From drums and drumsticks to mixing bowls and baking pans, celebrity drummer Ralph Rolle is no stranger to creating great music and whipping up batches of his famous cookies. His passion for music and baking has led to his decade-long duo career, and he and his company, Soul Snacks Cookie Company, are showing no signs of slowing down.
In a recent Zoom interview, while traveling outside the U.S., Rolle reminisces about playing drums and watching his grandmother bake as early as 8-year-old. “When my grandmother would bake, we would sit in the kitchen on telephone books and wait to clean the bowl. We would clean the bowl so well that it looked like it was washed. I never wanted those days to go away. Family, fun, delicious cookies and just being around family. It’s about making people happy,” says Rolle.
Cookies Get the Girls
Growing up shy and nerdy, Rolle learned how to make cookies, and he took cookies with him everywhere he went. He later began using the cookies to help him meet girls. “It’s not every day that one can find a junior high schooler interested in baking. I was shy, and I started baking cookies and that was my way to get the girls,” he says.
Soul Snacks Cookie Company offers 18 varieties of cookies, four of which are gluten-free. From his Georgia Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Peanut Butter, Down Home Double Chocolate Chip, Ebony and Ivory Almond, Grampy’s Chocolate Peanut Butter, to Sweet Potato and more, Soul Snacks Cookie Company has made a name for itself.
The number one seller is the sweet potato cookie. “The main recipes —Down Home Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin —are what I started from. My grandmother started baking around 16 and around 1916 these recipes came about. I just kept it going,” the drummer says.
“Inside of every cookie is years of heart, soul and lots of pride that have been the main ingredient of Soul Snacks cookies for over a century. Soul Snacks have attracted satisfied customers in Japan, Europe, Africa, the West Indies, Canada and throughout the United States.”
Celebrity fans of Soul Snacks include Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock, J-Lo, Gladys Knight, Steve Harvey, Doug E. Fresh, Toshi Kubota, D’Angelo, Kid Capri, and many others. The ABC TV host, Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America” chose Soul Snacks for her holiday gifting in 2011, and so have others.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Rolle’s 1,250 square-foot baking facility in the South Bronx, New York, is home to the Soul Snacks Cookie Company, where he continues to grow and employ individuals from his old stomping ground, The Bronx River Projects.
He founded the company in 1996; however, the Soul Snacks recipes date back to the early 1900s. “I perpetuate the traditions of my maternal grandmother Leola, who was born in Ocilla, Georgia, raised a family in Miami, and later migrated to Harlem in the Renaissance Harlem years. My grandmother baked fresh bread for family, friends and the church,” he says.
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One may wonder how he has time to run a successful business, bake cookies and travel the world. Rolle manages his duo career by having a dedicated team on board. It’s a family affair. “The best way to explain this is I get by with help from my friends. I get by with good people around me. I have a good team around me. My wife, my assistant, Allison, and a guy who has worked his way in the company. They run things.
“When I’m away doing music, I’m on the phone doing customer service, invoicing and strategizing. When I’m gone, they keep things going. I like that. They feel like they have value and they keep things working,” says Rolle.
Life of a Drummer
With an illustrious music career under his belt, Rolle is a much sought-after drummer. He has played with the crème de crème of the music industry, including Nile Rodgers and Chic, the late Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bono, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Najee, Orange “Juice” Jones, Jennifer Hudson, Al Green, Pharrell Williams, Paul Simon, Kirk Franklin and many more.
He was the resident drummer for “It’s Showtime at The Apollo” for more than 15 seasons and has served as the musical director for “The Caroline Rhea Show” and Japanese Super Star Toshi Kubota.
Asked if he had to give a title to the blueprint of his life, what would it be called. He responds, “No plan B because I honestly believe for me having a plan B gets in the way of plan A. If you have a plan B, you may not push as hard for a plan A. With the drumming and cookies, it was the same exuberance. It wasn’t a plan B; it was called A.1.”
The advice that Rolle offers is to write down your family recipes. “When family recipes are gone, they are gone! Family recipes are not just for people to make. Find out everything that you want to pass on from family to family. It’s one of those things you wish you would have written down. I paid attention. They didn’t write it down. Write down your family foundation too.”
Only One Plan Works
Rolle’s mother was strict and meant everything to him and his siblings. Growing up in the projects was a challenge, and now that he is older, he appreciates his mom even more.
“Coming out of public housing was a testament of my mother’s upbringing. As you get older, you appreciate it. The recipes I learned from my mother were values of life. Learning how to be an independent person was taught.”
He adds, “Being a drummer and a baker was a passion and at the same time I was growing up, it was an allowance. If she didn’t want me to do these things, I wouldn’t have gone against it,” says Rolle.
Besides traveling the world, playing with some of the most recognized artists and musicians, and lending his skills in the kitchen, Rolle has been working hard on making a difference in his community and abroad.
He also has several forthcoming projects. “My business is still in South Bronx. In my new space I’m moving in, we’re putting in a culinary institute,” he says. Rolle is also working on his book, “No Plan B” and is busy expanding Soul Snacks into mainstream distribution channels and national retail outlets.
On the other hand, Rolle is excited about his plans to reopen a gathering place called Soul Snacks Café in the Bronx that sadly closed during the pandemic. The Southern food and dessert café served delicious dishes and soul music in an atmosphere that invokes the class and elegance of the Harlem Renaissance.
Community and Expansion
Rolle is enthusiastic about helping others and giving back to his community. “My partner, Bill Yosses, was the pastry chef for the Obama family and the Bush family, and through his organization, One World, One Kitchen, we donated to help farmers in Africa.”
The advice that Rolle shares is, “Realize that you have the keys to the castle. When I started my business, I used the library. You have the internet. Your passion has no expiration date. If you are stamping a date on something you like, then it’s not your passion. Passion has no expiration date,” he says.
“Out of everything that I have done in my life, I want the world to remember me as someone who cares for people. Empathy. When I play music, it has nothing to do with me. It has to do with the music. When I’m baking cookies, it’s all about the people. It puts smiles on my face. I try to put smiles on people’s face.”
Soul Snacks cookies are available in stores, cafes, hospitals and delis in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. The cookies are also available in over 789 Walmart stores across the U.S. and one Walmart store in Alaska. They will be available in Kroger this summer. Later this year, Soul Snacks will be available on Amazon and HSN.