“Cookie Lady” Joan Kuebler started out selling baskets of her homemade goodies door-to-door. Then she survived a fire that burned out her first retail shop, a longtime heart condition and a tough economy to become one of La Jolla’s most successful - and beloved - mom and pops.
In the end, it was a desire to be closer to her loved ones that caused her to leave the Jewel.
Kuebler, 60, has sold her 18-year-old business, Cookie Lady Cafe Of La Jolla at 7596 Fay Ave., to her longtime associate, Mo Berka, and moved with husband Chris to the Poconos in the Pennsylvania Appalachians.
“It was definitely time,” said Kuebler, adding that the move was prompted by a recent hospital visit but was actually a long time coming.
“We’d already discussed moving back to the East Coast to be closer to our three grown children and six grandchildren. We had no family back here in California and we had to make a decision as to which coast to live on. Family matters. We only got to see them once a year, and that wasn’t enough.”
22 years laterThe Kueblers met back East when they were both Realtors. They moved to San Diego 22 years ago for the reason most come: the weather. They stayed, largely because she discovered her confectionary calling.
“I loved my reign as the cookie lady,” said Kuebler, who was encouraged by her friends at La Jolla Presbyterian Church to branch out. “My church group asked for volunteers to make cookies, and mine were such a hit that I went door-to-door in La Jolla for a year before expanding to bagels and cakes. I went from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. then started baking again.”
Kuebler eventually set up shop for five years in Sandpiper Plaza in Bird Rock (now Longs), before the strip mall completely burned to the ground in an early-morning electrical fire in February 2001.
Kuebler used the kitchen at The Ultimate Cinnamon Roll shop in Crown Point, and sold her baked goods at the La Jolla Farmers Market on Sundays until she found a new space on Fay Avenue.
‘Big-hearted lady’Sherry Ahern, co-founder of La Jolla Farmers Market, said she will always have a special place in her heart for The Cookie Lady.
“She was a very kind, compassionate, big-hearted lady who would do anything for you,” said Ahern. “She was very good to kids donating cookies to different schools. She was a very jolly, happy, positive person. We’ll miss her dearly. I hope for her to have a wonderful life.”
Kuebler’s hand-picked successor, Mo Berka, said it will be business as usual, with a few improvements, at the restaurant his former boss started.
“I’m not changing anything,” he said, “including the bakers who have been here for 15 years.”
Berka said he intends to expand the restaurant’s menu adding gyros and tuna sandwiches. He’s also considering becoming active at La Jolla’s Farmers market.
Kuebler, a workaholic who worked seven days a week for years, said she will miss La Jolla. But she said she feels she’s returned home.
“They say everybody goes full circle,” she said. “It’s going to take a little while to get acclimated but I have no regrets. I’m going to miss everybody I was so involved with in La Jolla on a daily basis. But there are people here, too. I just have to start again.”