One Smart Cookie

Kelley’s Kookies is located at 440 Fair Oaks Ave. It is open Mon. – Sun. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Photos by Kamala Kirk

When Marcella Onishi started Kelley’s Kookies (named after her daughter) back in 1988, her goal was to bake the best cookies the world had ever seen. Using the tools from her own kitchen along with recipes that had been passed down through generations, she started to sell handcrafted shortbread cookies that became a huge success. In 2009, USC Marshall School of Business graduate Jimmy Ly took over the business and vowed to continue Onishi’s legacy.

“After graduating, I didn’t want to go the corporate route,” he explained. “I wanted to go the small business route, and I thought that this was a great opportunity to take over a business with an amazing customer base that is extremely loyal. The products are great quality, and the employees and team members are passionate about working here. I knew it was a great opportunity.”

Kelley’s Kookies specializes in shortbread and shortbread-style cookies, and its most popular cookie is its Classic Shortbread, from which all of its recipes originate. Other best-sellers include the Chocolate-Dipped Macadamia Shortbread, as well as the Melting Moment—a walnut cookie covered in powdered sugar.

“We have a firm belief that our cookies are a symbol of joy and celebration, so we really specialize in celebrating those moments,” Ly said. “Our cookies are handmade with quality ingredients, and we understand that our products are not only a reflection of us, but also a reflection of the person giving them as gifts, so we take pride in the whole process.”

In addition to its signature year-round flavors, Kelley’s Kookies also offers seasonal specials. For the fall, it is currently offering Pumpkin Shortbread, Krispy Oatmeal and Butterscotch Pecan Cookies. Eggnog, Gingerbread and Peppermint Shortbread, as well as its cinnamon-flavored Icebox Cookie, will be featured in the winter.

Another fun service Kelley’s Kookies offers is custom-dipped cookies, where customers can have the Classic Shortbread cookies dipped in milk, dark or white chocolate, along with various toppings. The custom cookies are sold in quantities of three, five and eight, making them great gifts and a fun way to explore different flavor combinations.

For gift-giving occasions, it also offers three different sizes of boxes: Classic, Deluxe and Grand. They come pre-assorted, with Kelley’s Kookies’ most popular varieties, or they can be customized for a small fee.

“We’re super excited to announce that we just launched a whole variety of black teas, because black tea is the perfect complement to our shortbread cookies,” Ly said. “Our teas are sold loose leaf and are exclusively blended, so they can only be found at Kelley’s Kookies. We have different flavors like pineapple, caramel, and peach. The great part about the whole experience is that now guests can customize both their shortbread and their tea pairing, so they can come in and have a totally unique experience every single time.”

Currently, Kelley’s Kookies has three locations: two retail stores in South Pasadena and the Brea Mall, in addition to its main kitchen with a storefront in Stanton—a 2,500 square-foot facility where the company bakes all of its cookies and distributes them to its other boutiques. The line is also carried in multiple grocery stores, including Bristol Farms, Gelson’s Markets and Marukai Market. Kelley’s Kookies moved to its newest location in South Pasadena in July after being in the Santa Anita Mall for seven years, and has quickly become a favorite among the local community.

“I personally think it’s the handcrafted cookies. You can definitely taste that homemade nostalgia and that’s what separates our cookies from the rest of the competition,” Ly said. “Everything is handmade with traditional baking techniques, and that’s why customers are so loyal because they can give our cookies to someone as a gift and take pride in the gift just as much as we take pride in our products. We really enjoy building that relationship.”

Kelley’s Kookies is located at 440 Fair Oaks Ave. It is open Mon. – Sun. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (626) 254-9500 or visit

The Kelley’s Kookies Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 10.19.18. Support Local Business.

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Kamala Kirk is a contributing writer for the South Pasadena Review, San Marino Tribune and The Quarterly Magazine. Kamala formerly served as Managing Editor of Beauty Launchpad Magazine, West Coast Editor of American Salon Magazine, and Digital Editor for E! Online. A native of Hermosa Beach, California, she is a proud USC Trojan and pug mom to Wrigley the Pug (@pugofpasadena).