Downtown’s Cookie man

Updated: April 26, 2007 - 2:06 pm

Michael Lucore: The man behind the mustache

On the skyway level in the LaSalle Plaza, 800 Lasalle Ave., nestled between the YMCA and a convenience store, sits a quaint bakery called Cookies & More.

The owner, Michael Lucore — known to many as “The Cookie Man” — is a popular face in the skyway, not only for his baked goods and coffee, but also for his big smile, tucked beneath a bushy mustache.

“Want the usual?” Lucore asked as an older gentleman walks up.

“Of course,” the customer replied.

“Well if you didn’t, I’d have to check your ID. Cause I’ve seen ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’” he said with a chuckle and an infectious smile as he grabs a muffin from the display case.

A former bartender, Lucore said he learned that customer rapport is essential to keeping them coming back. “I learned if you want to make money, you have to know what people drink,” he said, referring to his keen order recognition. “People think it’s luck if a business succeeds,” Lucore said. “It’s not.”

A home in the skyway

Prior to owning Cookies & More, Lucore had been managing restaurants for almost 30 years, including chains like T.G.I. Fridays and Chi-Chis. Finally, he grew tired of working in the corporate world and decided to go into business for himself.

Upon seeing a “Skyway Operation for sale” ad in a local newspaper, he inquired to learn more. “I thought it looked like fun,” Lucore said, reminiscing about his first sneak-peak at the business.

Lucore then purchased the Cookies & More bakery two months later and has owned the skyway store for the past six years. “I love being in business for myself, but it’s not a tip-toe through the tulips; it’s hard work,” Lucore said.

Everyday, Lucore and his baker, Alberto Torres, arrive to the store at 5:45 a.m. to start baking muffins for the morning rush. A few days a week, when she’s not attending classes, Lucore’s daughter Megan shows up and prepares the cookie dough.

Megan Lucore is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota and the youngest of Lucore ‘s four children, who include older brothers, Evan, Brian and Brendon. When she’s not working for her dad — something she describes as, “really fun” — Megan Lucore is working towards a degree in sociology.

While walking around Downtown, Megan Lucore experiences firsthand the impact her dad has had on customers. “I’ve actually been stopped in the skyway by people to say that they love my dad,” Megan Lucore said proudly.

Austin O’Brion, a student at the Minneapolis Art Institute and a central Wisconsin native, has been a regular customer at Cookies & More for nearly two years. “He’s a pretty down-to-earth guy,” O’Brion said of Lucore. “… It’s weird to have that small-town feel in the skyway.”

Beating the odds

In April of 2001, the Lucore family almost lost their Cookie Man when he collapsed to the floor on a Saturday afternoon, paralyzed by chest pains he presumed to be caused by a heart attack.

At the hospital doctors had to perform emergency surgery in order to save his life. Megan said the doctors told her family there was a slim chance her dad would survive.

“Scary is the first word that comes to mind,” she said recalling the ordeal. “They said there’s a chance he’ll live. Then they said he’ll never walk again, that they may have to amputate his legs.”

Michael Lucore had suffered what doctors diagnosed as an abdominal aortic aneurysm — a main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body started to bulge at the site of the aneurysm. Lucore’s particularly dangerous kind of aneurysm ruptured.

He would spend the next month in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Fairview Medical Center, fighting for his life. The doctors gave him more than 32 ounces of blood in transfusions, and he sustained kidney failure for almost two weeks while trying to recover.

But in his darkest hour, things took a turn for the better.

“Suddenly out of nowhere, my kidneys started working again,” Lucore said, “and afterwards the doctors told me that my heart just wouldn’t stop working.”

Lucore said the doctors were amazed. He said the doctors told him, “Most people [with his condition] don’t even make it to the hospital.”

True customer appreciation

After a month in ICU, Michael Lucore spent the next month recovering in a hospital room, where he received a warm welcome from family, friends and unexpected surprises from his customers. People who frequented Cookies & More learned of his fight and lent support.

Soon Lucore received get-well cards by the sack full from customers he didn’t even recognize by name. He said he had so many that he was able to cover the wall of his hospital room with the well wishes from people he saw just for a brief moment each morning, saying how much he meant to them.

“People would send cards that were signed at the bottom with times they would normally be here and what they would order instead of their names,” said Michael Lucore. “It really meant a lot to me.”

Another month of rehab and Michael Lucore was discharged from the hospital. “I told myself that I was going to walk out of there, and I did,” he said of beating the odds. “I think he’s amazing, the way he got through it,” said Megan Lucore.

Following his release, Michael Lucore, in collaboration with his brother, Dan Lucore who works for the American Red Cross, set up a community blood drive at a local church. The drive yielded more than 40 ounces of blood — replacing what he had used.

These days, Lucore doesn’t take life for granted anymore. “Any day where I wake up and there is nobody standing over my bed praying is a good day,” he said, “I walked up to the abyss, took a look in and stepped back.”