When Debbi Fields opened the first Mrs. Fields in 1977, it wasn’t all sunshine and cookies. Between her lack of business experience and the unorthodox business model—selling only cookies—not many people believed in her. More than 30 years and a global franchise later, it’s safe to say the doubters are eating their words, at least when they're not busy stuffing their faces with one of Debbi's signature semisweet chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin and walnut cookies.
The wild popularity of Mrs. Fields's cookies can be attributed to the richness of their basic ingredients: real butter, whole eggs, and special blends of chocolate. Classic flavors include chewy fudge, peanut butter, and white chocolate macadamia, and seasonal flavors complement the lineup throughout the year. Select varieties can also be made into cookie cakes of various sizes and shapes that add a delicious twist to any celebration or milk-truck spill.
Gwen Willhite founded Cookies by Design in 1983, when an unsatisfying brainstorming session about gift ideas led her to ponder one question: why should flowers and sweets remain separate? Her solution was to design the cookie bouquet, where custom, hand-decorated cookies are displayed on sticks and arranged like flowers in gift baskets. Her invention quickly became a popular gift among locals, particularly those allergic to real blooms or too bashful to look at naked cookies.
Twenty-five years later, there are more than 200 Cookies by Design locations across the country. Each shop's team of bakers creates cookie baskets with a degree of care that matches Willhite's original vision, decorating and arranging sweet shapes for birthdays, holidays, and any other special occasion.
Fans of Orland Park Bakery know that if they want a chance at tasting one of their favorite pastries, breads, or pies, they'll need a calendar. Cream horns fill display cases on Tuesdays, St. Joseph's pastries make an appearance every Wednesday, and fruit pies are only available on Saturdays and Sundays. But the savvy bakers don't limit production out of stinginess: it takes time to bake each pastry, pie, and loaf of bread fresh every day, which is exactly how they've been doing things for the past 30 years. And so, on any given day, customers might find loaves of butter crust white bread, Swedish limpa rye, and maple apple nut loaf occupying the vary spaces where Irish soda bread, cherry nut cylinders, and loaves of seven grain sat just the day before. They'll also find rich Danish dough transformed into sweet coffee cakes with fillings that could include cheese, almond, or plum, depending on the season, as well as cupcakes topped with creamy peanut butter buttercream, strawberry whipped cream, or even cookie dough. The bakery's selection of mini-pastries––which includes éclairs, brownies, and blueberry tarts–-is available every day, as are cream pies to the great delight of the town's mischievous clown population. Of course, if customers are looking for something special, they can always call ahead and place a custom order, which the bakery accepts for everything from its daily breads to the sweet, filled paczkis it bakes throughout lent. Behind the scenes, professional cake decorators work on custom orders for everything from birthdays to graduations, and the team is particularly proud of the elegant designs they've produced for weddings, which have included rich, sugar-scroll work or towering tiers of pearl-covered fondant.
The Wetzel name wasn’t always a source of pride. As a kid, Rick Wetzel grew accustomed to hearing, “Hey Wetzel, you pretzel!” on the playground. But the teasing inspired a quest for the tastiest soft pretzel, one that eventually blossomed into Wetzel’s Pretzels. After years in Nestle’s marketing department, Rick and coworker Bill Phelps channeled Rick’s soft-pretzel recipe into a chain of shops. They make hand-rolled, oven-baked pretzels that sit for only 30 minutes before being sold or chucked, an example that might be in the dictionary under "fresh," if Babe Ruth using his bat as a pool cue weren't already there. And though the buttered and salted Wetzel’s Original still occupies a spot on the menu, a flurry of imaginative flavors fills its other slots, from Sinful Cinnamon to Jalaroni, a cheesy pretzel scattered with pepperoni and jalapeños.
At Mindy’s Ribs, wooden pig cutouts dangle from the ceiling beside hefty hanging lights that illuminate the menu's many meaty, piled-high plates of tender American barbecue. For carryout, delivery, and dine-in seven days a week, skilled grillers slather hearty ribs, brisket, and pork chops with zesty sauces to help them stick to platters, overstocked sandwiches, and carb-spurning wraps. Crispy fried appetizers prep tooth muscles, and a wine and draft-beer menu offers numerous selections for filling an Olympic-size swimming pool. The large dining room can cater banquets for up to 50 and vaunts high ceilings and exposed rafters, ideal for echoing evil laughter.