This Cookie Jar is open to every hungry hand

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Not many can resist keeping their hands out of the cookie jar, and that’s just fine with Michael and Shasta Hamilton, new owners of The Cookie Jar restaurant in Goessel.

Their cookie jar has a pleasant surprise awaiting customers who stop in and discover more than delicious homemade cookies. They’ll also find two daily lunch items on the menu and pizza night every Friday evening.

“I literally make pizzas from about 5 o’clock until about 7:30-continuously,” Michael, 32, said.

“I never stop. It’s very popular. It’s absolutely been a hit week in and week out. Our pizza is very good, very much like a Gambino’s or D’Angelo’s.”

The couple opened the door as new owners in June last year after purchasing it from Jennifer Smith. “Her husband got transferred, so that’s why she sold it to us,” Michael said.

Shasta, 28, grew up in Goessel, and the couple have three children, Micah 3 1/2 , Malachi, 2 1/2 , and Sarah, 10 weeks. The family returned to Goessel about one year ago and live in Shasta’s great-grandmother’s house near the edge of town.

“Prior to moving back here, I pastored a church in Texas,” Michael said.

“We moved back here because my wife is from here, and all of our family is in the area. The hope has been to find something while I could also work on my Ph.D-something that would allow me to do that.”

Michael is applying to eventually earn a degree in doctrinal history.

Why choose to buy The Cookie Jar?

“One, I want to work for myself,” Michael said.

“But two, I wanted something that would hopefully have a time schedule that would allow me so many hours a day to study. I’m anticipating it taking me six to seven years between start to dissertation defended.”

After graduating from college, Michael learned about the restaurant business when he managed the former Broadway Barbecue in Newton.

“So that gave me experience managing a restaurant,” Michael said.

The credit for restaurant recipes goes to Shasta, who has taught Michael her secrets to pleasing family and friends with good homemade food.

“She comes down and tastes all my food to make sure it’s right,” Michael said of a management team that counts on Michael to do 95 percent of the work at the restaurant.

“I know more of the day-to-day operations than she does. She’s my baker. For the cinnamon rolls, she does the dough. But when the dough is texture ready, then I actually take it out of the bowl, cut it, roll it up, let it rise and bake it.”

The cinnamon rolls are a local favorite. “I guess that’s because they’re good,” Michael said.

“That’s what everybody wants. I only have them Thursdays and Fridays and sometimes on Saturdays. We also take special orders on them. They’re good because of the cream-cheese frosting.”

Michael begins baking cookies mid morning to make sure cookie lovers aren’t disappointed and to keep true to the name of the restaurant.

For large orders of cookies, the couple refers patrons to a local cookie baker.

“We’d like to get out of the baking, but the orders just keep coming,” Michael said.

“We don’t promote the baked goods, because it takes so much time. But we do some cookies, because I try and have cookies here every day-just for desserts and stuff like that.”

The Hamiltons have put their signature on the restaurant, using family recipes adapted for larger quantities. They also changed the focus of the menu.

“We offer two choices of (daily-special) meals instead of one,” Michael said.

“Before, she may have only had one option when you walked in. Our menu is very expanded. We’ve added the Friday-night pizza, and we can do eight weeks of serving without serving the same thing twice.”

Lunch-menu items range in price from $3.95 to $4.94, including a beverage, and daily specials change every week.

A sample of the menu variety includes barbecue meatballs, taco salad, bierrocks, chicken enchiladas and lasagna.

The second choice is usually soup, such as South of the Border served with tortilla chips, chili, french onion and broccoli cheese.

The best-selling meal is the loaded baked-potato bar appearing on the menu every four to six weeks. It comes with a variety of topping choices, such as cheese, sour cream, bacon, broccoli, chili and chopped onions.

On Saturday mornings, a weekly breakfast special is available, such as Belgian waffle with a slice of ham or french toast with bacon, both for $4.49 each.

Available from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the couple offers “Schmidty’s Pizza Parlor,” a play on Shasta’s maiden name, Schmidt.

Call-in, dine-in or carry-out pizza comes in two sizes, 12 inch or 16 inch. It can be ordered deluxe, three-meat or single topping.

The pizza sauce is homemade by Shasta. “Shasta came up with a sauce that’s so good I can use it for breadsticks,” Michael said.

Willing to share some of her family favorites, Shasta offered the following two recipes.

Speedy-but-Special
Green Beans

2 (15.25 ounce) cans cut green beans

4 teaspoons brown sugar

4 teaspoons ham-flavored soup base

1 tablespoon dried minced onions

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir carefully to avoid breaking apart beans. Replace cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes or until minced onions are tender, stirring once.

“This green-bean recipe is one I developed myself,” Shasta said. “It’s very easy to make. You’re using canned green beans and essentially adding in flavor as you warm them up.”

Beef Barley Stew

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion

6 cups water

1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes

1 (15 ounce) can diced carrots (or four carrots chopped fine)

1 (10 ounce) can tomato soup

3 stalks celery, chopped fine

1 envelope onion-soup mix

1/2 cup pearled barley

3 to 4 tablespoons beef bouillon

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 bay leaf

Brown ground beef and onions in Dutch oven or large saucepan and drain.

Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, at least two hours or until barley is soft, stewed tomatoes have broken into small pieces, and stew has thickened to desired consistency.

“This is a very easy-to-make recipe using ground beef and other ingredients that you most likely have on hand,” Shasta said. “It’s a very thick, savory stew.”

With a seating capacity of about 18, the restaurant is busiest on Thursdays because Michael usually features a pasta special that day.

Regular patrons can look forward to a coming addition to the menu.

“In the future, a hamburger will be offered every day,” Michael said. “So there will actually be three items with one item remaining constant-the hamburger.”

Although they don’t offer catering service, they regularly cater for the local Lion’s Club members who eat at The Cookie Jar once a month.

To encourage return patronage, they offer gift certificates and frequent-user cards, such as a cookie card. After purchasing 12 cookies, the 13th cookie is free. Similar offers are available for lunch and breakfast purchases.

The menu boasts of old-fashioned goodness in a new-fangled world. Michael said his restaurant philosophy is to keep his operation simple.

“That’s the only concept that will work in Goessel, because not enough people in town eat out,” he said.

“I understand the basic economics of doing business in Goessel. It’s pretty limited. I’ve got the Senior Center, a tax-subsidized competitor, and the bulk of our population is elderly. So they go down there. Half my customers are around our age, the 40-and-under crowd. The other half is 40 to 65.”

Michael has networked with other successful business owners to be constantly aware of how to keep his operation running successfully and profitably.

He also believes in supporting local business.

“The difference between me and everybody else who’s ever run a cafe here is I use the local grocer a lot, intentionally,” Michael said.

“I put back in the local economy. We use the local grocer for about 70 percent of our food products. We made it a point from the start. We buy local because we are local.”

Shasta said she was proud of her husband.

“He’s come a long way in a short amount of time,” she said. “He’s a good cook. Now, at home, he’s taking over a lot of cooking responsibilities, especially as our family grows.”

And are the couple happy with their choice to own The Cookie Jar?

“I really like doing this,” Michael said. “One, I’m working for myself. And two, as a farm boy myself, I enjoy being with the farmers and everyone else.”

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