Laeckerli-Huus AG

Basel, with over 200,000 inhabitants, ranks as one of my favorite cities in Europe. Maybe it has to do with the expansive Rhine River cutting through the city or the beautiful old town area with its cobblestone streets near the river's edge or, maybe it's Basel's main shopping streets being car-free. It's on one of these shopping streets that I find the offices of cookie, chocolate and candymaker Laeckerli-Huus.

The seven-story building is old. Very, very old–-as in dating back to 1291. A Laeckerli-Huus retail store occupies the ground floor. The company's famous flagship product is a gingerbread cookie. However, these cookies aren't the no-frills kind made in the USA but, ones containing honey, almonds, hazelnuts, orange and lemon peels, a dash of cherry and secret spices. I received my first taste of Laeckerli-Huus'scrumptious chewy cookie years ago via a hotel pillow. Instead of the normal piece of chocolate, several Swiss hotels substitute the bite-size cookie.

I explain to one of the store cashiers who I am and how I sent a letter of introduction a month earlier to owner Peter Klein. In a few minutes I'm meeting with the charming Christa Bruegger, Export Manager. We then hop on the elevator to a third floor meeting room. However, this isn't just your normal meeting room as it also houses the company's very cool Tin Museum. The room contains nine glass displays containing a wide array of antique cookie tins, amusement and slot machines, postcards and gingerbread pictures. Many are from England and Germany dated around the turn-of-the-century. I've visited hundreds of company museums but this one rates near the top. Matter of fact, Bruegger and I later hike up to the wood timbered attic to see many more tins and amusement machines packed in boxes due to lack of display space. Note: It's also worth mentioning that this building dating back to 1291 even has an elevator. Unlike in the USA, there's no law in Switzerland requiring one.

The company traces its root back to 1903 but it wasn't until 1950 that Laeckerli-Huus opened its first store. Now, there are three stores in Basel as well as five others around Switzerland. All the goodies are made in a factory located a half-dozen miles from here.

The company has occupied this building since 1973. Seven people work in the head office. There's no formal dress code, employees are on their own as far as finding parking spots and though nobody smokes–it's permissible. It's 10 minutes to the nearest freeway and 20 minutes to Basel's airport. Any employee perks? Twenty-five percent off on company products.

The third floor corner office of CEO Klein contains lots of old stuff. When they were renovating the place in 1973, wall paintings from the 15th and 16th century were discovered in his office. So, along with the wall frescoes is a large trunk from 1792 and storage cabinets dating from the 1800's. Lots of nik-naks in the office but I don't see a computer, plants or any of their yummy cookies–though there's a quilt of a horse done by Klein's wife. The view out his window? An unexciting view of the building directly across the street.

We head back down to the ground floor where Bruegger walks me around the flagship shop. The variety of cookies, chocolate, candy and gift packages is amazing. Toy planes, trains and even turn-of-the-century steamships stuffed with cookies are displayed Colorful and collectable cookie tins of varying shapes and sizes are everywhere. Bruegger says to pick out items I'd like to try and in a few minutes I'm out the door with a bag full of goodies.

Later that night in my hotel room it's sample time. The best? It's their gingerbread cookies dipped in both chocolate and rum. Also fantastic are the bite-size "Amaretti Choco" cookies which, are amaretto cookies dipped in chocolate. Also getting the two thumbs up are the yummy chocolate truffles with ginger. Jeez, living close to one of the stores would be a disaster to my waistline.