ALAMEDA -- In 1976, a husband-and-wife team began baking and distributing a small French cookie around Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto.
The madeleine, golden on the outside and soft and moist inside with a vanilla flavor, was new to the area and gained in popularity. Demand continued to grow and soon Don and Susie Morris, combined the first three letters of their names -- Don-Sue-Mor -- and created Donsuemor, little imagining that nearly 40 years later their madeleines would be sold all across the United States and Canada and that Donsuemor's newest facility in Alameda would produce 20,000 madeleines per hour.
The business began slowly with Susie Morris baking madeleines for Pig By the Tail charcuterie, one box at a time. As other shops added their orders, her task grew to hundreds of cookies each week and she soon outgrew her kitchen, ending up renting space at Berkeley's Virginia Bakery at night.
The couple shared the business, with Don Morris as inventor, finding ways to make the baking process more efficient and Susie as the baker. Donsuemor CEO Susan Davis credits Susie Morris with keeping the madeleine true to its unique texture and taste as the recipe increased to meet the demand.
"Susie was the one who understood the baking and understood how to keep that quality and maintain its look and its flavor," Davis said. "As we have gone to larger batches, we've always been very, very careful to make certain that the product comes out exactly the same. There's an art to that."
The Morrises' plan was successful. As Donsuemor continued to expand, their goal to "bring delight to everyday life" remained, allowing it to become the first company in the United States to make madeleines on a commercial scale.
As a national company, Donsuemor outgrew its commercial space in Emeryville and in 2007 moved to a facility in Alameda, where the 32,000-square-feet building was three times larger and allowed for expansion.
"We needed to produce more of what we were producing, and we wanted somewhere we could create other products," Davis said. "We looked long and hard, and what I found in Alameda was some new construction built to the high standards we wanted."
Soon, the traditional madeleine had been joined by a lemon madeleine with a delicate, light essence of lemon and a French almond cake. Based on the traditional French version called a financier, the Donsuemor version has its own twist.
"In France, financier is the word for banker, so they bake the cakes in elongated molds like gold bricks," Davis said. "We chose to make it round with a scalloped shape and sprinkle almonds on top. It's my current favorite."
The company has also taken on the traditional Italian biscotti, creating a twice-baked cookie with a subtle flavor that fractures rather than shatters when bitten into. The biscotti comes in the plain and chocolate-dipped version.
From 100 madeleines a week to 20,000 every hour, the question remains of what keeps customers coming back, and Davis's response reflects the Morrises' original goal -- delight.
"I think it's the delight people feel in eating our products. We work very hard to make certain that the freshness and flavor is maintained no matter how big we get," Davis said. "Our process is still very artisanal; every cookie is inspected for beauty. By doing that, we're able to maintain that small company deliciousness and to surprise and delight."
Although Don Morris passed away in 1991, Susie Morris is still owner of the company that has held on to the original goal of a kitchen baker and her tinkerer husband delivering cookies in his Volkswagen bus.
"They were the founders of this company and put it on its pathway," Davis said.
Donsuemor products are available at specialty markets and coffee shops including Whole Foods, Andronico's, Peet's Coffee and others. They can also be bought online at www.donsuemor.com.