By Amy Wenk
A Sandy Springs mother and daughter have turned sour experiences into something sweet.
In December, Laura Stachler and her daughter Susan Carver Robbins opened the gourmet cookie shop Susansnaps at 229 Hilderbrand Drive.
“It’s really a thrill to have the store and have it all come full circle,” Stachler said. “Would we have planned this six years ago? Not even a thought.”
The 1,000-square-foot store offers three varieties of gingersnaps (original, cocoa and citrus) as well as cakes like chocolate fudge, carrot and coconut. The mother and daughter bake 8,000 cookies a day in the red-and-black boutique.`
But behind the cute logo and polka-dot interior is a charitable cause stirred by the family’s enduring battle with blood cancer.
“Some might call us crazy for opening a retail shop during these difficult economic times, but for us, it was the right decision,” said 28-year-old Robbins. “My mom and I have been through challenging times together, and Susansnaps gives us a chance to bring smiles to so many faces.”
The story begins when Stachler was 10 years old and her older sister Susan Carver Smith was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Few treatments were available for the 14-year-old, whose cancer had progressed to the most severe stage. Smith died in 1977 at the age of 28.
“My mom carried on her spirit by living her life to the fullest,” said Robbins, who was named after her aunt. “My mom poured her heart into living the life her sister did not have.”
But tragedy struck the family again in 1995. Stachler’s 41-year-old husband Ken was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s disease, a blood cancer that is treatable but cannot be cured.
While her husband dealt with the sickness, in 2004 Stachler got more bad news. Robbins, then 22 years old, found a lump in her throat. After six weeks of testing, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, the same cancer that killed her aunt.
“It was unbelievable that Susan would be diagnosed with exactly the same thing,” said Stachler, a mother of four. “My sister was treated at the same age, 22.”
Despite her diagnosis, Robbins earned her marketing and communications degree from Auburn University.
“Susan is an excellent student,” Stachler said. “She would not let her guard down no matter what. At surgery, she was carrying her books and still trying to get to class so she could graduate with honors.”
Following graduation Robbins started chemotherapy on June 4, the same day her aunt died.
After six months of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation, Robbins made a full recovery and remains cancer free.
The mother and daughter felt the need to give something back.
“You have your moments but then you want to do something good,” said Stachler who was raised in the restaurant business. Her parents, Connie and Bob Carver, owned a pie and burger shop in Los Angeles.
Stachler was already selling sweets through a home business called Laura’s Divine Desserts but wanted to add gingersnaps and give the proceeds to charity.
“Ginger is a natural soother,” Stachler said. “Cookies and cakes, no matter what, always seem to make people smile, so it seemed a perfect fit.”
Although the mother and daughter intended the gingersnaps to be a side business, “that first Christmas we had those gingersnaps for sale … we sold more than anything else,” said Robbins, who designs all the logos and packaging for the cookies.
In response to the demand for the crunchy gingersnap, in 2005 the business was renamed Susansnaps in honor of the two Susans who battled against Hodgkin’s.
“That is what is so incredible now,” Stachler said. “I would have never thought 30 years later that her name would be going out on a package.”
Ten percent of cookie sales go to The Susan Carver Foundation, a nonprofit Stachler and Robbins established in 2005. The foundation raises money for cancer research and each year donates gingersnaps to cancer patients at local institutions like St. Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta Cancer Care and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Cookies are delivered on Dec. 24.
“My mom and I believe that having cancer cross our paths so many times is not a coincidence, but we know in our hearts we are being called to make a difference,” Robbins said.
In its short time, Susansnaps has received attention from culinary greats.
Last spring, television chef Bobby Flay used Susansnaps to make a dessert during The Metropolitan Entertaining & Cooking Show in West Palm Beach.
“He told the audience, ‘Why bake when you can buy a Susansnap,’” Robbins said. “It was fun. He fell in love with the cookie.”
Susansnaps were also featured as “Snack of the Day” on the Rachel Ray cooking show. And in fall 2007, Stachler and Robbins were honored by Martha Stewart at the Lincoln Center in New York.
“We poured our hearts into this,” Robbins said. “What was once just a small idea has led us to opening a store, shipping all over the U.S., while still raising money for a cause so dear to our hearts.”
For more information, visit www.susansnaps.com.