Surprisingly, not all lawyers end up being lawyers. At least not practicing lawyers. Some like to make their dough in an entirely different manner. By cooking it and making it into the best cookies in the country! And so it is with Judah Busheikin, owner of “Cookies By George”, with its head office in Edmonton, Alberta.
Judah and I started off together in kindergarten in Calgary and followed our common paths through high school and University, beginning at the University of Calgary for two years, and finally ending up at the University of Alberta Law School. Judah graduated in 1979, then took the usual articling program, and followed up by becoming a junior associate in Edmonton for two years. And that’s where the commonality ended. Despite all the studying and travails to become a lawyer, he found that private practice was just not his passion. He was not suited for the day to day machinations of being in a law firm.
Upon coming to this realization, Judah began the arduous task of deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He certainly did not want to get trapped into a profession or lifestyle with which he was unhappy. And while he was married, he did not have children, so the world of possibilities opened up to him. Judah considered numerous possibilities from a government legal position to some other government opportunities or some form of business. As he said, “The world was my oyster.” In the end, he became a waiter for a while, and then the first lawyer taxation officer hired by the provincial government. That was a fun job for a year, but again it was not the answer to his ethereal question.
The response came along quite by happenchance when he visited a “Cookies by George” outlet in Vancouver. One bite and he was hooked. Before he left the store, he had asked the attendant how to reach the owners so he could pursue the idea of a franchise. His friends supported and prompted him to jump into the business venture. Judah believes that in this first encounter he found his destiny, something he could see himself doing forever. That was 1983. So he picked up the phone and called the three women who had created the company in the first place. He found they had common ideology and their personalities “just clicked”.
He had a decision to make. Remain as a taxation officer or become a cookie company franchisee. He made a commitment for the latter and the rest is history. He engaged in negotiations with the original owners and worked at determining a location for the store. This turned out to be the Edmonton Centre outlet and he bought the franchise on September 15, 1985. His initial idea was to have more than one store in Edmonton and then all franchise operations in that city.
The early years were different than now. While the dough and other cookie ingredients had to be acquired from head office, the residual products such as napkins, paper products, cups et al were all the responsibility of the franchisee. Today there is a contract with a national distribution company, Gordon Food Services (GFS). Everything is a proprietary product, from the dough to the plastic bags and paper products. GFS purchases and then delivers to all stores, franchisee or corporate alike. It is a much more efficient way to do business.
In 2001, an opportunity again presented itself. The second owners, from eastern Canada, announced their intention to sell the corporation. Again he had a decision to make; accept what could be a change in the direction of the operation as dictated by new ownership, or take control of his destiny and buy the corporation. He chose wisely! And since that time Cookies by George has grown to 12 stores across western Canada, from Edmonton, with its head office and cookie dough facility, to Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Regina. Slow, conservative growth is Judah’s theme. It is obviously working.
Judah reminisced on his past life and how he fell about being out of the law. “It really depends on what day it is”, he mused. But I did not get the impression that he would ever go back. And some of his closest friends are lawyers. And lest one believes that all his training went for naught, this is not the case. Judah assured me that he uses his legal training every week, be it in utilizing his problem solving skills or the review of contracts.
And what of the future? While more stores are likely, they will be franchise operations rather than corporate. Plans are already in the works. Judah is not one to rest and sit back on his laurels!
Cyril S. Gurevitch, QC is a solicitor practicing with the Gurevitch Burnham Law firm in Grande Prairie. He is a Past President of the CBA Alberta Branch, where his objective was to create a greater awareness of the challenges of rural and regionally-based practitioners. Cyril is married, and is an empty nester to three grown children.