Sweet return to the old Emporium

Businessman who spent his formative years prowling mall returns with cookie shop Tom Roach still remembers the old Emporium.

Now 48-years-old, the native-born San Franciscan recalls the Christmases of the 1960s, when no holiday season was complete without sitting on Santa Claus’ lap under the big dome, followed by riding the “roof rides” in the temporary amusement park atop the department store.

“The dome was very spectacular,” Roach said. “There was a restaurant there where we would also go, when we finished the roof rides, and have lunch.”

His family moved to South City, where he spent the rest of his childhood. But even as a teenager, he’d return to the Emporium, though he never mistook it for a teen hangout. He shopped, purchasing fashion must-haves of the time: a polyester Nehru jacket, a pendant to match and the notoriously smelly first generation of “permanent press” pants.

“We’d catch the bus there on El Camino Real and ride into The City, and the Emporium was always a destination,” he said.

Now, with the Westfield San Francisco Centre re-opening the Emporium building as an eight-story retail, restaurant, cinema and office complex, it will be a daily destination for Roach. He grew up to fulfill his only dream, running a successful cookie business, and he is opening the second Tom’s Cookies in the “Gourmet Marketplace” on the Westfield’s bottom floor.

The first one now resides in Macy’s Cellar, a stroke of opportunity that followed Roach’s fame for providing cookies to former President Bill Clinton for his first and second inaugurations. Prior to that, he had a struggling shop at 337 Kearny St., where he did everything from baking the cookies to cleaning the toilet.

He didn’t know, when he sent a letter and a box of cookies to the president-elect, that Clinton was receiving 5,000 to 6,000 packages a day from would-be vendors. But something about the treats appealed to Clinton’s famous sweet tooth. He made special inaugural cookies —Clinton’s peanut butter and banana cookies, “Heavenly Hillaries,” “Gore S’Mores” and others. He still serves them.

The success of his inaugural run — 35,000 cookies the first time, more than 100,000 the second time — allowed him to expand, selling cookie dough through a distributor and hiring employees.

“I had been wanting to do another store for a number of years,” Roach said. “My stores are not your run-of-the-mill cookie stores. They’re a little more upscale — I wanted to be very careful about how I positioned myself.”

Westfield fit the bill. Opening a new store means increasing his staff from the low 20s to 34 employees, 25 of which are full-time. It also means nostalgia.

“When I saw the dome again … my heart sang. It was really emotional for me,” Roach said. “I am standing under this dome again, and I’m opening this store in here.”

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