.
"She encouraged me in ways no one else ever could," said Armstrong.
He reached out via LinkedIn to a national distributor, who asked for samples. Within a year, he found a commercial bakery in Pennsylvania and a deal to go national with World Market.
"Everybody has a granny recipe, but I was lucky to find people to take a chance on me," Armstrong said.
"They are crunchy, but light, like feathers, and oh my God good," said Judy McKinny at Mark's Market, one of Armstrong's first retail customers in his hometown of Selma, Alabama.
World Market is ordering two cases per store each quarter, a huge leap from the 9,000 bags he made himself per quarter.
His goal is to one day move production back to his native Selma, which has struggled economically since the closure of a candy factory several years ago.
(Editing by David Adams)