Best known as a drummer with musicians such as Nile Rodgers of Chic, Ralph Rolle is also the founder of the Soul Snacks Cookie Company in New York. We caught up with him on a recent visit to Dublin where he baked cookies and told us of plans to bring his unique brand of soul food to Dublin.
Ralph, tell us about your love of baking and what spurred you to found the Soul Snacks Cookie Company?
I grew up in a single parent household in a housing project, and my mother made it a point that all of her kids would be self-sufficient. She taught the girls everything that she taught the boys and she taught the boys the same way. When I was really young she used to bring us to my grandmother’s house and my cousins and I used to hang around the kitchen when she was cooking. When she was done I remember licking the bowl and I’ve never forgotten that taste and that smell. As I grew up, I gravitated towards baking and I started getting involved doing things in the kitchen. I would bake for other kids in the neighbourhood who didn’t have fathers like myself because I always wanted them to feel that they were important.
When you make a product or bake some cookies it’s what people always seem to remember most. Also it’s affordable! We had lots of friends that we wanted to give gifts to so baking cookies and giving them as gifts worked perfectly. Afterwards everyone told us how much they loved the cookies and suggested that I should seriously think about starting a company. In 1996 I was like; “You know what? I’ve always wanted to do that!” so I guess that’s what sparked it.
The name “Soul Snacks” has obvious musical connotations, but does it also encompass aspects of the food as well?
Yes, the Soul Snacks Cookie Company and Café is a combination of really good things, so if you come into our store you won’t just get cookies. You’ll get a nice, healthy kale salad, vegetable smoothies and a great collard green ice cream. Not only is it gluten free, it’s sugar free too. I cannot tell you how good it is! I’ve always been on a quest to make Soul Food Snacks in the best possible way, so I’m always trying to make sure that we get good, high quality ingredients. It’s taken years, but now we always source exactly the same chocolate chips, the same cocoa and the same vanilla.
When you have a sweet potato cookie you’re not getting sweet potato pieces or some derivative; you’re getting the real thing – actual sweet potato! I never have cookies standing around for any length of time, certainly never more than a day. If we get a call from one of our stores that they’re in need of product we bake that product at that moment.
How do you balance late night gigs with the early morning rises the baking business entails?
Passion has no time limit. If you have a passion for something it never ends, and with that passion comes adrenaline. I believe that anything you have a passion for is absolutely attainable; you just have to put in the time and the effort to make those things happen. When I was growing up everyone in the neighbourhood depended on my mother. She organised the tenant’s association and even when she was sick with cancer she was still writing proposals, so my sisters and myself have always been advocates of community and helping people. The first factory I opened was 100 yards from my front door, literally right across the street and the second place was an incubator with a shared community kitchen. In January 2010 I found a factory 15 minutes from where I grew up and the people who work there are from my own neighbourhood.
So I just stay awake. To give you a snapshot of my day, say if I’m doing a gig with Nile Rodgers, after we get off the stage I go back to my hotel, take a shower and then I’ll have a drink with the guys. I’m back upstairs maybe about an hour later, on the computer talking to Japan, New York and now Dublin. Some places it’s very early in the morning, others it’s very late at night, but I have my team of people who understand what I do. It’s always important to have good people working for you. My partner is the life source of my business. She takes care of everything when I’m not there.
Have you any plans to bring Soul Snacks to Ireland?
The main purpose of this trip was to let people know more about this aspect of my life and to find a company or entrepreneur who would be interested in opening a Soul Snacks store in Ireland. My publicist, manager and friend Anne McCoy is really helping me to develop that. At Electric Picnic recently we spoke to Tim Burgess of the Charlatans who’s going to include the cookies in all of his Tim Peaks events and one of the people that came to the cookie demo yesterday approached me about having our product in his coffee shops. I was walking around down town Dublin yesterday and I saw a perfect location, thirty feet away from the entrance of a college, so we’re very happy about that. The path we’re on is steady!
Ralph Rolle will be appearing at Metropolis Festival on Saturday 5th November, discussing his music career and playing drums.
The Soul Snacks Cookie Company
Words: Martina Murray
Images: Anne McCoy