Just Desserts: Veteran Franchisee Capitalizes on Cookies, Yogurt, and More

Americans' love affair with big, chewy cookies was just taking off in the late 1970s when Lawrence "Doc" Cohen exited the pharmaceutical industry after 15 years to open his first Great American Cookies store in Lafayette, La. Nearly two decades and 35 units in seven states later, the Baltimore native sold his company, Deblan Corp., to Mrs. Fields Famous Brands. But he didn't retire from the cookie business, which he describes as having "great resilience." Far from it.

By 2002, Cohen had reacquired the Houston market for Great American Cookies and today is one of the brand's top franchisees, with 18 stores in the Houston area. And as president and CEO of LJC Management, he also owns multiple Pretzelmaker, TCBY, and Coffee Beanery units.

Cohen, who holds both pharmacy and law degrees from the University of Georgia, has never rested on his laurels. He was founding president of Great American Cookie's Franchise Advisory Council and a founding member of the Independent Association of Great American Cookie Franchisees. In 1993, he became one of the first franchisees to join the IFA when it opened membership to franchisees.

"I figured this was an opportunity to learn about the other side of franchising," he says. "Getting involved with the IFA was beneficial to me and helped put me in a position to give something back and share what I know. I learned that the relationship between the franchisor and the franchisee is really a sort of partnership; one can't be successful unless the other succeeds as well."

Cohen also was the first franchisee to earn the IFA Educational Foundation's CFE designation, and the second to assume the chairmanship of the IFA Board of Directors.

Cohen (whose nickname originated during his pharmacy school days) made history again earlier this year when he became the first franchisee inducted into the IFA's Hall of Fame. The award, presented to Cohen at the IFA's annual convention, recognizes individuals who have contributed to the advancement of the IFA and the franchising community.

"The experience was quite humbling. I just shook my head and wondered how I got my picture hanging next to those folks ," he says. "The truth is that you rarely achieve anything by yourself. You always have help along the way. That's why it's important to remember that the same people you met on the way up are the same ones you'll encounter on the way down." On the heels of his 2011 Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine MVP Award and being named the first recipient of the Great American Cookies Hall of Fame Award, Cohen is taking a brief in France, where he plans to drink fine wines and visit vineyards and wineries. A modern-day Renaissance man, Cohen, a philanthropist who lives in an elegant 8,000-square-foot home in Tomball, Texas, is an oenophile, a serious cook, and an collector. Although he has considered buying a vineyard and winery, he doesn't want his beloved hobby to be tainted by "work."

As for business, he has no plans to retire and is considering taking on additional brands. "I'd like to see our company with 100 stores someday," he says.

Whatever brands he may add, Cohen also plans to stay close to his cookie roots. "I've seen and other products come and go, but cookies continue to pop. You can just buy one and walk around eating it. It's not messy and it's not expensive. Americans have a real love affair with cookies."

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